The role of self-acceptance in reducing anxiety

“No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance”

Robert Holden


Self-acceptance is key for anxiety recoverySelf-acceptance.

So easy in notion, yet so problematic in practice.

Those with anxiety often find the ability to accept oneself very difficult to do.

But why?

I guess it’s because you don’t like what anxiety has made you become.

You know you’re not supposed to feel this way and deep down there’s a part of you who doesn’t like who you are.

I don’t mean your morals, your view points and your beliefs.

It’s that you don’t like the fact that anxiety seems to have taken over and won, and there seems very little you can do.

Of course, this is not the case, but that doesn’t stop your thoughts telling you that it’s true.

So today we are going to be exploding that myth and looking at the ways that self-acceptance can be achieved, no matter how bad you might be feeling right now.

First we need to understand why self-acceptance is a key part of anxiety and panic recovery, and it’s for one important reason:

If everyone in the world truly accepted themselves for who they are and how they feel at times, then anxiety and panic would not be such a widespread problem

This is especially true for those who struggle a lot with social anxiety, because if you can’t accept yourself, it is difficult to believe others will be able to accept you too.

Secondly we need to agree exactly what ‘self-acceptance’ means.

It’s a term everyone knows, yet not always understands.

Wikipedia uses (in part) the definition by Shephard (1979) and is as follows:

Self-acceptance definition

There are a few important things to note here:

  1. Self-acceptance is acceptance of self in spite of deficiencies – that it can be achieved despite what you might currently think about yourself, in fact, when things are at their worst, it is even more important that you learn self-acceptance.
  2. Self-acceptance is thought to be necessary for good mental health – I like to think of this as being able to find inner calm of the mind by being able to just let go, and that is what recovering from anxiety and panic and having good mental health is all about.
  3. Self-acceptance is considered the prerequisite for change to occur – This is a huge one, we all want to make positive changes in our lives, yet this often seems so difficult to do. Self-acceptance can be the catalyst for this change because it enables you to start from where you are, not from where you want to be.

Now this is the general definition for self-acceptance and is not aimed at anxiety and panic attack sufferers.

My definition of self-acceptance in relation to anxiety and panic is therefore as follows:

Self-acceptance is the ability to let go of your anxiety and panic and be ok with who you are and how you feel right now, in order to allow your mind to heal

This may sound a little counterintuitive, and it may leave you asking…..

If I just accept how I am and my anxiety and panic, then won’t I then just stop trying to beat it?

Yes. That’s exactly the point.

Self-acceptance is what enables you to make the changes required to be well again. The most important of which is that by accepting your anxiety, you are able to stop caring about it.

It no longer bothers you and you instead are able to focus on other things.

Where many people go wrong is that they believe they have to become non-anxious first, so that they are better able to accept and live with themselves. 

But when you can accept it as it is right now, you’ll no longer need to beat it, because by accepting it, it ceases to be that dark cloud hovering over you where ever you go.

This is what enables you, in time, to remove its power and break the cycle you have been stuck in for so long.

Sounds difficult, right?

Well yes and no, but not that difficult if you understand what you need to do.

The important thing to know is this:

You don’t have to believe everything is ok right this moment for you to be able to have self-acceptance, rather that you are ok with the fact that everything is not currently ok

Why is this so important?

Because, there will never be a time when everything is just perfect.

You will always have new problems, issues to face, things you will do which you wish you hadn’t done and times you feel lost and alone.

It’s your ability to accept this and who you are that will help you make the changes in your anxiety that you wish to see.

Now let’s look at 6 techniques you can use to do this.

1) Being ok with being you

This is the most important technique of all, learning how to be ok with being you.

I want you to go to the nearest mirror and take a long look at yourself. Not just for a few seconds, but for at least a minute.

What you will see staring back at you is how you look, but I want you to look past this and look at who you are.

That person inside of you which makes you, you.

Now understand this…

You cannot change being this person, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, there is therefore no reason to not be ok being you, because trying to fight it is a battle you cannot win

All you are doing here is accepting the truth, you are you, nobody else and you have absolutely no reason to ever feel bad about that.

Now find a comfy chair to sit in quietly for a moment and just notice your body, your arms, legs, torso and head. Then focus on your mind, your thoughts, feelings and sensation.

Once you have done this just allow your self-awareness to sink in and then let a smile creep across your face as you tell yourself:

This is me and I’m completely ok with that

It may take a little practice, but once you are able to do this, and truly feel that acceptance of self inside, it will give you a huge sense of relief.

