Recently I received an email from a reader regarding a topic I get asked a lot about: the progression of anxiety recovery.
I wanted to ask you how long it took to recovery from your anxiety. Just when I think I am doing well and making progress, the next week I will feel like I have gone backward again and really struggle with symptoms. I feel like there is no “reward” for all the hard work I am doing. It’s very frustrating and I feel like I am never going to get through this.
First of all, I want to say that what you have described is very normal to experience throughout the course of anxiety recovery.
I understand what you say about not having much of a “reward” but that is the thing about anxiety recovery, or recovery of any kind really – there are no mile markers or definitive signs along the road that let you know when you “level up”. Anxiety recovery is is a zig zag line. It is very much like a maze, and a great deal of the time, you simply have to trust that even though you are moving backwards, you are still on the right path.
You have to remember that for those of us with anxiety, its not just about changing the things we do or the things we think or the ways we react. In a sense, and only in a sense, we have to change who we are. We have to change how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. We have to move from “victim” to “strong capable person who can handle anything.” That is kind of a huge thing. We are very sensitive, stressed out people whose brains are on overload, and from that frazzled mental state, we have to try to dig deep and “master” how to stay calm, keep our thoughts grounded, and not over-react. It’s not easy, is it?
For most of us, calm is a skill that must be learned.
We must master it and we must learn to master ourselves and our reactions to life; this includes our reactions to our reactions, if that make sense. Like any skill, “calm” takes time to learn. Nobody is going to learn piano or French or how to play tennis like Venus in a few weeks or months. And no person with all the personality traits we have which help to create our anxiety disorders, is going to learn to master calm in a few weeks or months.
It’s ups and downs, highs and lows, good days and bad days. It’s days of “I nailed that!” , and it’s days of “Why can’t I do this? I did it so well last week!”
Remember its not just YOU trying to sort all this out…your brain is trying to sort it out too. It’s trying to make new connections and piece together when it should respond with adrenaline and when it shouldn’t. It’s learning, just as you are learning, a whole new way to live and react to life. Even though you are in the overworked, overly sensitized state you are in, you have to remember that you are the teacher as well as the student. You don’t have the luxury of being down on yourself about your setbacks because your brain is hearing everything you think and if you are down on your progress, it will respond accordingly with more anxiety producing, mental exhaustion creating adrenaline. It WILL set you back if your thoughts keep reenforcing the idea your brain already has: that your world is unsafe and that you are incapable of handling it on your “normal”, lower adrenaline settings.
You have to remember that you and your brain are in this together and when you have a bad day, your brain needs to hear you thinking positively saying “That’s okay. It will get better. This is a normal part of recovery! I can handle this.” Otherwise it is going to hear your frustration, and it will interpret it as your lack of ability to cope with these “radical new changes” it is trying to learn and this will contribute to anxiety symptoms.
Think of a terrified child who is afraid of water, with his parent in a swimming pool.
The parent is telling the child “You have a life jacket on. Its okay to come with me to the deep end!” The child is scared out of his mind and doesn’t want to go. But eventually the child, slowly but surely, inches his way closer to the deep end, only to have a big kid jump in with a huge splash and scare him. The child cries out and panics and begs to go back to the shallow end.
The parent has two choices…rush the child back to the shallow end, confirming to the child that yes, indeed, that was very awful and dangerous and the deep end is a terrible place to be –
the parent can pick that child up, and while holding him in the deep end speak reassuringly and soothingly, and encourage that child to stay in the pool right where he is until his emotions calm down. It may not be easy and it may not work the first time because of course the child is terrified and you shouldn’t do anything to a child (or yourself) that will traumatize them, but this is a pattern that should be tried and repeated until the child learns that nothing terrible will happen. And then one day that child will be older, diving into the deep end with without even a life-jacket because he or she has mastered the pool.
You are a strong, tough individual, do not doubt that. However, your subconscious is like a sensitive, scared child in some ways when it comes to anxiety, and you are like the parent. I know it feels like you should not have to teach your way out of your own anxiety disorder but that is the way it is. You ARE the teacher, and you have to help your brain and subconscious learn that your world is safe, while teaching your conscious self to be self-reliant, and resilient, and resistant to your fears.
Is it any wonder recovery can feel difficult to achieve? But it really is very doable and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Don’t give up.
Even if you see no progress at times….even if you feel like there are weeks when you are moving backwards, don’t give up. If your current anxiety program or strategy is working for you, even a little bit, stick with it and keep plugging along. If you notice little improvements here and there, then hang in there because that is how anxiety recovery works. Give your current strategy a real chance for at least a few months before considering something different.
Of course, if you are seeing no improvement EVER, or symptoms are getting worse, then try a different strategy. You can try my anxiety recovery steps if you are looking for a new method of recovery, and see if they might help you as well as they helped me. There are also many other anxiety recovery programs available online which can be found by Google Search. Just remember to do your research before handing any money over to anybody or trying any type of anxiety recovery product or program. Good programs and products are out there, but there are a lot of scams too. By all means seek professional help if you feel stuck and as though nothing you are trying is working. Ask about ALL your options and go with what feels right to you. There are many different methods of anxiety recovery out there so don’t lose hope.
In the meantime, if you are among those who are seeing progress, just not as much as you would like, then keep practicing your calm..practice your strategies… be consistent with your efforts, and one day a year or two from now, you are going to look back and say “I did it.”
The little steps will have turned into big change without you even being aware it happened.
That is how it works. One day you just wake up and you realize the old you is gone and you are a new stronger, more mentally healthy person and it is the greatest feeling EVER!
Anxiety will alway be a part of my life. I and most of us with anxiety will never change ourselves to the point that we don’t feel anxious or sensitive or scared at times. And why would we want to? We are awesome people with awesome traits. But we can learn to handle ourselves and cope better and develop a trust in ourselves that will carry us through even the worst of times without falling apart.
You CAN develop this too.