Preview Of My First Book!

This is the complete text of chapter 5, lesson 5 in my upcoming book.  This is a first draft with no editing, but I did do some basic proofreading so as not to bury you in typos and other annoyances.  😉

If you enjoy this preview lesson, you can use the signup form below to join my book announcement email list.  I’ll send out updates as we get closer to the publishing date.

 


 

This is a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to write, but I’d be leaving out an important bit of information and experience if I didn’t write it. Before you read on, I am going to remind you that I did everything that I have written about up to this point. I lived this thing. I was you. And I’m still here, better than ever. Millions of others have also traveled this path before you. They also encountered obstacles and challenges, yet still completed the journey. Do not get discouraged, and do not let any of this frighten you. It is better to be prepared with a detailed and realistic road map. I could paint you a rosy picture to make you feel better or inspire you, but that would be the easy way out. Inspiration is great. It’s not everything.

Expect to struggle as you execute your recovery plan. It happened to me. It happens to everyone. It is to be expected. Unfortunately, this is not an easy process. There will be struggles, uncertainties, and periods of slow progress. Trust me on this. It will be all worth it.

Don’t misunderstand me. You are not going to live in a torture chamber for the next few months. Nobody is going to beat you with a stick as part of this process. You won’t be shot at or stabbed or called names, but you still struggle nonetheless. The struggle is in learning to ignore your body and mind when it literally hits the panic button. The struggle is in telling your self-preservation instinct to sit down and shut up. The struggle is in doing hard, scary things, again and again, to learn that they’re not actually hard or scary. The struggle in this process is primarily mental and emotional. This isn’t about enduring pain. This is about enduring doubt, uncertainty, and disbelief.

Recovery from an anxiety disorder does not happen along a straight line. Progress toward freedom from anxiety, panic, and fear is like the stock market. In the market, from hour to hour and day to day, stock prices rise and fall. Money is made and lost. This is normal and expected. One rarely succeeds or fails in the market based on two trades made on a Tuesday. One succeeds by having a smart investment strategy executed over time. A smart investment strategy rarely involves huge trades that make you millions overnight. The most successful people invest wisely in proven companies. They go with what has been shown to work. Most important, they are patient and are willing to play a “long game”.

This applies to your recovery plan and it’s execution. You are not day trading with anxiety and fear. You are playing the “buy and hold” long game. You are building a plan based on what works, knowing that it takes some time to complete that plan. It is very important to remain aware of this as you go about the business of getting your life back. Do not expect every hour to be better than the previous hour. Do not expect every day to include giant victories and steps forward. As jazzed as you may be about kicking anxiety in the rear end, this is not an express elevator to the top of the recovery mountain.

It is a common experience for people to struggle more when first starting out on this new path. This is normal. You are learning how to do new things and how to approach your anxiety in a totally different way. The struggles thus tend to be many in the early days. The good news is that when you stick with it, that gets better. In later days you will be more advanced in your recovery. The struggles are then fewer but can be harder from a mental and emotional standpoint. When you’ve gone a long way, it can be hard to feel dragged back to the starting line (even though that doesn’t actually happen). This is also normal and to be expected. You will struggle more in the early days. You will struggle less later on, but those struggles may be deeper. Keep this in mind as you go.

Now let’s talk about the different struggles and challenges you will likely face along the way.

Some days you will not want to get out of bed to face the hard work. You will be tired. You will be sick of being afraid and on edge and unsteady. Frustration will set in. You will get angry with yourself. Sometimes you will get angry with others in your life because they are not doing what you “need” them to do. You will sit and wish it all away, knowing that it doesn’t work that way. You may find yourself full of regret, sadness or anger over what you see as so much time wasted on anxiety and fear. You will be tempted to beat yourself up over how this problem has diminished the person you used to be. You will think of yourself as a bad parent, partner, friend or employee because of anxiety. Some even experience a crisis of faith or spirituality during recovery. They may wonder if a higher power has abandoned them or is punishing them. These are the emotional and mental obstacles that you will face as you execute your plan. Expect them. Do your best to prepare yourself for these obstacles and recognize them when they pop up.

