The ONE Thing for Recovering from Anxiety

Recovering from anxiety can seem complicated. There’s so much advice out there, so many ideas, so much you’re being told to do. Diet, exercise, meditation, sleep, journaling. Sometimes it’s just too much.

That’s why I’m a huge fan of the ONE thing.

The ONE thing is an approach to making choices. It’s very simple, and very effective. It was created by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, and all credit for the idea goes to them.

It goes like this:

What’s the ONE thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

It’s a simple approach that keeps you focused on what matters. It can be applied to every area of your life—relationships, work, and so on.

For example, the ONE thing for my mornings is a good breakfast. If I do this, then everything afterwards is easier. If I don’t, I have less energy, and wind up grazing my way to lunch.

While helpful in every area of your life, this approach is extra useful for recovering from anxious suffering.

What, then, is the ONE thing for anxiety?

Acceptance—The ONE Thing for Recovering from Anxiety

Acceptance is the ONE thing you can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary in recovering from anxiety.

Yes. Acceptance.

Now, before you hit the back button, let me assure you that acceptance is probably not what you think it is. Let me make an argument as to why acceptance is such a powerful treatment for anxiety.

What Acceptance is NOT

Acceptance does not mean surrendering. It is not an act of weakness or passivity. No one is asking you to give up.

Acceptance is not resignation. Far from it. It is an active and powerful practice that can lead to less suffering.

Acceptance is not settling. Not by any means. Do not settle for anxious suffering when recovery is possible.

What Acceptance IS

Acceptance is an attitude that says, “I take my experience exactly as it is.”

When you accept, you don’t try to change your experience. You don’t try to modify it with techniques or other tricks. You simply settle into it.

Let me give you an example.

When you jump into freezing cold water, you have an initial resistance to it. You brace. Your body tenses. But, sooner or later, you do something different. You give up fighting the cold and start to relax into it. The water doesn’t change; you do. And this change is enough to make the experience bearable, if not pleasurable. At the very least, you stop suffering as much.

It’s similar with anxiety. Chances are, you brace against it. Your body tenses. But there’s another way of being. Like in the cold water, you can give up fighting it. If you do this, then the anxiety doesn’t have to change, because you already have. How does this change help?

Why Acceptance is the ONE Thing for Recovering from Anxiety

When you accept your anxiety, you tell your brain that anxiety is not dangerous. You stop tensing against anxiety, and by stopping tensing you lower your sense of danger. You teach your amygdala that anxiety is not a threat. Doing this quiets your inner alarm (the system responsible for the fight-or-flight response). This short-circuits the fear-of-fear cycle which turns normal (and even healthy) anxiety into an anxiety disorder.

When you accept your anxiety, you get less tangled up with it. You stop adding more fear and tension to what’s already there.

Acceptance Can Make Things Easier

When you practice acceptance, everything related to anxiety can get easier.

Take relaxation techniques. With acceptance, you do relaxation techniques less urgently, less desperately. If they work, great—you feel more relaxed. If they don’t work, oh well—you’ve accepted your anxiety anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Relaxation is no longer the goal you’re aiming at, because with acceptance there’s no place you need to end up.

When you practice acceptance, you do relaxation techniques less urgently, less desperately.

I’m not saying to stop doing things to relax. Personally, I still meditate and schedule relaxation into my day. The difference is that when I try to relax, I do it to relax, not to escape anxiety.

Acceptance Can Make Things Unnecessary

If you practice acceptance, you may even find certain things you’re doing now to be unnecessary. For example, if you accept your anxiety, do you need to carry anti-anxiety medication around with you? Do you need to avoid certain places or conversations that cause anxiety? Do you need to exercise so intensely to rid yourself of stress?

Feeling like you have to do something in order to keep your anxiety in check is a good sign that you’re too engaged with your anxiety.

These are all personal choices, of course. Each person decides what is right for them. My intention, though, is to share an idea that gives you more options.


Acceptance is a very powerful practice for recovering from anxiety. In my opinion and personal experience, it is the ONE thing that makes the rest of the work easier or unnecessary.

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