Courageous Anxiety

Anxiety can play a bit of a game with us. One of anxiety’s main tactics is to take us out of our present moment experience and into an endless series of possible negative outcomes. One of the best combatants to this strategy is to welcome and even enhance our experience of distress in the present moment. What, you say? Welcome distress? Not way! I’ve spent a lifetime trying to avoid the distress of anxiety symptoms!

Reid Wilson wrote a great article on this topic recently and he makes this interesting statement: “I’m learning that each time I’m tempted to resist a moment of distress, anxiety, or painful reflection about the past, I invite greater suffering….At that point, I’m stuck in avoidance and can’t move forward to actually solve the problem. But if I can open myself to the painful reality of the moment, I actually suffer less.”
This profoundly counterintuitive wisdom can serve us all in anxious moments. A client very recently reflected to me that one thing the therapy process had taught her was how to experience negative emotions rather than avoid them. She and other clients with whom I work have learned to turn their attention towards their anxiety symptoms and even try to get them to increase. This paradoxical approach gives the client the upper hand by playing a game with new rules. For some, the #1 rule is that God created in such a way that we can allow a vast expression of human emotion and be OK. Anxiety would like you to believe otherwise. Anxiety would have you believe that if you feel it, YOU WILL NOT BE OK.

Wilson also says, “this shift from “symptoms=bad” to “symptoms=interesting” can utterly transform the way (we) view (our)selves and the world. By accepting what the present moment offers, by not resisting, (we) widen (our) present possibilities.” Changing one’s relationship with anxiety from that of ‘terrified victim’ to ‘courageous experiencer’ turns the rules upside down and opens us up to learning so much more about what drives the anxiety.

For Reid Wilson’s full article, entitled, “Finding the Courage to Stay in the Moment”, CLICK HERE.


  • Gretchen

    I love this post! Thanks, Janice! The pic is great!! 😉

    January 10, 2013
  • Matt

    Brilliant !!

    January 10, 2013
  • Lou

    Your article is very helpful. Responding to negative things that happen in a positive way is counter intuitive. But if God is sovereign over all things then “stuff happens for a reason. For example, my appointment cancelled this morning, therefore no income today, but I would not have read your article and plan to read Reids article as well this morning. Thanks,


    January 10, 2013
  • KF

    How would you translate this to help children understand that their negative emotions are okay and can help them understand themselves better? I struggle with that as a parent. I also struggle with the idea that “stuff happens for a reason.” I think that stuff happens, without any particular design towards my needs or growth. How I respond to that stuff is what makes it meaningful, debilitating, or a growth experience. That’s my take, anyway.

    January 10, 2013
  • Coli

    this is great Janice. are there similar thoughts on depression or would that be a different tactic all together.

    January 13, 2013
  • […] Courageous Anxiety from Janice McWilliams How do we see/interact with our emotions? How do we view them? This was not a new perspective for me, but definitely one that always fascinates. […]

    February 2, 2013
  • curtis

    So glad I found this post on courageous anxiety. I will use the link written by Dr. Wilson to compliment my reading of his book STOP OBSESSING and I am determined to be more engaging of my anxiety.

    Thank you Janice.

    March 8, 2013
  • curtis


    Does the role of a supportive friend/mentor include encouraging their anxious friend to “increase” their anxiety such as a therapist might do?

    What role does a supportive friend play?

    Any thoughts?

    March 23, 2013
    • Janice

      Getting a supportive friend on board with your anxiety goals can be a great way to move forward. Sometimes an anxious person needs the support to get into an anxious situation, but then needs the friend to stop reassuring and simply be there, or perhaps even leave! Some friends can unwittingly reinforce poor patterns for anxious folks. A good therapist can help set some parameters for the friends too….

      March 25, 2013
    • curtis

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply Janice.

      If you know of any blogs, essays, resources on friends and anxiety goals, would you please link them to my email?

      Thanks much,


      March 26, 2013
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