When doing the actual work itself, you will hit roadblocks. You will try to meditate and focus for five minutes while your mind is racing at close to the speed of light. You will attempt to relax your body, and your body will put up a fight. You will want to do the work but will find yourself almost paralyzed with fear that tells you that you can’t. You will want to allow fear to wash over you, but your survival instinct will scream that you must do something to save yourself. The weather will change on you, introducing new road or travel conditions. This may cause you to incorrectly gauge your safety again. This will fuel more fear. You may get sick with a cold, or a stomach virus or some other ailment. Your fear of your own body will turn a simple temporary condition into what you may be tempted to call a “nightmare”. Schedules will get disrupted. Family and friends will accidentally make things difficult for you sometimes. On some days, maintaining some semblance of a life will feel like a huge burden added to an already full plate. These are the practical challenges and obstacles that will struggle along the way. Again, expect them and prepare for them.

It helps to have a plan in place that you can refer to when it comes to struggle and challenge. When you feel like you’re stuck in cement, progress is coming at a slow pace, and you think you can’t, what will you do? I would suggest saving this lesson somewhere convenient so that you can see it regularly. I would also suggest talking about this and sharing the lesson with someone close to you. When you struggle, it is helpful to revisit information like this to gain perspective. It can be more helpful to have a person (or people) point out that you are sitting passively in the struggle rather than taking action to address it. Online support groups can be a useful part of your “struggle contingency”. Used them as a source of motivation and inspiration (not only sympathy and soothing). Whichever way you choose to do it, having a plan is always going to be better than feeling defeated and directionless.

“I’m struggling and lost.” This is a hard place to be.

“I’m struggling. I will go back and re-read, learn, and look for sources of encouragement and motivation to get me past all this. ” This is still hard, but it’s way better than the first option.

I want you to remember that anxiety disorders are masters of deception. Anxiety, fear, and panic are excellent at magnifying and distorting EVERYTHING bad. They are also excellent at hiding and minimizing everything good. A bad day quickly turns into hours of lament and fear that you will never get better. Panic during an exposure that had become easy for you can be turned into an exasperated feeling that you are back to square one. The realization that your progress hasn’t been fast enough to get you to some important event, may get warped into a three-day catastrophe in your head. Remember this at all times. Write it down on your wall if you have to.

ANXIETY AND FEAR ARE LIARS AND MANIPULATORS!

There will be struggles and challenges. It can help to remember that they will not actually be as disastrous as your mind will make them out to be.

I know that challenges and struggles can be demoralizing and discouraging. I’d like to share some of my own personal experiences with you. I want you to know that I lived what you are living now. I was you. I went through all the ups and downs of recovery. You will not find a more determined, driven person than me, but I struggled too. I promise I know what it feels like.

I will admit that I never doubted my ability to get better. That may simply be part of my personality. But even in the face of a high sense of confidence and competence, some days were discouraging. Actually, some days were VERY discouraging. Many people hear me speak, or see me on video, and conclude that I’m “super strong”. They assume that it must have been easier for me than it is for them. Untrue. There were moments when I wanted to go to sleep for a very long time to get a break and forget about this job I had to do. There were days when I was shaking, unsteady on my feet, and my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. I had to literally drag myself out the door do to the work. For a while, my energy levels varied between tired and exhausted. I was very frustrated on days where I felt like my progress was too slow. At times I was plain angry at the whole situation, and at me for having gotten myself into it.

Especially in the beginning, it wasn’t at all fun in any way. It felt like a very large mountain to be forced to climb. I did not breeze through this process by any stretch of the imagination. While I was very consistent in my approach, that doesn’t mean that everything went forward at a fast pace every day. I assure you, it did not, even for me. I struggled. I faced mental, emotional and practical challenges that were difficult to go over or around.

As time went on, as it will for you, there started to be hours that showed real promise. Then those hours became days. Not consistent days. One good day, then three less than ideal days that felt like crap. Then two good days in a row would happen. At some point, the struggle became less a part of the journey. My brain was learning new lessons, and un-learning the bad lessons it needed to get rid of. The fear wasn’t constant and pervasive. The anxiety habit was breaking over time. The clouds started to lift. Then there would be a day that felt like it came straight out the first week of my recovery. I would get SO angry and impatient and frustrated by that. Then the skies would turn blue again. It was quite a rollercoaster of ups and downs.

In retrospect, I can say with absolute certainty that my recovery – like the stock market over a long enough time – was always trending in a positive direction. Even when it didn’t seem like it, progress was being made. Often this was progress that I could not recognize until later on. It was progress, however. I know now that even the “bad” times served a teaching purpose. They provided experiences that became part of who I am now. The lessons I learned through the struggle still serve me well today and will for the rest of my life.

