In a previous step, I talked to you about educating yourself about anxiety and desensitizing yourself to the idea of anxiety. This next step is about desensitizing YOU. Simply put, you have to re-set yourself.
Right now you are so high-strung and stressed out that you are over-reacting to everything. Things that would not have fazed you in the slightest way “pre-anxiety disorder”, now seem scary and threatening.
This is because, with all your negative thinking and worry, you have taught your brain that you live in an unsafe, unpredictable environment and your brain does not want you to let your guard down for a second. Your brain doesn’t want you blowing anything off because it thinks there is danger all around you. So it is making sure you notice and react to everything that has even the remotest possibility of being a threat. That is what is at the root of all this over-reaction coming from you. I went through a long period of time in this overly sensitized state, and I know how emotionally exhausting it is.
It is vitally important that you teach your brain that you are not in danger and that you are in control of your life, and your environment, so that it will stop working so hard all the time, pumping out that adrenaline and keeping you so keyed up and “alert”.
You and your brain are on the same team and it needs your help. It has been there for you all this time, exhausting itself to protect you, and now you have to be the one doing the helping.
You have got to teach your brain to hand the reins back over to you, so to speak…….to reset itself to the way things used to be when you were not “scare-a-noid” and over-reacting all the time. To do this, you have to desensitize yourself by not only getting rid of the negative thinking patterns I talked about before, but also by removing all negative and/or excess stimulation from your life. And to jump-start this process, you need to take a “time out” from your life and make rest and relaxation your number one priority until things start to turn around.
This is how you show your brain that your world is a peaceful, calm, safe place to be. This is how you “re-set” yourself.
Now, this is the part of my anxiety recovery advice that usually causes the most eye rolls.
People simply do not take this step seriously. When I have told people that this is what I think they should do, I can literally feel their silent groans rising from out of their bodies.
“Rest? You are telling me to rest? Yeah, like I’m just going to lay down and “take it easy” for a while and then all will be fine……yeah, right.”
It never ceases to amaze me how people feel like anxiety is the worst thing that ever happened to them, and talk about how bad they feel all the time, but somehow don’t feel that their condition warrants any “down time” to rest and recuperate and heal from all the stress they are under.
They either don’t want to do it, for whatever reason, or they don’t feel like they are entitled to take that time…..like it would be the most selfish thing in the world and completely ridiculous for them to say “You know what? I need a break….and I’m taking one whether you like it or not.”
You are entitled to take care of yourself! And if you don’t do it, I think you are making a huge mistake.
YOU AND YOUR BRAIN NEED REST. GET SOME REST.
Lets say you had a friend who was attacked in an alley and robbed of all their possessions one Monday night. They weren’t hurt too badly, just a few bruises here and there, but they are pretty shaken up over the whole thing. You go visit them the next night just to see how they are doing, and they tell you how they are having a hard time dealing with what happened. They tell you they are feeling shaky, and startling at the slightest noise. Their heart won’t stop pounding and they feel a terrible sense of dread as if they are waiting for it to happen again. Sometimes, your friend tells you, he re-lives the moment in his mind and starts panicking all over again, as if he were once again there in that alley.
Would you listen with a sympathetic ear, give them a big hug and say “Well, okey dokey, I have to be going. I’ll see you at work tomorrow. Bye!”
I’m guessing not.
I’m guessing, if you are like most people, you would tell your poor friend to take a few days off work to rest and recuperate and mentally process what happened. I am guessing that you wouldn’t find it that odd or strange if your friend wanted to take the whole next week off in order to emotionally heal and try to calm down from the tremendous anxiety they are feeling after such a scary occurrence.
Well, I’m here to tell you, if you have an anxiety disorder that is severe enough to give you daily symptoms, then what you are going through is NO different from what your imaginary friend is going through.
