The DARE Response by Barry McDonagh: Ultimate Book Summary

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The DARE Response from Barry McDonagh was one of the books that helped me a lot with overcoming anxiety. 

And in this article, I’ll give you the ultimate book summary of the DARE Response from Barry McDonagh.

This is everything I found important in the DARE Response.

Who is Barry McDonagh?

Barry McDonagh is the author of the DARE Response and author of the DARE Program. Over the last 10 years, Barry helped more than 200.000 people heal themselves from anxiety and panic, all over the world. Barry has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks as well, which makes him a credible person to give advice on how to overcome anxiety. It helped him with writing and creating the DARE program. 

Summary of the DARE Response


  1. You’re the cure
  2. The DARE Response
  3. The DARE Response for Panic Attacks
  4. Give up Thinking You’re Normal
  5. Give up Saying No to Anxiety
  6. Give up Fearing These Sensations
  7. Give up Fearing These Situations
  8. Give up Fearing Anxious Thoughts
  9. Give up Your Safe Zone
  10. Give up Being So Hard on Yourself
  11. Give up It Will Last Forever
  12. Give up Seeing This as a Curse
  13. Give up Your Crutches
  14. Supercharge Your Recovery
  15. Conclusion

You’re the cure

In the first section, Barry explains the patterns he sees when people heal their anxiety. When they start using the DARE response they’ll notice that their worst anxiety and panic go away almost instantly. 

But then their general level of anxiety has to decrease, which takes some longer. This is the stage people should push through and stay motivated. Their nervous system just takes some time to desensitize from the stress and anxiety they’ve been living in. He also explains why you’ll experience setbacks and that they are part of the journey towards healing.

A major insight from this part of the book was the sentence: “The speed of your recovery is determined by your willingness to experience your anxiety in the right way.”

The Dare Response (Credits: Barry McDonagh)

The DARE Response

Anxiety is nothing more than nervous energy in your body. This energy rises and falls just like waves on the ocean. When you resist the waves, it tosses you around and scares you, but when you move with them, you ride up and over them and eventually lose your fear of the waves. 

You have to learn how to respond to your anxious sensations in the right way. Not with fear, but with allowance. Your anxiety only becomes a problem when you respond to your anxious sensations in the wrong way.

You can’t stop the initial waves of anxious sensations or the “what-if” thoughts that cross your mind. They manifest outside your control. What you can always control is your response to them. Because when you respond correctly, your anxiety will calm itself down until it goes away.

The DARE Response means: Defuse, Allow, Run Towards and Engage.

When you have thoughts or anxious sensations, respond to them with “So-What!”. For example: 

What if my heart does stop pounding? 

So what? 

My heart is an incredibly strong muscle. This is nothing more than a light workout for it. 

When you do this, you calm your anxiety down and when you also implement some humour, you take off the scary edge of your anxiety. 

Now it is time to accept the anxiety that you feel and allow it to manifest in whatever way it wishes. When you resist it or try to block it, you have the wrong response. It’s the wrong response because then we fight anxiety. That effort traps us with the same force we put into trying to fight it. We just add more gasoline to the fire… something you should never do!

How do you stop fighting it and move with the anxious wave? You drop the resistance and embrace it.

Barry explains that this means that you have to learn how to “Get comfortable in your anxious discomfort.”

Just like an athlete who embraces discomfort in order to achieve their end goal, you’re embracing anxiety in order to get where you need to be. And when done correctly, this has a great healing effect on your nervous system, allowing it to desensitize from the anxious state you’ve been keeping it stuck in.

Not anxiety keeps you trapped, but your fear of fear that causes the whole problem. Therefore, the goal is not to shun anxiety or turn it away. The goal is to be comfortable with it. Even when you’re not anxious at all, you can invite it to be with you during your good days. 

Something interesting Barry also explains is that he wants you to understand that you shouldn’t try to be calm. What you’re looking for to achieve is to feel the sensations without getting upset or scared by them. To feel anxiety without getting anxious about it. You’ll know you’re doing it right when anxiety manifest and you don’t get upset or frustrated by it.

This was the hardest concept for me to wrap my head around, but after I finished the chapter… it made total sense. 

When you are in a state of panic or high anxiety, you have a lot of fear of your sensations. When you want to have less fear, something counterintuitive to do is to ask your mind for more of the sensations you’re experiencing.

And after you asked for more… you tell yourself you’re excited by this feeling (because anxiety and excitement feel the same way).

Why? Because that shows your mind you’re not scared of the sensations. You literally show it to your mind. 

Your brain now learned that if you were in real danger you would be too busy dealing with the threat, instead of demanding more of it… so the sensations decrease in intensity.

You run toward your anxiety by telling yourself you feel excited by your anxious thoughts or feelings. Also, your anxious energy will not hurt you. It’s your interpretations of this energy that causes the problem and traps you in the vicious cycle of fearing fear. Let it excite you, rather than terrify you. Tell yourself “I’m excited by this feeling.”

That mindset moves you from a state of panic into a state of power.

Finally, engage in something that takes your full attention, so your anxious mind cannot get back in the driver’s seat.

Give up Thinking You’re Normal

In this chapter, the author explains that anxiety is a deep-seated source of shame for most people. These feelings of shame are what keeps us stuck in the experience of anxiety and away from full recovery. This is because we try to figure everything out ourselves and don’t want to look for help… because in some way… we believe we all did it to ourselves.

He also explains that we have to remember what causes our anxiety: it’s our interpretation of the stress response.