You will struggle. I struggled. We all struggle. I promise you, however, that you will not struggle forever. Knowledge, planning, determination, and the experience and guidance of those that have come before you will get you through. You will find blue skies after the storm. I know you will.

In the next lesson, we’ll talk about avoiding the judgment trap, and how best to judge and evaluate your progress during recovery.


 

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Monophobia – the fear of being alone – is a common component of the panic, anxiety and agoraphobia complex.  When left unchecked, panic disorder leads to agoraphobia.  When this happens, monophobia often develops at the same time.   If your coping mechanisms rely heavily on a “safe” person, or safe people, then you are more likely to develop monophobia.  Monophobics expend a great deal of effort and energy in an attempt to never be alone.  This can be VERY disruptive and impactful when it comes to daily life, and relationships with those people designated as safe or rescue people.  
Monophobia is not a different or special kind of problem.  It’s simply your fear of anxiety and related symptoms expressed in a given context – being alone and out of reach of your safe or rescue people.  This is simply the mistaken belief that you need someone to safe you from panic and its related sensations.  When deprived of that rescuer or rescuers, the monophobic perceives an even greater danger and reacts accordingly.  This is why monophobics often say they have no safe place.  In monophobia, safe places are replaced by safe people.
Overcoming monophobia is handled the same way we handle everything else we discuss here.  Moving toward the fear and exposing oneself systematically and incrementally to those fearful sensations and thoughts without reacting to them.  This can be done by working on other situations – driving, shopping, going to work, going for a walk – or by attacking the “alone” context directly via systematic and incremental periods spent alone, confronting the fear and the associated sensations and symptoms.
Repeated experiences with positive outcomes – afraid but still safe and OK – will break the connection between fear and danger.  Once the monophobic person is no longer afraid of his or her own body and mind in any situation, they no longer require rescue and therefore no longer fear being alone.

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)
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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)

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Worry and worrying are problems that many people struggle with along road to recovering from an anxiety disorder.  I’m asked to cover this topic again and again.  So … a few words about worry and worrying.

 

Worry is simply thinking.  Thinking by itself has absolutely no impact on the real world.  Worry, therefore is not protective, predictive or proactive.  Worry does not keep you safe from disaster.  It does not keep bad things from happening.  It does not prepare you for when they do.  Worry is just thinking. Its not terribly useful.

 

Worry is related to planning.  Planning is thinking accompanied by action.  When planning, we take our thoughts and transform them into real world actions required to respond to and react to real world events.  Planning is useful.  Planning is helpful.  We all plan in some way. Worry, on the other hand, is thinking WITHOUT action. Worry is half a plan and has no worth or purpose.

 

Worry is not a life sentence. Being  a “worrier” isn’t your fate for the rest of your life.  You can change this.

 

Being a “worrier” is often a self-applied label that we secretly wear as a badge of honor.  This is also not helpful.  Worry is not a substitute for love and caring, nor does it prove that you are loving or caring.  Worry matters only to the person worrying.  No matter how much you worry about someone, that person can never experience it because worry exists only in your head.  You can love and care for someone without engaging in worry about them. You can drop the “worrier” label and still be a kind, loving and caring person.

 

We can get off the worry train two ways:

 

1. Some worries can be transformed into actual plans.  By adding action, we can convert a worry into a plan.  Once you’ve created a plan, you can remove this item from your worry bucket and move along.  This sometimes involve recognizing that you are simply skipping the action part, or dropping the belief that you are incapable of action.

 

2. Worries for which there is no plan can be dropped on the floor. This is done by learning how to not engage with worrisome thoughts.  Learning to relax and refocus away from worry is a skill that can be developed through practice and repetition.  This can be difficult because you may be confusing worry with action and safety.  Disengaging with your worry thoughts may make you feel vulnerable to disaster.  Through repetition you will learn that you are just as safe when not worrying as you are while worrying.  Learning the skills of refocus and relaxation will help you break the link between worry and safety that perpetuates the habit.

 

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)
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Not really a podcast episode so much as an angry rant about a subject I feel really needed to be addressed.  If you’ve been seeing your “anxiety” therapist for months on end, or years on end, and your progress is kinda nowhere, you may find this helpful.  At a minimum you may be entertained.

