Staying Present in the Face of Anxiety

Written by Tonya Swartzendruber

Most of us are familiar with the feeling of trying to escape from or avoid anxiety – we think that if we avoid a particular place/person/conversation our uncomfortable feeling will go away and never come back. But over time, those who pay attention also recognize the futility of escape, since anxiety always comes back and often grows even stronger when we try to avoid. As well, our attempts to escape or avoid anxiety makes our lives get smaller and smaller as the list of things that provoke anxiety grows and grows.

An alternative to avoidance and escape, and the subsequent negative consequences it brings to our quality of life, is turning toward anxiety. In recent years, mental health clinicians have started to talk about mindfulness as one way to stay present in the face of anxiety. Mindfulness has been defined in many different ways but one definition that I like is from Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. In his book “Full Catastrophe Living”, Dr. Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention, on purpose, to our moment-to-moment experience. He also emphasizes that mindfulness involves doing this without judgment – that is, we allow our experience to be just as it is without trying to change it in any way.

Easier said than done, right? That’s why those who practice mindfulness do just that: practice. It can take time to develop the capacity to stay present in the face of unwelcome or uncomfortable emotional experience. Luckily, it is not particularly difficult to practice mindfulness; it just takes some persistence, patience and willingness.

When we practice responding mindfully to anxiety, we notice that anxiety (or any emotion, really) is actually made up of multiple components. These include somatic sensations (like heart palpitations, sweaty palms, shortness of breath), anxious thoughts, and urges for behavior (often avoidance or escape). When broken down into these components, anxiety begins to feel more manageable and this pause to notice the components of anxiety in a mindful way can give us an opportunity to respond skillfully instead of simply trying to reduce or get rid of our anxiety.

To get a taste of what mindfulness of the present moment is actually like, I recommend a short simple practice called the Three Minute Breathing Space. Practices like this one integrate the key components of mindfulness: Awareness of the present moment with acceptance. The exercise below is adapted from the book Mindfulness and Psychotherapy by Drs. Germer, Siegel and Fulton and can be found at

Step 1 – Awareness: Become aware of the present as it is unfolding moment by moment. Notice your body sitting or standing or lying down. What are you experiencing right now? What thoughts are present? Do you have any somatic sensations? Any feelings?

Step 2 – Gathering Attention: Bring attention to each in-and-out breath, wherever breath sensations are most easily felt – this may be in the chest or in your belly rising and falling, or in your throat or nostrils. Recognize the breath as an anchor to the present moment. Just notice your breath and don’t try to change it.

Step 3 – Expanding Attention: Now include other experiences in your awareness, such as your facial expression, or an itch, or your thoughts and feelings. Again, just notice these experiences and don’t try to change them.

When practiced regularly, exercises like these can train us to take pause when we are overtaken by anxiety. This pause allows us to remember that we have a choice in how we respond to anxiety – we can choose to avoid, or face our fears and live the life that matters to us.

Inspirational Message

The Way of Mastery is to break all the rules—but you have to know them perfectly before you can do this; otherwise you are not in a position to transcend them.


