Jay Winner M.D.

Stress Remedy

Non-Resistance Training for Anxiety Disorders

What makes us so anxious and a simple training exercise that can help

Posted Sep 03, 2018

A key aspect of anxiety disorders is that resistance fuels an increase in anxiety level. The resistance comes in 4 overall types:

  1. Resistance to physical sensations (such as wishing one’s heart would be less hard)
  2. Resistance to emotion (wishing that there was no panic or anxiety)
  3. Resistance to circumstances (wishing one’s environment was different)
  4. Resistance to thoughts (wishing one had a clearer mind, peace of mind or less thoughts)

These cycles are illustrated in the figure

Jay Winner, MD
Cycles of Resistance
Source: Jay Winner, MD

In order to reduce anxiety, one needs to learn to reduce this resistance.

A general strategy for reducing the four areas of resistance is:

  1. Physical sensations: accept for now how you are feeling. This is not accepting that you will feel that way forever, but for now, accept your current sensations.
  2. Emotion: instead of wishing your anxiety away, see if you can just feel the adrenaline flow through your veins and let it energize you. (Sometimes the analogy of a superhero getting a sudden burst of energy is helpful.)
  3. Circumstances: realize that the present moment can only be as it is, so as we work to change the future, see if we can accept the present circumstance for now.
  4. Thoughts: instead of wishing all your thoughts away, realize that you can just notice the thoughts without resistance and without believing all of your thoughts.

Since the resistance is often a habit entrenched over many years, it makes sense that having some sort of training would be helpful to reduce the resistance. We all know about resistance training done to make our muscles stronger. However, in order to deal with anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder, training in non-resistance is really what is needed.

Non-resistance training can start with a simple meditation on breath: when the mind wanders, patiently refocus on the sensation of the current breath. Then do a body scan by focusing on relaxing one muscle group at a time, from foot to head. Prior to the starting the exercise, list a few “resistant thoughts” that are associated with the anxiety/panic. After the body scan, I instruct to repeat one of the thoughts, without believing or resisting the thought. After doing so, just focus back on the breath and relax a muscle group. We typically do this with several thoughts. By the end of the exercise, people are more relaxed. This experientially demonstrates to them that the thoughts themselves do not cause the anxiety. It is the belief in the thoughts or the resistance of thoughts that typically increase anxiety. Through the exercise, people practice noticing thoughts without resistance and without believing all their thoughts. This non-resistance training exercise also acts as a type of exposure therapy to the thoughts so that the thoughts are less likely to trigger an anxiety response.

For education about panic and anxiety and an example of non-resistance training, you can view this video.

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