The DARE Response teaches you to have a radically new relationship with your anxiety. It teaches you to stop seeing your anxiety as an oppressive force but rather a neutral energy that can be channeled to your benefit.
STEP #1 DIFUSE IT
The biggest mistake most people make when anxiety strikes is to get caught up in “what if” thoughts.
- What if my heart doesn’t stop pounding?
- What if I have a panic attack here in the car?
- What if this constant anxiety doesn’t go away?
- What if I faint? Who will help me?
- What if my mind never stops obsessing with these thoughts?
A good response to a “what if” is, “So what!”
- What if my heart doesn’t stop pounding? So what! My heart’s an incredibly strong muscle. This is nothing more than a light workout for it.
- What if I have a panic attack here in the car? So what! I’ll pull over and get through it like I’ve always done in the past.
- What if I faint in public? Who will help me? So what! If I faint, I faint. Someone will help me, and in two minutes I’ll be conscious again.
- What if my mind never stops obsessing with these thoughts? So what! Thoughts are just thoughts and can’t harm me. Eventually my anxious mind will settle, and the thoughts will dissipate.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t fully believe in your own responses to these questions. The key point here is to quickly defuse the buildup of fear by answering the “what ifs” in the right way with a strong “so what” attitude. Answering with “so what” is effective because it neutralizes the fear and places you back into a position of power.
STEP #2 ALLOW IT
What we resist persists, and what we accept, we can transform. When we fully accept our anxiety by allowing it to be, without begrudging it, it then goes through a subtle transformation. As Lama Govinda said, “We are transformed by what we accept.” We allow anxiety by simply saying,
“I accept and allow this anxious feeling.”
Just like an athlete who embraces discomfort in order to achieve their end goal, you’re embracing anxiety in order to get where you need to be. Never get upset when anxiety shows up at your door. Smile, invite it in, sit down, and serve it tea. If you’re a visual type, give the anxiety a mental image like a ridiculous cartoon character. Come up with a great nickname for it. Use whatever visual image for the anxiety that works for you. What’s important is to bring your sense of humor into play and make it totally absurd. Be open and playful with your anxiety.
With a bit of practice, you can actually see the arrival of anxiety as a bit ridiculous. You can smile to yourself each time this character jumps on your shoulder or is in your ear, warning you about the next big threat that’s about to befall you.
“What if I allow it in and it gets worse? What if it all gets too much for me to handle?”. Allowing anxiety as it is works incredibly well. You won’t get more anxious. In fact, the more welcoming you can be, the faster your anxiety level will drop. It’s your fear of anxiety that causes the whole problem.
STEP #3 RUN TOWARDS IT
Anxiety is nothing more than a wave of energy flowing through your body. This energy will not hurt you. It’s your interpretation of this energy that causes the problem and traps you in the vicious cycle of fearing fear.
Fear and excitement are just different sides of the same coin. When wildly excited, you experience the exact same sensations as you do when you’re very anxious. The secret is learning how to flip your perception of these sensations from negative to positive. Once you master the ability to see them as nothing more than a heightened manifestation of energy in your body, you end the illusion of a threat.
You run toward your anxiety by telling yourself you feel excited by your anxious thoughts or feelings. We achieve this very simply by saying,
“I’m excited by this feeling.”
Repeat that phrase several times until you feel a shift in how you’re perceiving this nervous energy. In the beginning, you may have to fake it till you make it. That means that initially you’ll find it hard to really run toward it and believe you’re excited rather than scared, but with regular practice, the sensations that terrify you (e.g., a pounding heart, sweating palms, palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, queasy stomach) all become just that—sensations and nothing more.
STEP #4 ENGAGE IT
Once you’ve defused the initial fear and allowed the anxiety to be present, you should then ride out the declining wave of anxiety by occupying yourself with an activity that really engages your mind, anything at all that takes up your full attention, such as reading a magazine, focusing on a specific task at work, or having a conversation with someone in person or on the phone.
Idleness is the enemy of recovery. If you’re idle, you’ll ruminate and “check in” all the time. “Checking in” is that habit all anxious people have of scanning their mind and body to see how they’re feeling every few moments. It’s the anxious mind scanning for danger.
Don’t get upset when the anxiety keeps intruding. It will, that’s inevitable. So as it does, just keep gently placing your attention back on what you were engaged with.
For example, imagine you’re sitting at work and suddenly feel a wave of anxiety. Maybe your heart skips a beat or your mind fills with anxious thoughts. You immediately respond by defusing it with a playful “so what/whatever” attitude. Then you move into allowing any residual anxiety you feel to be fully present. You get comfortable with your anxious discomfort. “I accept and allow this anxious feeling.” Now run toward the anxious feelings by telling yourself that you are in fact excited by them. “I’m excited by this feeling.”
Then finally, you move your focus back to what you were doing. In this case, you engage with the work in front of you without feeling a need to check in all the time because you know you’re doing the right thing to heal your anxiety.
Think of The DARE Response as your special mental toolkit that you can use each and every time you feel anxious. By applying it (even imperfectly), you’ll always be moving in the right direction and healing your anxiety.
- As you become aware of anxiety, defuse it immediately with a “so what/ whatever” attitude.
- Drop all resistance and accept and allow the anxiety you’re feeling to just be. Try to get as comfortable with the anxious discomfort as you can.
- Remove the sense of threat by running toward the anxious feelings. Tell yourself, “I’m excited by this feeling.”
- Finally, move your attention to an activity in the present moment that engages you fully.