You are such a sensitive person, that your reaction to whatever stress is going on in your life, is exactly the same as the reaction your imaginary friend had after being attacked in the alley. There is NO difference and your brain knows NO difference. And yet you just carry on with your life and don’t do anything to take care of yourself. Probably because you aren’t even aware that your brain is perceiving your life as dramatically as it is, and creating all these symptoms of anxiety.
So just to summarize here, because it is really important that this sinks in for you:
Before your anxiety disorder disrupted, being the sensitive person that you are, you had a strong emotional reaction to whatever was going on in your life at the time. And you started having anxiety symptoms because of it. And now you are in a cycle of being so hyped up on adrenaline, that you are over-reacting even MORE to what is going on around you.
So now you are doubly sensitive and doubly anxious. Its pretty obvious why you feel like a wreck all the time, right?
Remember that It doesn’t matter what is CAUSING the stress. You could be feeling stress over a field full of dandelions, but that is irrelevant because the brain doesn’t see or know what is causing your reaction. It only knows your reaction. If you want this cycle to stop, the only way for it to happen is for you to try to “train” yourself to stop having emotional reactions to things that you intellectually know are not a threat to you. And you do this by desensitizing yourself.
It is true that you cannot help your emotional reactions. They are what they are. But by desensitizing yourself, you can “turn down the dial” so that these emotional reactions do not happen over every speck of dust that flies by.
And also keep in mind that just because you may not be responsible for your emotional reactions, that does not mean that you aren’t responsible for how you react to your reaction.
At this point, you are currently going through stress in your life that is severe enough to give you physical anxiety symptoms, and yet you are doing nothing about it. At least, you are not doing enough about it to convince your brain that you are safe and okay. And that MUST be your mission.
Your ultimate goal HAS to be to convince your brain, and yourself, that your world is a safe place to be.
Your imaginary friend probably WILL take some time off work because getting mugged in an alley is an “acceptable” reason to take time off in our society…and also because he KNOWS what is causing his anxiety and KNOWS that he should make efforts to heal from it. It’s just logic.
Most people with anxiety symptoms don’t know why they are having their symptoms so that is just yet another reason they don’t rest. And even if they DO know that stress is their problem, they STILL won’t take time off because you just simply don’t do that in our society. You are looked upon as weak if you take a week off to deal with your “day-to-day” stress.
But you know what? There is no such thing as day-to-day stress. There is only just “stress” and everybody processes it and reacts to the different levels of it in their own way.
Because those of us with anxiety are so sensitive, it takes LESS stress than the average person has for us to have a physical response to it. We need to OWN that fact and take responsibility for it and take care of ourselves when we feel that physical response coming on. And if other people don’t understand that…….too damn bad!
You CANNOT neglect your emotional health, knowing what you know about yourself and the way you process stress, and then be surprised when you start to have anxiety symptoms! Not anymore. Now you know the truth and you have an obligation to yourself to TAKE CARE OF YOU.
Without rest…..without desensitizing yourself….without “re-setting” yourself, your brain will NOT trust that you are safe and it will not take away the adrenaline!
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Do some people get lucky and just have their anxiety symptoms go away without taking a “time-out” from life and giving themselves a chance to “heal”?
But you know why? It’s because something else happens in their life to distract them from dwelling on their anxiety symptoms and worry and stress.
It’s usually just a lucky co-incidence.
And these people don’t learn anything about their anxiety that way, and the first time that distraction leaves and they are left alone with their thoughts again, the negative feelings and the subconscious worry and the overanalyzing and all those anxiety symptoms almost always find a way back in, and they end up right back where they started.
Distraction, in the absence of a thoughtful recovery plan, is just a band-aid covering the wound. So in actuality, it is NOT a lucky thing to have your anxiety symptoms just go away on their own. All it is, is a temporary fix.
I know what some of you are thinking:
“I have kids”.
“I have a job”.
“I have bills that need to be paid”.
“I can’t just take a time out from my life and ‘heal’ “.
And to that I say: FIND A WAY.
What if you broke your leg?
