I Fear My Anxiety! Can I Also Accept It?

Good question.  But this is a backwards interpretation of the relationship between fearing and accepting anxiety, so let’s clarify.

  • Acceptance is not finding a way to turn off your fear
  • Acceptance is not figuring out some method for hating your anxiety less
  • Acceptance is not about creating a new state of being or feeling from an emotional or mental standpoint

Acceptance is an ACTION, not a feeling.

Acceptance is a precursor to less fear, acceptance is not the result of less fear.   This is critical because it keeps quite a number of people stuck, so let’s talk about it!

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What does being stuck between fearing and accepting anxiety look like?

It looks a whole lot like this:

  • “I know I have to accept anxiety to recover, but there is no way I can accept something like this.”
  • “How am I supposed to accept a thing that I hate so much? I don’t want to accept this.  I hate this and want it gone!”
  • “Accepting something so scary is impossible.  I must be missing a step somewhere. I must be doing something wrong.”

In all of these cases, acceptance is being viewed as a change in feeling. Somehow hating anxiety less, fearing it less, or finding a way to be ambivalent about it through the use of words or thoughts.  But that’s not what acceptance is. Acceptance is not the result of some mindset shift or eureka moment where we suddenly come into a zen state, feeling relaxed, and totally ready to allow terrifying sensations and thoughts to appear.

Are you thinking that this is what acceptance looks like, maybe even just a little?

Well, here’s the thing.  Acceptance is an action. And not only is is an action. It’s an action that looks much more like screaming, crying and throwing up than is looks like some kind of evolved peaceful enlightened state where you’re OK with anxiety, fear, and all the things that come with them.

Acceptance is an action. It’s a thing we do, and sometimes it’s ugly. Acceptance is acting AS IF you’ve achieved some kind of peace with your anxiety, even when you clearly have not.

  • Acceptance is standing firm for 5 more minutes before you run from that panic attack.
  • Acceptance is resisting the urge to skip that birthday party because anxiety tells that you won’t be able to handle that.
  • Acceptance is getting out of bed after a sleepless night to do your day even though your brain is screaming at you that you’re too tired and will therefore be far to anxious all day.
  • Acceptance is doing that scary exposure even when you’re afraid and you want to do literally ANYTHING ELSE but that.
  • Acceptance is admitting to yourself that you’d rather lie about having a headache than meet a friend for lunch for an hour because you might be too anxious.

See where this is going? I’m not describing a state of being here. I’m not describing a conclusion you reach after plumbing the depths of your soul for answers. Im talking about things you do, not things you think or feel.

So let’s revisit the original question.  “Do I have to lose my fear before I can say that I’m truly accepting anxiety?”

No.  That’s not how it works. If you want to lose your fear of anxiety – if you want to learn through experience that you don’t have to fear it or avoid it nearly as much as you have been – then you must engage in the ACT of acceptance first, even when that looks and feeling nothing like you think its supposed to look or feel.  You don’t lose the fear to accept. You accept to lose the fear.

Still confused?  How about thinking about acceptance is non-resistance?  This is a thing I’ve talked about quite often in the last few years. It seems to ring a bell for quite a number of people when I say it, so I’ll throw it out there for you again. What if you drop your resistance?  THAT is an act of acceptance.

Why would you drop your resistance?  Why would you stop fighting?  You’re an anxiety warrior, right?  You will never give up?  You will win this war!  Of course you will. I know you will.  But you won’t win it by swinging your sword furiously and until you are exhausted in a valiant effort to smash anxiety or keep it away from you.  I’m guessing you’ve been trying to do that, or trying to find a way to do that, and have failed.

You will win this “war” when you act like a student instead of a soldier. Dropping resistance – acceptance – is not about deciding to be crippled by with anxiety for the rest of your life. Dropping resistance is about admitting that all the fighting and running isn’t helping, and at least considering the possibility that if you allow those anxious experiences you might actually learn something about your ability to tolerate them and navigate through them. 

When you engage in the act of acceptance you are taking steps toward seeing anxiety symptoms and anxious thoughts not as attacking monsters but as opportunities to learn that insisting that you never feel them is pointless and that you can in fact let them happen without declaring disaster every time.

Do not run yourself ragged trying to find a way to change how you feel so you can accept and recover. Engage in acts of acceptance so you can learn that you don’t have to be so afraid. THEN you’re looking recovery square in the face.



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Disclaimer: The Anxious Truth is not therapy or a replacement for therapy. Listening to The Anxious Truth does not create a therapeutic relationship between you and the host or guests of the podcast. Information here is provided for psychoeducational purposes. As always, when you have questions about your own well-being, please consult your mental health and/or medical care providers. If you are having a mental health crisis, always reach out immediately for in-person help.

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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)





Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Graduate student and therapist-in-training. Author and educator on the topic of anxiety disorders and anxiety recovery. Former anxious and depressed person.