What Clients Say

In a recent survey of our patients, 94% would recommend our practice to a friend.
Calmer in the Face of Hardship
I came to the Center for Anxiety for help in dealing with a family member who suffered from extreme anxiety. But I ended up getting a serious illness two months later and started having my own sessions. With the help of my therapist I got through my illness, learned to understand my habits that were making my major life stresses worse, learned to communicate better, taper my anger, and surprisingly I became more calmer even though my hardships in life worsened. Therapy is a lot of work and not easy, but nothing in life comes easy! I became a better and softer mom and (when I practice what I learned) and my kids and home are calmer and happier. I am still a work in progress and have more to work on, but I know I am on the right path. I wish I knew before how my communication style and anger were really impacting my life, how being softer you can accomplish way more then being harsh. I have been to other therapists in the past and I can hands down say that the Center for Anxiety’s approach is really effective. I have even referred a bunch of people to the Center and they have been really happy with the therapists and how much they really care for their patients.
I Tackled a Long List of Fears
When I first came to the Center for Anxiety, my list of anxieties/fears was long! I was scared of getting sick, getting stranded, driving, flying and more. With the help of my therapist, I immediately got to work and tackled every one of my fears. Now the world is open to me and I feel free! I can dream big and accomplish whatever I set my mind to! I am especially grateful that I was able to do all this without having to rely on medication. It was hard work – grueling at times! – but now I have the coping tools within me for life. In fact a family member recently said to me “You are awesome. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to because you don’t let fear stop you! ” Thank you Dr. Rosmarin and the Center for Anxiety staff for helping me get here. My fears no longer limit me and I love my life. Try it, it might turn your life around too!
Highly Skilled and Professional Treatment
When I sought treatment at the Center for Anxiety, the clinic was is in its incipient stages. However, by the time I successfully finished treatment, the Center for Anxiety grew and flourished into a world-class treatment center, offering cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment to countless individuals. The continued success of the Center for Anxiety comes as no surprise to me, with a team that contains such highly skilled professionals who display clinical acumen, empathy, and compassion. When I first entered treatment I was concerned that therapy would be similar to the experiences with past psychologists: a seemingly bottomless pit with no reductions in my anxiety symptoms, but was so relieved when I started to feel less anxious after only a handful of sessions. My therapist created a treatment plan that was tailored exactly to my needs and taught me practical skills to help me work through my anxiety that I still use and practice to this very day.
No More Panic
When I first came in, I was struggling with panic disorder and didn’t even know it, which only made dealing with it that much more difficult. After my first time sitting down with my therapist, however, I instantly started to gain perspective and look at the difficult situation in a different light. Our meetings helped me conquer the issue step by step and get my life back on track. I’d strongly recommend that anyone dealing with anxiety in a way that impacts their day to day life should visit the Center for Anxiety! I know it helped me tremendously.
Free of Obsessions
When I woke up one morning last June and didn’t want to get out of bed, I knew I needed help. The thought of getting through another day with all my anxieties, obsessions and rituals was just too overwhelming. After feeling stuck for years, I just couldn’t anymore. Thankfully, that’s when I found the Center for Anxiety. Dr. Rosmarin and his staff are experts at what they do, kind and professional. After just several weeks I accomplished my initial targets. The change I experienced in such a short amount of time was astounding that I stayed on for a while longer to work on more complex goals. I soon achieved those too. Now, I am free of my obsessions, know how to manage my anxiety, and love my life. My only regret: not having done this sooner. I wish I had known that you don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to get help.
Depression Lifted
I’m 26 years old and I’ve been suffering from terrible depression for 7 years. In the throws of my sadness I literally wanted to die. Soon after starting therapy at the Center for Anxiety, my depression lifted. My suicidal thoughts began to dissipate. I remember the feeling that came over me as soon as the dark cloud above me left. It was the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. I actually shouted to my friends, family and anyone nearby me “I’m Happy! I am Happy!” I felt free.
Over the course of four years I developed anxiety-like symptoms (tightness in chest, gut, back) that slowly but surely increased in duration and severity. The EXTREMELY uncomfortable nature of the symptoms notwithstanding, I still continued and managed to function. The effort required to do so, however, left me utterly drained. Having always been a very spiritual person I strongly felt that a course of therapy incorporating a spiritual component could potentially work well for me and decided to give the Center for Anxiety a try. Happily, I have achieved significant symptom reduction, tremendously improved emotional/mental health, and above all, Connection. Medication free. I’m no longer just existing, I’m LIVING. I’ve been given a second chance to become the unique human being that I was meant to be.
No More worries
I have wormed in healthcare for 36 years in many different settings, and I have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the Center for Anxiety. When staff says they are going to call, I get a call. From the first contact, I have been very impressed with the professionalism and efficiency. I had a situation and needed to have sessions more than once per week, and my clinicians worked out a schedule to accommodate my needs. I was astounded that they attended to me so quickly and effectively - they made my priority their priority. My clinicians were also excellent at what they do - they have a plan for me each session, and it's clear that they have thought in advance about each session, and that they are listening to what I say and observing what I do, even though our sessions have been conducted via Telehealth. Compassion is a quality that I have all too often found to be lacking in my experiences as a healthcare professional and patient, and this is not the case with the Center for Anxiety. Of all the websites I found on Google, I am so thankful that God guided my hand to yours.

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