Managing Your Anxiety by Becoming AWARE

If you’re like most people who battle anxiety, you probably want to learn how to get rid of it… and fast. It’s my job as a therapist to tell you: Getting rid of anxiety is not necessarily a realistic goal. Instead, we can work together to change the relationship you have with your anxiety, and embrace it, rather than battle it.

People typically stop listening after this. Who wants to embrace and befriend their anxiety? That means you have to feel the emotions of dread, unease, and fear that you desperately want to get rid of. Yuck!

However, bear with me for a moment. Imagine you’re stuck in quicksand. I’m assuming this has never happened to you, but if you’re ever in this compromising situation, you’ll soon have some good tools in your back pocket! A normal reaction to being stuck in quicksand is to do whatever you can to get unstuck. Perhaps you flail your arms and legs in an attempt to grapple your way out. However, if you do this, you’ll find yourself sinking farther and farther down.

Here’s the trick: Don’t try to force your way out. Allow the quicksand to envelope you, and you’ll soon discover yourself floating on it. The more you panic and resist, the worse your odds are of getting out.

It’s similar for anxiety. While there’s no quick fix or magic solution for getting rid of it, there are specific strategies you can use that will be more effective than attempting to fight or claw your way out.

What I have found most helpful are the AWARE steps devised by anxiety expert David Carbonell. These steps can be used with either typical worry-type anxiety but also panic attacks.

AWARE: Accept Watch Act Repeat End

It’s natural to resist something that doesn’t feel good. When you start to have some of your scary “what -if” thoughts or notice tightening in your chest or a sinking feeling in your stomach, it makes sense that you’d want these things gone. But the more you try to fight it—just like the more you try to get yourself out of the quicksand—the more stuck you’ll become. It may seem unnatural to not attempt to rid yourself of this discomfort. But here’s a simple and easy rule to remember: Do the opposite of what you’d normally do.

Acceptance does not mean you have to say Oh yay anxiety! This feels so good! But it can be important to remember that anxiety is something that is acceptable and tolerable (albeit obviously not desirable).  How do I know that anxiety is acceptable and tolerable? Because it’s your body being in a state of discomfort. You feel scared: That’s all it is. Anxiety attempts to trick you into thinking you are not okay. My favorite phrase to remember when I’m noticing and accepting my anxiety is this: I’m not in danger. I’m just super uncomfortable right now.


When you’re in a hyperactivated state, you usually want to do something. The same rule applies here though: Do the opposite of what you’d normally do. You actually don’t need to do anything to relieve anxiety or panic. Relief comes every single time. Have you ever experienced an anxiety episode that never ended? It comes in waves, and you’re able to ride the wave out to shore.

Instead of asking yourself “Why am I feeling this way and how do I make it stop?” begin asking yourself “What do I notice?” For example: How is my breathing? How do the muscles in my neck and shoulders feel? What’s going on around me? What does my “what-if” thinking sound like? You can also try asking yourself, Is this a something that I’m worrying about in my head, or does the problem actually exist in the world around me right now? (If it does, what can it be changed?) The more you can observe your anxiety, the less you will feel intertwined in it without a way out.


Here’s an important thought: It is not your responsibility to make your anxiety come to an end. Remember, anxiety comes in waves and gradually subsides each and every time. You may be thinking, But what if my anxiety never ends? That’s anxiety talking! You don’t have to take your thoughts so seriously.

The goal in this step is to make yourself as comfortable as possible. An easy tool that you can practice is belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing. In belly breathing, you inhale and exhale with your stomach muscles rather than your chest muscles. Focus on really taking the time to fully exhale. If you’d like practice, ask your therapist to guide you through it!

It’ll also be vital to get out of your mind and into your surroundings. Try this “five senses” exercise: Identify five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you can taste.

Finally, pay attention to how are you responding to your anxiety and your “what-if” thoughts. Here’s an example:

Anxiety voice: What if I swerve off the road and crash right now while I’m driving?

Unhelpful, resisting response: Shut up! That would never happen. But just in case, let’s stop on the side of the road for a while.

Helpful, accepting response: Ah, a “what-if” thought! This must be anxiety. I’m noticing a lot of discomfort, but I need to remember that it’s just a thought and I’m not in danger right now. I’m going to do the opposite of what my anxiety says and keep driving.


You may find another wave of anxiety comes up, and that’s okay! As long as you’re not attempting to resist and go into battle, you’re doing nothing wrong. Sometimes, even when you use your helpful coping tactics, anxiety may pop up again. Start from the top and keep working the steps.

Your anxiety will end. The more you resist, anxiety persists. When you can accept, anxiety will be less likely to take over your day.

Anxiety is a feeling of being afraid with no outward threats present. While being afraid isn’t pleasant, it’s a normal human emotion that is tolerable. You are capable of handling your anxiety. The more you try to stifle it, push it down, suppress it, argue with it, or ignore it, the more it will come up stronger and louder. So… get curious. Allow it in. Perhaps you’ll find it’s not so bad after all.

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