What would you do then? You would find a way to survive then, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t have a choice. Well, the way I see it, you don’t have a choice now. Your physical health is NOT more important than your emotional health. An anxiety disorder necessitates rest just as much as a broken bone, if not more so. The fact that you don’t think that it does…..that is one of the reasons you ended up in this mess in the first place.
Do whatever you have to do to squeeze out as much down time as you can for a week or two.
Now, ideally, I think everybody with an anxiety disorder should go straight to bed for a month and lay on fluffy pillows while people bring them their meals and rub their feet. THAT is what your mind and your brain need. But we live in the real world, and I know that most of us have jobs we can’t take time off from, and at home, we will be lucky if we can find somebody to pop a TV dinner in the microwave for us.
So just do what you can do. If you can take time off from work….great. If you can get somebody to help with your kids for a week or two….even better. But if you can’t, then you have to find a way to take every spare second you can to rest and desensitize and re-set. Even 20 minutes here and there, to go sit in a quiet room with a cup of tea or aromatherapy, in complete silence is going to do you some good. Every bit of peace and quiet you get will help. The more the better.
But if you can’t find any time for peace and quiet and your comfy bed, then there are other ways to help desensitize yourself and show your brain that your world is safe:
-Turn off your phone whenever possible.
-Stay away from the news….on TV, on the internet, and in the newspaper. Pretty much stay away from the internet as much as possible….especially anything drama filled or anxiety related…..even this blog. It is good to educate yourself about anxiety. In order to understand what is going on with you, I encourage you to learn everything you can about it. But once you get to the desensitization step of your recovery plan, you need to let it go for a while and stay away from the topic for a while.
-Stay away from violent or dramatic TV shows.
-No drama! Tell your drama loving friends that you just can’t be a part of that for a few weeks.
-No arguing with your spouse and kids……no yelling. Make the kids spend more time in their room if they start getting out of hand.
-Only do the housework/yardwork that MUST be done. Your messy brain is a bigger issue than your messy lawn right now.
-Keep your TV turned down to a lower volume and only watch feel-good shows that either make you laugh or learn or feel warm and fuzzy. Those are your only three options for TV….laugh….learn….fuzzy.
-Use paper plates and utensils for a few weeks so the dishes won’t get out of hand.
-Ask your kids and/or partner to help you out. Scratch that. Forget “asking”. TELL them that you need their help and you expect to get it. This is the time to stand up for yourself and your health. You are entitled to a break. You NEED a break, and in the long run everybody will be happier if they pitch in and give you the help you need and deserve.
Do not lie around thinking about your anxiety all the time. Find healthy, calm distractions from your mind….magazines, puzzles, books, etc. (No anxiety books during this time though.) I know it’s not easy, but just try the best you can to not think about it.
Spend as much time at home as possible. I know that there are some of you who already stay at home most of the time, if not all of the time, because you find it difficult to leave. And if that is the case, make sure you are using your time at home wisely and practicing the other desensitizing techniques I talk about above. Use this time at home for something besides ruminating and dwelling and thinking about how hard your life is. I want you to forget all of that, and get your mind focused on healing and positive things. I know its hard…..but do the best you can. That’s all you can do.
On a final note, I am a big believer in being strong, and handling our issues and not whining and lying around feeling sorry for ourselves.
But that is not what this step is.
This is healing. This is necessary. This is important. This is about teaching yourself AND your brain that your world is NOT a crazy danger zone….it’s a safe place to be. I believe this is a HUGE part of the anxiety recovery process and I hope its a step that you take seriously and that you try for yourself.
Thanks for reading. Click here to return to main Anxiety Recovery Steps page.
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Thank you so much for writing this blog. I’m an anxious person but always kept it under control with routine and exercise. The odd panic attack here and there but I knew what was happening. A month ago my work broke me and I now know I’ve been in a hyped state ever since. Thank you for your easily understood explanations.
I now know I need to do what this section says. To stop and desensitise myself. I do have a question though. I have tried to just chill. But I get very very low. Scarily low. Which is why I tried to crack on with life again. And now I’m reacting to just popping to the shops. Which isn’t good.
