DARE: A four step approach to anxiety management

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the United States, affected about 40 million people. If you struggle with anxiety, you are not alone. Help is available. Anxiety frequently leaves you feeling scared and out of control. You may experience sweating, shaking, chest pain, racing thoughts, or difficulty breathing. People often describe anxiety as “feeling like they are going to die.” Our immediate response to this danger is to try and fight the anxiety. Ironically, the more that you fight these feelings, the more intense the anxiety becomes. The DARE response, created by Barry McDonagh, is a new and easy way to break free from anxiety and panic attacks. DARE includes a four-step process: Defuse, Allow, Run-toward, and Engage. DARE aims to change the way you approach your anxiety, making the feeling more manageable. The steps go as followed:

Step 1: Defuse

Anxiety often comes out of nowhere, which can be scary. Anxiety is like a wave. Anxiety comes up, peaks, and then slowly goes down. Although anxiety always comes down, we tend to worry about the “What if” thoughts that come from anxiety. “What if this feeling doesn’t stop” or “what if I have a panic attack in public,” or “what if I lose my job?” These thoughts feed the anxiety making it more intense. Instead of asking yourself the “what ifs,” ask yourself “So what?” Ask yourself “So what? My heart is very strong and I will get through this like I always have in the past” or “so what? If I have a panic attack in public someone will help me in two minutes.” These questions change teach you to react in a positive way to the anxiety.

Step 2: Allow

This step teaches you to actively accept and allow the anxiety to happen. There is no outrunning your anxiety, so you have to move with it. The key to the DARE response is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Life is full of unpleasant experiences, so it is important to learn how to be present with it. The anxiety you feel may be uncomfortable, but in reality it is just an excitement of your nervous system aimed to protect you, but just in the wrong way. With a different approach to the excitement, then it begins to fall away naturally. An easy way to do this step is to repeat to yourself “I accept and allow this anxious feeling” over and over. You may not believe it at first, but eventually you will. This step is often the hardest because it is hard to accept discomfort. However, with practice you will come to see the results that it has.

Step 3: Run toward

In order to break the illusion that your anxiety is a harmful threat, you must run toward it! As I said before, anxiety is just the excitement of your nervous system. Fear and excitement have almost identical physiologically sensations and responses, but the difference is in our perception. For example, if you were in the woods and heard the bushes rustle, you would react very differently if you thought it was a wild tiger versus a fluffy kitten. The stimuli remains the same (the rustling bushes) but the perception of what feline will jump out at you changes your response. Shifting to a more positive perspective of your anxiety will end this illusion of a threat. When you start to feel anxious say to yourself  “I am excited by this feeling” over and over again. Run toward the anxious feeling instead of trying to fight it. This statement will change the way your brain and body respond to the anxiety.

Step 4: Engage

Anxiety will always look for a way to reel you back in, so it is important to find a task that you can really engage with, in order to fully calm down. Although finding a distraction is good, it is not as powerful as fully engaging in an activity that takes the attention of your mind. For example, watching TV or reading is often a distraction because it does engage the energy of your mind. Completing a task from work or doing a mindfulness activity takes the energy you have from anxiety and uses it in a different place. If at first it is easier to do a task that distracts you instead of engages you, then start there. Then once you become more comfortable in your DARE responses than you can move to more engaging activities.

Remember that you have the power! Anxiety does not make you a weak person, but instead makes you quite normal. You are not alone in your fight against anxiety. Know that you are the key. Recovery is based on your ability to embrace and accept your anxious thoughts and feelings. The goal is not to end these anxious feelings altogether, but to end the fear and allow it to happen. A better response is all that it takes to desensitize your mind and body.