Willingness as an Antidote to Anxiety: A Weird Exercise That Helps You Get Better at Feeling

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Learn how to get better at feeling. That means you increase your capacity to feel emotions, to experience both joyful and painful emotions without needing to escape, avoid, or act on them. This is a skill that has been transformational for me and many of my clients, and it’s called willingness.

Willingness means the ability to sit with and experience what you are currently experiencing. It’s the ability to be where you’re at, to feel what you feel, and to expand your heart to be able to feel your emotions, whether they are comfortable or painful.

So first we’re going to talk a little about willingness, and then we’re going to do a little exercise adapted from “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” by Steven Hayes 9
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Research has demonstrated that people who can’t make room for their uncomfortable feelings have a very hard time with self-control. Because they feel the need to escape, control, or suppress painful emotions, they resort to anger, blame, drug use, or other avoidance techniques that, in the long run, end up making them unhappy, disconnected from life, and unfulfilled.

On the other hand, practicing willingness can help you strengthen your emotional muscles and get more skilled at feeling, which makes heavy or painful emotions feel lighter. Willingness is an approach to emotion management that’s sustainable because over time things get better and better instead of harder and harder.

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Therapy in a Nutshell, LLC, and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.

About Me:
I’m Emma McAdam. I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I have worked in various settings of change and growth since 2004. My experience includes juvenile corrections, adventure therapy programs, wilderness therapy programs, an eating disorder treatment center, a residential treatment center, and I currently work in an outpatient therapy clinic.

In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love e

If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services.
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