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One of the common worries while recovering from an anxiety disorder is the fear that it might “come back” after recovery.  This is something I hear from many many people.  It’s also pretty common in the community surrounding the podcast to see people arrive that have been through these issues before. They thought had it all solved, but find themselves back in the grips of panic, anxiety and associated nastiness.

The Acceptable Bubble – What Is It?

This is closely related to what I’ve been calling the “acceptable bubble”.  This is the bubble we build when we do the “recovery things”, but we engineer them to do them without anxiety.  Often this means that someone has found a panic-free way to do all the required basic life things, then kinda stopped doing the work.  The hallmark of the “acceptable bubble” is the existence of limits and limitations in one’s life.

What Are The Signs Of An Acceptable Bubble?

If you feel like you’ve recovered, but you still “can’t” do things that outside your normal daily experiences, you may be in an acceptable bubble. When are rely on safe people or safety mechanisms to get the bigger tasks done, there’s a chance that you’re in an acceptable bubble. If you are enduring your days, pushing through anxiety and trying desperately to just get through, you’ve built an acceptable bubble.

The REAL Goal of Recovery

When we build a panic free acceptable bubble, we never reach the ultimate goal of recovery.  The real end game of recovery is to learn to not be afraid of our own bodies and minds.  We must learn to experience fear and discomfort without being afraid of being afraid.  This is what recovery is all about.  Going to work, or the supermarket, or on a family vacation are the happy results of achieving this goal.  They are not the goal itself.

Avoiding The Acceptable Bubble – Getting The Job Done For Good!

In the end, avoiding the dreaded acceptable bubble is a personal thing. You must be able to look in the mirror and know that you are truly not afraid of panic or anxiety any longer. You don’t have to love it, but you can’t be afraid of it, in any circumstance.  When the day comes that you can honestly say that a level 10 panic attack while alone 200 miles from home isn’t a scary thought any longer, you’ve achieved your goal.  When you work toward that, you never have to worry about it “coming back” again.  Reach that goal, and this recovery journey will be the last one you’ll ever have to embark on.

 

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)

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“What if I forget how to breathe?”

“What if I just stop breathing?”

“I can’t get enough air in my lungs.”

“I can’t take a deep breath.”

Breath and breathing focused anxiety is quite common among people that suffer from anxiety disorders like panic disorder and agoraphobia.  In this episode I discuss the two most common forms of this anxiety.

[1:30] “I Am Afraid That I Will Forget How To Breathe”

The first is an obsession with the thought that you have to actively, manually breathe, or your body will somehow forget to breathe or you will stop breathing.  This obsessive, irrational thought may grip you during every waking moment, tricking you into thinking that you must stay involved in the process of breathing to avoid some horrible fate.

This is not a breathing or breath problem.  This is an intrusive and unwanted thought problem. The way to address it is to learn how to not respond to that obsessive thought so that you can learn through repeated experiences that if you don’t follow it and obey it, you still wind up just fine. Rather than look at this as a breath issue, learn to see it and approach is as an intrusive unwanted thought problem. This will enable you to work toward a viable solution.  I discussed intrusive and unwanted thoughts with Dr. Marty Seif in episode 83 of the podcast here.

[12:19] “It Feels Like I Can’t Breathe.  I Can’t Take a Deep Breath!”

This is the second common form of breath and breathing focused anxiety.  You may walk around all day suffering from “air hunger”, feeling like you can’t breathe or that you can’t get a deep enough breath.  You may feel like there is a tight band around your chest, which causes you to attempt to expand your ribcage and “fill” your lungs to maximum capacity to relieve that sensation.

This is all incorrect.  You are breathing just fine, and there is almost never a need to fill your lungs to a point where they feel full to you.  “Air hunger” is a descriptive term for a problem that really does not exist. Your current response – attempting to fill your lungs and engaging in the “heavy sigh” over and over – is likely causing other physical issues like lightheadedness, dizziness, visual issues, and a rapid heartbeat.

The way out of this situation is to learn to do the exact opposite of what the fear center in your brain is telling you to do.  Rather than trying to fill your chest and lungs with air, learn to stop, relax the tension in your body, and breathe slowly and gently into your belly. Expanding the diaphragm rather than the chest.  SLOW your breathing, make it steady, with the exhales being a bit longer than the inhales.  Slow and even breathing is quite sufficient for your body. Its the natural state of your breath when you’re not trying desperately to manipulate the process based on fear.