Did you have this reaction? I know you say to do feel good films and fun things etc – which I will do. Not to say it out loud but I’m just a touch worried! Lol – that’s sounds bad doesn’t it lol
Lucy have you been screened by your doctor for depression? Anxiety and depression do sometimes go hand in hand. Don’t let that scare you because it is very common and treatable. But also, remember that having anxiety is EXHAUSTING. What happens to your computer when it is constantly running and never shuts off? It starts to run very slow. The battery drains. The same thing happens to the human brain. Sometimes we just crash after being so anxious and wired up for several hours or days. That is very normal. Again, I would talk to your doctor just to make sure there isn’t some underlying depression going on, but if there is you will handle it and keep moving on. You can do it.
Morning Lisa, dr has referred me. I’ve had a very bizarre 6 weeks. I have a history of eating problems. So now interestingly I’ve controlled the anxiety by reducing my eating drastically. And now all my anxiety is in food! Classic huh. I don’t feel so hyper anymore but I’m now I’m control in a bizarre way. Ive punished myself for being signed off and failing the project. I went distructive.
I need to go back to work and get over that mountain and hopefully once I’m busy and that’s controlled, eating will get easier. See how positive I’m being 🙂 xx
I did notice how positive you are being. Well done. 😉 It sounds like you understand yourself and what is going on and I am glad to hear you are seeing a doctor. I don’t know your exact situation but I can tell you that yes, for most people living with an anxiety disorder, once you address your underlying issues and learn to cope with stress better, nurture yourself, LOVE yourself, and really up that self care, it builds up a resiliency in you. It strengthens your defenses and it helps you think more rationally and make clearer decisions. Do not lose that great attitude of yours and do not stop using your logic despite the bizarre circumstances you find yourself in. Both of these things will carry you through. xx
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Just wanted to say, cheers for the great article! I’ll probably get in contact with you again at a later date because I reckon our recovery paths have been really similar! Claire Weekes was my turning point about 4 years ago. I’m also lucky enough to have a counsellor who has also recovered using similar methodology. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of your site over time! I hope to help others one day too…but feel I need more time to get through this period first.
I was drawn to read this particular article for some reason (the same way I was drawn to read the Claire Weekes – strange how that happens!) It really speaks to me, because although I’m really progressing lately, I’ve always felt that I make the whole thing so hard for myself. So the idea of a week or two to ‘rest and recuperate’ is such a relief. Unfortunately I’ll still be at work, but in between I’m going to try some of those ideas to give myself a rest.
Thanks again. 🙂
I am really glad to hear you are progressing – and also glad you are going to take care of yourself a little better. Thanks for the comment and let me know how it goes. Lisa
I needed to read this. Thank you so much, Lisa.
Hey Donna! Thanks – glad you stopped by!
Hi there. I found your site through the facebook page of an association I belong to (which assists adults with mental “illness”). It pleases me to tell you that your story resonates with me. It has sad parts, but the joyous parts more than compensate for those, I think. I also suffer from anxiety, though perhaps from now on I will choose another word instead of “suffer” to describe it. Two things stand out: your saying that you would gladly publicize your story if it could but help other people; and, your statement about our responsibilities for our reactions to our reactions. The first is something I believe of myself and my own life, and which I aspire to expound upon in all my doings. The second is something new to me! I never before had a notion of it. Of course I know about reacting, and I have given thought to my responsibility for my reactions. I’ve spent years, in fact, pondering my responsibility for my reactions–indeed I’ve always taken it for granted that I am responsible for my reactions (no matter how alien they seem to me). Your idea, that we’re responsible for our reaction to our first reaction, more than the first reaction itself, is a revelation to me. It strikes me as true. Thank you for sharing your story, and for the life and love you share with others. A P
Thanks so much. I know I sent you an email. But thanks again for the nice comment and the “You know what.” 😉