It’s like a wave washing over you, calming your body and mind because it feels good to be you. 

When I did this it relaxed me in an instantly and I knew that, even despite my anxiety, I was ok with being me.

I wasn’t suddenly anxiety free, but I didn’t care anymore.

More importantly I realised I still liked who I was, and for the first time in a long time, it felt great to be me.

I knew that if I wasn’t able to accept myself, it would only do one thing, it would slowly break me from the inside and sabotage any attempt of returning to the person I knew before.

Calm, happy, confident and carefree.

2) Know that you are not your anxiety

Your anxiety never has and never will define you.

If you could wave a wand and in an instant never feel anxious or panicked again you would still be the exact same person.

Yes, you may think and act differently, but the core of who you are, your morals and values, are very unlikely to change.

Therefore there is absolutely no reason not to accept yourself because of the label of being an anxious person that you feel you have to wear.

You’re fine just as you are, warts and all.

We all have them and it’s time you start to embrace them, rather than using them to subconsciously undermine your feelings of self-worth.

3) Understand your weaknesses, celebrate your strengths

Your weaknesses make you, you. There’s no reason to beat yourself up about them.

Self-awareness of them is important and trying to improve upon them is great, but you must accept them first if you want to be able to change them.

The same is true of your strengths, use them to show yourself that you can improve on your weaknesses.

It doesn’t matter how small they may be, they are important none the less. 

I wouldn’t believe it if you told me, but if you truly believe you have none, then that’s not a problem either.

Still accept this as who you currently are and look forward to finding out what more you can do.

Self-acceptance is all about wiping the slate clean and being able to start again.

4) Learn to laugh at yourself

This is not always easy to do, it’s often easy to take the mick out of others, but harder to do to ourselves.

I’ve always enjoyed plenty of friendly banter but being able to laugh at myself was something I struggled to do.

I took myself too seriously and wanted people to believe I was strong, confident and successful in everything I did.

It’s just not the truth, no-one can always be all of those things.

You must learn to laugh at your shortfalls and your little idiosyncrasies. When you do, especially in front of others, you’ll learn it can be very enjoyable and self-affirming to show others that you’re not only aware of them, but are able to make fun of them too.

We feel calmer around others when we lower our barriers and begin to let them in. 

5) Stop making ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ statements

Using these are too rigid and leave no room for compromise and are often far from the truth.

“I shouldn’t have to feel this way”

“I should be able to talk to new people without feeling anxious”

“I shouldn’t be so sad and lonely”

All they do is lead to feelings of frustration and a desire to not be that way.

You’ll never be able to accept yourself if you constantly tell yourself what you should and should not be.

Because then when you realise you’re not that perfect person, the anxiety and worries can often set in.

6) Don’t hold yourself up to others or the person you used to be

Once you are able to accept yourself for being you, you’ll also find it easier to stop comparing yourself to others.

You’ll understand that who they are has absolutely no baring on you. Wishing you were like someone else, or had something they have, just makes self-acceptance much harder to do.

This is the same with looking back on how you were before your anxiety.

You may have been calm, confident, outgoing, popular and cool, but it doesn’t matter if you currently don’t feel this way.

By trying to cling on to this past image of yourself and trying to make others believe this is who you still are, you are only being untrue to yourself.

How can you ever expect to accept yourself when you’re trying to be something you’re not?

You can’t, and the worry that you’ll be found out, will only make you more anxious.

You can be who you want to be

Self-acceptance doesn’t mean you’re just giving up and accepting that you will never change. 

Self-acceptance is what gives you that inner calm so that you can make the changes needed to become who you want to be.

It truly is a liberating experience, to finally be able to see yourself for what you are, and to be ok and even happy with that fact.

It will also enable you to stop caring what other people think of you and when you combine this with my advice on meeting new people, it can make social situations much more enjoyable too.

It takes time, patience and a little practice, not only to do it, but to make sure you don’t revert back to how you felt about yourself before.

Just think of it like this, even if you will always feel anxious, if you can accept that, and yourself for being that way, it has to be better than constantly berating yourself for the way that you feel.

Do it for long enough and you may just find that you not only feel calmer inside, but your anxiety becomes less of a big deal.

Eventually it’s just not on your mind so much anymore, and when this happens it simply fades away…………….


Hugo Rock


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