Attaching the WIN to anxious moments

When we’re faced with a trigger, our instinct is to resist and quickly seek avoidance or ritualizing to stop the anxiety. Even though we may not like the cycle that we’re in, we don’t see another way out. At the same time, we may want things to change, and we fully recognize the gap between our current reaction and where we want to be…And this feels like a scary and maybe even impossible gap to leap across.

To bridge this gap (and take the leap), we need to develop a process that will bring a new and even positive emotion to the moments of anxiety. This serves as an incompatible response that increasingly overrides the usual habits of avoidance, ritualizing, and figuring out (e.g., analyzing, replaying) tied to the negative emotion of fear. Cultivating this new way of experiencing fear, uncertainty, the urge to ritualize, the urge to avoid, etc. redefines how we relate to anxiety, regardless of the content it may be latching onto at a given time.


How do we operationalize this?

Step 1: Define your values and WANTS

  • What’s meaningful about taking this on? What would you be doing differently if anxiety didn’t hold you back, and what parts of this are important to you?

Step 2: When facing a situation or getting triggered without anticipating this, take a step back first before taking a step forward

  • When you can predict higher symptoms, be thoughtful in advance about your attitude and intentions going in

  • When it occurs by surprise, step back to notice and get your footing

  • This is a mindful moment to remember what you WANT for yourself in this moment

Step 3: Seek this opportunity out and WANT to have it because it helps you grow and live out your values

  • Take an opposite action and instead of ritualizing or resisting, recognize the larger perspective that you value. For example,

    • I WANT to get stronger at handling uncertainty (to instead surf this uncertainty wave and help take the wind out of anxiety’s sails)

    • I WANT to be a good role model/to be present/(enter your values and WANTS here)

Step 4: Have an attitude that helps you to increasingly feel positive about having anxious moments – yes, this is hard, but it also is possible over time! Examples:

  • “Great! This is a chance for me to practice my skills!”

  • “I’m winning when I feel anxious and uncertain – I learn how to handle it the way I WANT to!”

Step 5: Take helpful actions internally and/or externally that align with your values and commitments

  • Resist rituals and avoidance

  • Saying, “No, I’m not doing that,” “I’m not going down that rabbit hole.”

  • Mindfully observe your experiences

  • Get active in ways that are helpful, pivoting toward your values

Step 6: Reflect on what you learn as you move through practices, both planned and unexpected


References for this include Reid Wilson’s work, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Acceptance-Based Behavior Therapy, as can be found through these links:

Madison Whiteneck