Give up Saying No to Anxiety

In this chapter, Barry McDonagh gives a beautiful metaphor for our anxiety. 

“Anxiety is like a guard dog that barks all the time to protect you. It’s your fight or flight response active by the emotional part of your brain, designed to keep you from harm. It needs you, the owner (your rational brain) to reassure it that the unusual bodily sensations that pay you a visit are not a real threat and that all is well.”

Barry McDonagh

He explains that talking to your anxiety doesn’t work… because you need to show it you’re safe, as it responds much better to your actions. 

When you say YES and allow the anxiety, you increase your tolerance of anxious sensations. With this heightened tolerance, the tension you feel is reduced and eventually eliminated. As a side effect, you end up getting what you want: feeling calm. The anxiety leaves not because you forced it away, but because you’re no longer fueling it with resistance and fear. 

Give up Fearing These Sensations

In this chapter, Barry McDonagh explains that you need to stop obsessing and fearing the anxious thoughts and sensations that scare you. 

Recovery is NEVER about the absence of sensations. Full recovery is when you reach a stage where sensations manifest, yet you pay them no heed. Anxiety is not in the sensations, but in your resistance to the sensations.

One big insight happened when he explained that you’re not anxious about your pounding heart after your workout… because you know the exercise was the cause of the pounding heart, but that the problem comes when we can’t identify a cause for the sensation.

Also the higher your general anxiety level, the more you overreact to unknown sensations like the one above. 

Give up Fearing These Situations

In this chapter, Barry McDonagh explains how to handle the most common anxious phobias, like agoraphobia or toilet phobia. 

He reminds us that we never really have to handle the situation when we are anxious… but you yourself. 

Another interesting thing he mentioned was that you never get anxious overnight. Maybe you had an anxious sensation in the car. You got scared instead of allowing it and now your mind made the connection that driving is something to fear, so now you fear driving and avoid it. Your mind always tries to find causes. Now avoidance creeps in. When we avoid something, we feel temporary relief and that reinforces our avoidance. 

Barry McDonagh explained how to tackle the following situations with the DARE Response:

Give up Fearing Anxious Thoughts

General anxiety is not caused by stress, it’s caused by worry. We’re stressed because we’re worried. Worry is the driving force of general anxiety. When you are worried, you show your mind you’re in danger from a real or perceived threat. Over time your nervous system starts to get sensitive.

The second part of this chapter is about intrusive thoughts. Barry explains clearly that you can’t get peace from intrusive thoughts by pushing them away. The only way to get peace is to allow that beach ball to float along beside you. You must stop responding with fear to the thoughts that terrify you and learn to accept ad allow them.

Give up Your Safe Zone

In this chapter, the author explains the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. When you are anxious, you often stay in your comfort zone “just in case something bad happens”. But this impacts your freedom dramatically until you are living in a mental prison. 

When you learn how to lean into the edges of your comfort zone and do something every day that scares you, you reclaim back your freedom.

Give up Being So Hard on Yourself

The core message of this chapter is: “love yourself more”. The person who is critical, mean and non-forgiving to himself will struggle with anxiety for much longer, than the person who is compassionate, forgiving and kind to himself.

At all costs: be more friendly to yourself, because it supercharges your recovery.

Give up It Will Last Forever

In this chapter, Barry McDonagh gives another reminder of how healing happens. He explains it is not a straight line to full recovery. It’s going up and down multiple times. You will get anxious at unexpected moments. But now is the key to not getting frustrated and upset… but to use the DARE Response and allow the anxiety to be there again. 

It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll experience setbacks. You should accept and welcome them! If you fully understand that setbacks are part of the healing process you can drop the frustrations you feel and move through them with greater speed. 

Give up Seeing This as a Curse

This was the most beautiful chapter of the DARE Response. Barry McDonagh explains that he firmly believes that anxiety is the crack through which you become a more beautiful person.

He mentions that anxiety can enable you to grow and develop in ways that may not have been possible before. And that once a person really faces their anxiety issue, they develop an inner strength that the average person never gets to develop.

Give up Your Crutches

In one of the last chapters of the DARE Response, the author explains the importance of identifying crutches and giving up on them. 

Crutches are safety behaviours that keep your full recovery away. Think of sitting near an exit in the theatre, having pills with you “just in case” or other safety behaviours. 

It’s important to give them up, because when they are not around you, you can get extremely anxious… and that’s not full recovery. Crutches are an indication that you’re still resisting the experience of anxiety. 

Supercharge Your Recovery

In the final chapter, Barry McDonags gives you some additional tips to supercharge your recovery, like using exercise, changing diet and making sure you fill your days with more laughter.

These are the tips a normal therapist gives in the hope you heal… but Barry McDonagh gives you REALLY something wot work with, with the DARE Response. 

Take Away

The DARE Response from Barry McDonagh was one of the best books I ever read on anxiety. It helped me perceive anxiety in a different way. All the time I was fighting against it, in the hope it went away. But all the time this was showing my brain that anxiety was something to be fearful of… which caused even more anxiety.

With the DARE Response, you have a powerful tool in your backpack to recover from your anxiety. If thousands of others were able to do it with the DARE Response… so can you!

Angst Coach Wouter Manders

Over Wouter

Wouter is een Nederlandse mindset coach. Voor enkele jaren heeft hij geworsteld met angst, paniek en depressie. Dit was zijn motivatie om anderen te helpen om ook angstgevoelens te overwinnen. Met meer dan 6000 blog bezoekers per maand helpt hij veel mensen in Nederland om van angstgevoelens af te komen.

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