This will be difficult at first because you will still “feel” like you can’t breathe. Relax.  Be brave. Just let your body take care of itself.  You must practice belly breathing (there’s a good tutorial on YouTube here) several times each day, along with things like progressive muscle relaxation in order to get better at going into relaxed, even breathing mode in response to your “air hunger”.

The Breath Is Not Magic

Its important to understand that while the Internet is full of articles and videos that will tell you that your breath is some magical spiritual force that cleanses, energizes and connects you to the Universe, this is not helpful to you at the moment.  Your breath is just a natural process that your body is REALLY good at managing when you let it.  As a bonus, your breath can be an amazingly helpful tool for you in terms of learning selective focus and relaxation as you go about the business of recovery from an anxiety disorder.  So just for now, throw away all the new-age interpretations of what your breath might be, and respect it for what it actually is.  You may find that this change in mindset will have a greater impact on your daily life than you think.

 

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Intro and outro music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

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My friend Joyce joined me to talk about her slide into severe panic disorder and agoraphobia, which was followed by an aggressive recovery and rebuilding of her life. Listen to Joyce describe her journey from being frozen in fear on her sofa to being back at work and feeling limitless. Of particular note is the way Joyce used anger and frustration to fuel her recovery efforts. For many, this can be an excellent strategy and I really appreciate Joyce being so open and honest about how she was feeling and how it helped to propel her forward. As always, comments and questions are welcomed. I will do my best to relay any questions or messages to Joyce as they are asked.

 

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Holly and I discuss chapter 9 of Claire Weekes’ “Hope And Help For Your Nerves”. This chapter discusses the nature of recovery and the road to being yourself again. Some of the highlights:

* Your symptoms will not immediately go away, and may even worsen during recovery.

* You cannot simply decide to not be afraid. You must LEARN to not be afraid.

* We discuss the use of medication in conjunction with recovery.

* Keeping occupied – not being wholly consumed at all times with recovery – is essential.

* Quick recovery is possible and does happen for some people.

* A big part of recovery is understanding that what you think is keeping you stuck.

* Setbacks can and likely will happen, but they’re not really setbacks if you frame them properly and learn from them.

 

You can buy Hope and Help From Your Nerves by following the Amazon links from my website:

https://theanxioustruth.com/shop/

 

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When confronted with uncomfortable and scary feelings of anxiety, panic or emotions based on past trauma, the immediate response is to “talk yourself down”.  Trying convince yourself that you are OK using words, phrases and thoughts often does not work.  When this happens, you are at a fork in the road.  You can enlist the aid of your support system to argue with your anxiety or trauma for you, or you can resign yourself to just feel everything without resistance to let it pass through you and end naturally.

Spoiler alert … you want option two.  Facing and accepting anxiety, panic, and feelings based on your past is harder, but its the path that leads to long term change and lasting recovery.  Continuing to argue, or using your support team to argue by proxy for you, may be an attractive option because it’s the “easier” option and may seem like the fast path to feeling better in the moment, but there’s no learning or changing to found there.

Joe and I speak about this process, the need to face and feel what’s in front of you, and how this leads to a deeper understanding of the reality of being capable, competent and safe. This is the direction you want to go.  Trust us.

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to chat!

Comments and questions are always welcomed.

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Find Joe at https://joeryan.com or on Instagram at @joeryan.

 

Intro Music – “Afterglow” by Ben Drake (With Permission) https://facebook.com/BenDrakeMusic
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Heart Rate Tracker Watch

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If you are a regular listener of the podcast, odds are that you’ve had anxiety, worry and fear focused on your heart and your heartbeat at least once or twice. This is quite common. Heart-centered anxiety generally involves being afraid of a rapid, strong, or irregular (flutters/palpitations) heartbeat. This is either due to an underlying fear that something is wrong with your heart or will go wrong, or due to the link between a rapid/strong heartbeat and a panic attack. In either case, the way out, as always, is through. We can use interoceptive exposure techniques to intentionally create the rapid or strong heartbeat we fear in order to desensitize and learn that there is no reason to fear your heartbeat.
Yes, this involves intentionally experiencing that which you fear, but this is almost always the case when solving these problems.
Comments and questions always welcomed.
 

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Music – Afterglow by Ben Drake (with permission)