Do You Need a Break from Trying to Reduce Anxiety?
Actively taking steps to overcome anxiety is a very positive thing, but do you need a break from trying to reduce your anxiety? Learning about anxiety, gathering tools to beat it, and using those strategies in your daily life is a healthy way to take charge of your mental health and wellbeing. When you do these things, you empower yourself to break free from anxiety and soar. Sometimes, though, intense anxiety-beating work can become overwhelming and actually increase your anxious thoughts, feelings, and actions. When that happens, you might just need a break from trying to reduce anxiety.
Stop Trying to Reduce Anxiety? Are You Kidding Me?
The idea of stepping away, even briefly, from all the hard work you’re doing to manage anxiety can seem counterintuitive. It might also lead to new worries that if you let up in your efforts, all your hard work will be out the window and you’ll have to start over at square one (or maybe even square negative 10).
To quote what a psychologist once said to me many years ago, « What window would it go out of, how would it get there, and where would it actually go? » Initially, his questions seemed ridiculous and didn’t even make sense. I didn’t even have a response, and I had to stop and think about his words. In that silence, I realized the wisdom of his point. My concern at the time was related to brain injury recovery and overcoming all that went with it, especially anxiety. I was afraid that if I did something « wrong » in my healing or didn’t give it my full effort all of the time that I would « fail » (yes, I tend to be a perfectionist.) His questions made me realize that I was still engaging in automatic negative thoughts, especially all-or-nothing thinking (reducing anxiety must involve complete effort all the time or it won’t work at all) and catastrophizing (if I let up, everything will be out the window). I experimented, gave myself a break, and I was amazed at what happened.
Taking a break from intense anxiety-reducing work can truly be beneficial for your total wellbeing and your anxiety levels. How do you know if you need a break? Here are some signs.
Signs That You May Need a Break from Trying to Reduce Anxiety
Working on our mental health and wellbeing can sometimes be overwhelming. Signs that you might benefit from taking a break include:
- Increased frustration with yourself or your progress
- Irritability or having stronger-than-usual emotions (being quick to cry, for example)
- A sense of being overwhelmed with all the anxiety-reducing information and strategies out there
- Having a sudden setback in your progress, an anxiety relapse or flare-up despite using strategies that had been working
Rest assured, these signs don’t mean that anxiety has returned for good and that you’ll never be able to free yourself from it. They might just be your mind and body telling you that they need a shift for awhile.
How to Take a Break from Reducing Anxiety
First and foremost, remember that you are so much more than your anxiety. When we (I do it, too) focus so much on a single aspect of our total self and life experience, we tend to forget about the richness and depth of who we are. Also, even though the focus is positive, on overcoming anxiety (or any other challenge), the emphasis in our mind is still on « anxiety. » We remain glued to the very thing we’re trying to overcome.
When this happens, defusion is in order. Defusion is a concept from acceptance and commitment therapy that refers to de-fusing, or ungluing or unsticking, ourselves from a problem such as anxiety. When you take a break from intense anxiety work, you create space within you and around you. You make room for other things. You allow yourself to be your full self, beyond anxiety.
Taking a break to defuse from anxiety involves shifting your attention to other things.
- What do you enjoy? How can you do more of it?
- What do you want more of in your life? What steps can you take each day to increase it?
- What are you curious about? Give yourself permission and time to explore it.
- What is going on right now, in this moment? Use your senses to tune into it and experience it as it is, without judging it or trying to change it.
- What makes you laugh? Find some videos on YouTube or get silly with a friend or a child.
Shifting your attention to these uplifting things and allowing yourself to choose to pursue them rather than concentrating on your efforts to reduce anxiety won’t weaken your ant-anxiety work. You’ll simply open your window to let in new things. In doing that, you just might find that it’s your anxiety, not your work to reduce it, that goes out the window.