Compassion for Anxiety

Struggle Switch Compassion for Anxiety

As someone who has struggled with anxiety from a young age, I have tried many different techniques whilst looking for a solution. This has included strategies such as breathing exercises, physical exercises, cognitive-behaviour therapy, and e-therapies. Often these strategies would work….until they didn't. Several minutes, hours, or days later I would find that my anxiety would come back. In turn, this would make me feel much worse as I would often think, "I am using my strategies why isn't it working!", and then on top of already feeling anxious, I would feel frustrated, guilty, hopeless, and annoyed.

Feeling as through I had tried everything, I thought that this is just how things would be always. That was into I came across an article about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) on Russ Harris's website, author of bestselling ACT book, The Happiness Trap. According to the article, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is typically broken down into 3 key components:

  1. Defusion: Learning how to distance and let go of unhelpful beliefs, memories, and thoughts
  2. Acceptance: Making room for painful feelings and allowing them to come and go without struggling against them
  3. Contact with the present moment: engaging with the present moment with an open attitude

Essentially, ACT is about acknowledging and understanding our emotions as they come, and go, both helpful and unhelpful. However, rather than fighting or struggling against them, you accept them. At first, this concept seemed incredibly strange to me. In the past, I had always had the attitude that anxiety was a terrible and awful thing that I needed to get rid of. However, now I was being told that I should accept these feelings and it would actually help? I did not believe it at first. That was until I tried it.

Now there is many different aspects of ACT that work for different people. For me, I found the Struggle Switch metaphor, a component of ACT, the most helpful which is what I will discuss in the article. The reason I find the Struggle Switch metaphor beneficial is that it is useful to demonstrate how often our feelings of anxiety can amplify other negative feelings. To demonstrate, try to visualise that you are feeling anxious and as you do, a switch is turned ON in your brain that raises the panic button. This may include having thoughts such as "Why am I feeling like this!", "How do I get rid of it now!", or "Why isn't it going away!". Now, as well as having anxiety, you are also experiencing added anxiety about having anxiety. You may also start to feel angry, frustrated, upset, or guilty for feeling this way.

However, now imagine what would happen if when you started feeling anxious instead of struggling against that anxiety, you switch that struggle switch to OFF. This does not mean that we turn off our anxiety. However, it does mean we decide we are not going to invest any more of our time, energy, or resources thinking or fighting against it. Instead, although we might be feeling anxious still, we are going to continue on doing what we were doing previously and engaging in activities we enjoy. In these moments, I find it helpful to acknowledge my anxiety by addressing/speaking to it in a compassionate way. For instance, I think of something along the lines of "thanks anxiety for reminding me about that and looking out for me but I'm okay at the moment, everything is under control".

In conclusion, experiencing life without feeling anxious is not always possible. However, it can be helpful to recognise and accept these thoughts rather than struggling with them. Although the anxiety might get more or less intense as time passes, it is now not being affected by other feelings and therefore can be easier to manage.

If you would like to find out more about tips for managing anxiety, please contact LETSS via 1800 013 755 or start a webchat via


(Image from Unsplash by twinsfisch)

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