Recovery from Anxiety Disorder is Easier Than People Think
As mentioned elsewhere, I tried all the well-known anxiety disorder recovery programs before putting my own together. One thing they all had in common was that they tended to over-complicate the process. Maybe they felt some need to justify the cost of the program by producing masses of content, or perhaps they genuinely felt it was all necessary.
The truth is, there are four key concepts to recovering from an anxiety disorder. If you implement each of these, then over time you will recover. It’s as simple as that.
Bear in mind, though, that we’re talking about recovery from the disorder; you cannot recover from anxiety itself, since it’s a natural emotion, but you can recover from an anxiety disorder. For an overview of the difference between the two see this article: Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorder
A quick Google search will throw up myriad tools, techniques and other resources to help you manage your anxiety. Many of them are very useful, and most of them will help to some extent. There are, though, four core principles that I consider to be essential to anxiety disorder recovery. This is based not just on my journey, but also on private sessions with clients. They are:
- Keeping Busy
Anxiety Disorder Recovery step 1 – Acceptance
Acceptance is the key to anxiety disorder recovery, more so than anything else. If any one thing could be hailed as the silver bullet when it comes to beating anxiety disorder, then acceptance is it.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Unfortunately not. Acceptance can be extremely difficult to get your head around – after all, why would you accept something that is so obviously not something you want to be happening? And how do you accept it? How do you accept something so debilitating and terrifying?
It took me a long time to get the whole acceptance thing down. I mean, a really long time. My over-analytical mind really went to town on it, my ego resisted it as it does with any form of change, and in all, it took almost a year to make any real progress. It doesn’t have to take that long for you!
What is acceptance?
There is some confusion about what acceptance means. Acceptance does not mean you’re ok with what is happening and that you’re happy for it to continue. Not at all.
Acceptance means that you are accepting that this is happening right now and that it’s going to be unpleasant, but it will pass. In a way, it’s like making peace with the fact that you have to endure what’s happening. After all, up to this point, you’ve been resisting it and if that had worked you wouldn’t be reading this, so something clearly needs to change.
In the same way that resistance fuels the fear cycle, acceptance breaks it. As mentioned elsewhere, what we resist persists. Acceptance is the opposite of resistance, so it calms the waters, allowing anxiety to dissipate.
How do I accept anxiety?
The best way to look at it is this. Anxiety plays on worst-case scenarios, what we call catastrophising. But if you accept every possible outcome, then what is there to be afraid of?
There is an element of control embedded in resistance, our inability to control what’s happening causes anger, frustration and impatience. These emotions are all forms of resistance when anxiety is at play.
So, any time you find yourself feeling these emotions, just notice them and try to replace them with something else. Don’t beat yourself up, though, be compassionate and patient with yourself. Treat yourself how you would treat a loved one, or how you would want someone else to treat you. If you constantly berate yourself for not being able to control your anxiety, you’re not being fair to yourself at all.
Turning Sideways in The Waves
To help explain the impact resistance is having, I like to use the analogy of standing in the sea. Imagine you are standing facing the waves head-on, the water up to your armpits. As each wave hits you your body is swayed by the force of the water. If the waves are powerful enough it may even knock you down altogether. This is resistance – you are resisting the natural flow of the water.
Now, imagine you turn sideways – can you see how much less of an obstruction you now present to the water, and how it will flow much more easily around you. You are much less likely to be knocked down by it.
Here, we have resistance, in the first instance, followed by acceptance. You will still feel the water, but you’re reducing the impact it has by reducing your resistance and letting it pass.
To quote from Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” –
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
What this means is that we cannot control what happens, but we can control how we respond to what happens. Note that I use the word ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’ – to react implies something other than a considered and rational response.
Anxiety Disorder Recovery step 2 – Lifestyle
Lifestyle in the context of anxiety disorder recovery means everything from diet to exercise, including unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking.
Exercise is essential if you want to recover. The key to exercise during recovery is to keep it to a level that is not too intensive, as this can release more adrenaline. Avoid the HIIT sessions at the gym, for example, in favour of a walk or half an hour of swimming.
Do what feels comfortable for you, but you do need to elevate your heart rate, so anything that causes perspiration for around 20-30 minutes at least five days a week is fine.
You are what you eat, so what we put into our bodies has a direct and considerably impact on our physical and mental health. I’m not suggesting that you dump all your favourite foods or go cold turkey with alcohol or smoking – this is likely to add unnecessary stress and as such can be counter-productive.
Instead, if you do drink or smoke, try reducing this over time. With your diet, start reducing junk foods, fatty foods, sugars, caffeine, etc with healthier alternatives. Add plenty of fruit and vegetables to your diet and you could start noticing an improvement in your mood within a few days. It may also help you sleep better.
Cutting down is better than cold turkey, the aim is to reduce any further shocks to an already exhausted nervous system.
For more tips on what to avoid, see this article: Anxiety Triggers
Anxiety Disorder Recovery step 3 – Keeping Busy
An idle mind is anxiety’s playground. We’ve all done it – I spent endless days on the couch, feeling sorry for myself and ruminating about how bad my life had become and how I was never going to be normal again.
Thoughts Become Reality
You need to be aware that if you repeat a thought enough times, it becomes hard-wired into your neural pathways. It becomes your reality, literally. The same is true of feelings – if you keep dwelling on how bad you feel, you will only doom yourself to more of the same.
If you repeat a thought enough times, it becomes hard-wired into your neural pathways. It becomes your reality, literally.
So get off the couch, stop dwelling on everything that’s wrong, and find something to keep your mind occupied. Yes, you may still feel bad, but at least you’re doing something. Being active also exercises the body, whilst keeping the mind occupied with something other than anxiety. Do this enough and soon enough you’ll start realising that you’ve not thought about your anxiety in a while.
What Activities Are Best?
You’re looking for something that requires you to be fully immersed in what you’re doing, some good examples are photography, making music, learning a language. You can even combine one or more, for example sketching whilst listening to a language app.
Keeping your mind busy prevents it from ruminating, but also you are creating new neural pathways by learning something new. This is why the mental imaging process is so powerful, it creates millions of new neural pathways in place of the old anxiety pathways. And don’t forget to keep a note of what you’ve been up to in your journal.
Ideally, your aim should be to fill every waking hour with some form of immersive activity, but as with all things, don’t obsess over it as this can itself cause anxiety! Don’t worry if you forget, just pick it up again once you remember, eventually you’ll get used to doing it and it will start working very quickly.
Anxiety Disorder Recovery step 4 -Patience
Impatience (like its partner in crime, frustration) is a form of resistance – it will work against you in your attempts to recover.
Be kind to yourself and accept that recovery is a process and will take time. Whatever you may have read or been promised by ads on Google and Facebook, there is no quick or easy fix for anxiety. If there was, I would have found it, believe me.
The anxiety disorder recovery process is quite simple, but this is by no means the same as being easy. It takes hard work, commitment and time. You need to be prepared for this, and you need to treat yourself with compassion instead of impatience.
You’re on the right track, just keep at it and you’ll get there. Please reach out in the comments below if you need any help with the principles outlined here.