In this episode of the anxious truth, we’re going to talk about how no matter what anybody tells you, recovery is not just mind over matter. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

The idea that recovery is just “mind over matter” is misguided. It can be intended to motivate or to inspire, which is great, but that still does not make it correct or even appropriate.

In the process of anxiety, recovery, and dealing with things like agoraphobia, or panic disorder, or OCD, we’re actually doing the opposite. The process of recovery is actually learning to let matter prevail over mind!

When you are in the grips of an anxiety disorder, you are working overtime to interpret, predict, judge, and evaluate everything based on how you feel and what you think. Your MIND is driving everything. Your mind is calling the shots. No matter what reality tells you, your mind has other ideas that it simply will not let go of.

In that light, disordered anxiety is already mind over matter, where mind is what your brain is telling you, and “matter” is what is actually happening in reality.

Reality shows you again and again and again, that what’s going on in your head, your subjective interpretations and evaluations of what’s going on, are wrong. Matter (reality), is trying to show us what is real and that we are safe, but mind (what’s going on in our heads as we interpret what we feel, and what we think) is telling us that we are in danger. The problem with the disordered state is that it is mind over matter. We are literally trying to reverse that.

We want matter (reality) to jump up and take precedence over what’s going on in our minds.

This is important for us as we do the work of recovery. When you are getting geared up to intentionally do difficult or scary things, do not think, “mind over matter”. Instead, recognize that your mind has been overriding reality for a long time. Then do your best to take your foot off the accelerator mentally so you can let your mind coast. You will do this – difficult though it may be – to allow reality to overtake your mind and deliver you the corrective experience of being safe and OK even when sure that you are not.

Using the concept of mind over matter would be counterproductive here. “Mind over matter” has gotten you into this problem to begin with. It perpetuates the problem. Now you need to look at it the other way. Let reality prevail. That means doing the OPPOSITE of what your over-sensitized brain wants you to do. It thinks it is keeping you safe, but all it really does is block the lessons that reality is giving you, and THOSE are the lessons our exposures and challenges are there to teach us. Recovery is in those lessons, not in following our minds!

I am not saying that the act of recovery or trying to deal with anxiety is ever about ignoring your emotions, invalidating them, or trying to become a robot with no feelings or emotions. When you get to a less disordered state, when anxiety has been put back into its rightful place in your life, then you can start going back to a closer examination of your thoughts and your feelings. But right now your mind is running the show to an extreme level and overpowering reality. For now, you’ll have to err on the side of allowing reality to take precedence over your thoughts.

When you get better, that part of you can still flourish. It’s not a bad thing to be emotional. It’s not a bad thing to be contemplative. But right now you’ll need to back away from those things a little bit so you can achieve a balance between what’s happening in your head, and what’s happening in reality.

So next time someone tells you that it’s just “mind over matter”, you’ll be able to smile knowingly, then get back to the work of getting your life back.

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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)






Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Therapist-in-training specializing in anxiety and anxiety disorders. Author. Podcaster. Educator. Advocate. Former anxious person.