Moderation in openness to our anxiety and fear
Anxiety and fear are common emotions. Functionally, these two emotions are signals for us to be alert to threats and danger. In my clinical experience, clients often tend to obsess in totally eliminating their anxiety and fear. It is because they usually find these two emotions as aversive and unpleasant. For those with social anxiety, one of the excuses for them to procrastinate exposure exercises for social events is their anxiety and fear. They frequently say that they will try to expose to social events once their anxiety and fear have disappeared. However, whenever they start to talk to their therapists about starting exposure exercises, they started to experience anticipatory anxiety. As a result, they worry about the escalation of their anxiety and procrastinate again and again. They cannot tolerate having any anxiety and fear while being exposed to their imaginal threats in social events. How can we face our anxiety and fear, and be brave enough to step out of our comfort zone?
First of all, it is important to know that having the openness to embrace our anxiety and fear does not mean we indulge ourselves to let these emotions escalating. In order for us to be open to experience our negative emotions, we need to learn effective emotional regulation skills. For instance, we need to learn grounding technique to ground ourselves when we feel overwhelmed by our anxiety and fear during exposure to anxiety- or fear-provoking events. Even for positive emotions, such as happiness or pleasure, we also need to not letting ourselves to be indulgence in experiencing these emotions. If we indulge ourselves in experiencing happiness or pleasure, we may become addicted to some habits that are not harmful if being engaged in moderate level. Examples of these habits are gaming or social drinking.
Since nearly all negative emotions are unpleasant to many people, it is our nature to avoid these emotions or to suppress them. For instance, many of my clients with social anxiety procrastinate in doing exposure exercises so that they can avoid experiencing anxiety and fear. In fact, in order for us to be able to confront our anxiety and fear, we need to be brave to cultivate an openness to experience these emotions. With compassion, we learn to embrace these emotions without trying to suppress them. In practicing self-compassion, we stay in the middle by acknowledging that we are anxious or fearful. At the same time, we do not judge these emotions as good or bad. We also let go of our urge to suppress them and stay open to experience whatever is arising inside us. It is the same for positive emotions. For example, we do not try to avoid experiencing happiness or pleasure simply because we worry about the possibility of being addicted. We embrace our happiness and pleasure during shopping or eating dessert, without overindulgence into these activities.
For my clients with social anxiety, I usually encourage them to be brave to face their anxiety and fear with openness. I will explain to them about the concept of moderation in our experience. It is important for them to be aware of their tendency to avoid experiencing their anxiety and fear. On the other hand, it is also crucial for them to learn effective emotional regulation techniques to not being overwhelmed by their anxiety and fear. The key is that openess to our experience is about moderation. It is true to any kind of emotions, such as anxiety, fear, happiness, or anger.