Frequently Asked Questions About Anxiety, Anxiety Disorders, and Recovery
This week on The Anxious Truth we’re going answer ten more of the questions I get asked most frequently by members of the community surrounding the podcast and my other work. This is part two of a two part series. For part one see episode 216 of the podcast.
Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Amazon Music | Watch on YouTube
Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Amazon Music | Watch on YouTube
This Week’s Questions
Is recovery possible even if you’ve suffered for many years?
It sure is! Many members of our community turn things around and make full recoveries even after years of dealing with disordered anxiety. Podcast episode 124 talks about this, so check it out.
What if I don’t have panic attacks and just feel anxious all day?
Even people that have panic attacks feel anxious all day, so please don’t assume that people with panic disorder are calm between panic attacks. Being anxious all day can be a result of being anxious about being anxious (same as panic disorder without the attacks) or it can be an indicator of generalized anxiety which tends to be based on external issues that people fixate on, think about, and try to control to an excessive degree. Excessive worry, overthinking, over planning, perfectionism, and people pleasing are all good examples of habits that drive anxiety that just sits there without ever turning into panic attacks. See episodes 119 and 148 of the podcast for more information.
How can I drive during a panic attack or anxiety spike? It’s not safe!
The assertion that you are incapable of driving when anxious or experiencing panic is based on the fear that you are unable to control your body and mind while in that state. Has this ever been true? You are most certainly afraid, and quite uncomfortable, but the choices you make in those moments to try to alleviate that fear and discomfort are NOT involuntary. Recognize that your panic is a extreme state, but not some magical power that totally hijacks your body and mind. If you consider your past experiences with panic while driving, the odds are very high that you have always successfully gotten that vehicle to the side of the road, or off the highway, or all the way home, even when anxious or in a state of panic. Was that luck every time? The bottom line here is that only you get to decide what is safe or not. I am not going to beg you to drive through a panic attack. I am going to ask you to do your very best to take two steps back from the fear and the emotional reaction and take an objective look at your performance while experiencing high anxiety or panic and try to factor that into your decision. Episodes 55 and 105 of the podcast address this topic.
What if you have a real medical condition?
More than one thing can be true at the same time. You can have an actual medical or health problem, and also be caught in the grips of disordered anxiety. Do not make the mistake of gluing those things together when they don’t have to be. Recognize that you may be naturally concerned, anxious, or afraid based on your health status. This is normal for any human. But then recognize when you latch on to that and insist on engaging in continual thinking and mental problem solving to try to eliminate that normal state. That is not helping you and in most cases is just causing mental health problems on top of the physical health problems. A medical condition is not automatic license to engage in rumination and continuous worry and overthinking. You do have a choice in that matter. You can work on that part. Episode 182 of the podcast features Jessica Sidener who talked about how she experienced anxiety over an actual health condition and the loss of her husband. I also did an Instagram live on this topic a while back.
How do you accept anxiety or surrender to it?
This question is really code for “It’s scary to do that. Tell me how to do it without being afraid of uncomfortable.” I know this is a bit of a brutal answer, but sometimes we need a dose of that in recovery. This question is also an insistence that you must continue to resist and fight anxiety because that’s how you think you are staying safe. So “How do I accept?” is really “I have to keep fighting and hanging on!”. If you want one big step toward acceptance and surrender, try considering that all your fighting and resisting has been completely pointless and has accomplished nothing at all. If I told you that I am exhausted from holding up the moon every day and thankful that I’ve kept it from falling, you would tell me that its OK to stop doing that because I have not actually been holding up the moon, even thought I think that I am.
What exposures can I do to get ready for …. ?
Remember that you are exposing yourself to anxiety, panic and fear. Those are the exposures. The highway, being home alone, going for a walk, or eating a food you are afraid of are only the methods you use to trigger those things. So you don’t need a special exposure for a concert (for example). Any time you can practice moving through anxiety and fear rather than running is a good exposure that helps to prepare you for a situation where you might get “triggered”.
Does this method work if I have trauma too?
This is not a “method”, and its certainly not my method. I did not invent any of this. Thee are parallels between anxiety disorder recovery and trauma resolution. This is true. But they are not exactly the same thing. If trauma spawned your anxiety disorder then one problem became two problems. That’s OK though because you can successfully deal with both issues. Many members of our community are working on both anxiety recovery and trauma resolution. Traumatic experiences may be roadblocks to executing an anxiety recovery plan and you may need to work on that first. Or you may find that you need to improve your anxiety situation before you are ready to face your trauma. Some people work on everything at once. There is no one answer to this question as you can see, but you can recover from both trauma and anxiety and the concepts I speak and write about can be effective while you do that.
I’m accepting! Why am I still anxious?
I might argue that asking why you are anxious is not accepting at all. That sounds a bit glib, but think about that for a minute. I know you want your anxiety to go away, but accepting and doing exposures is not a recipe for squashing your anxiety. If that’s why you’re doing this, and you’re trying to skip the part where you must use the anxiety to teach you to not be afraid of the anxiety, then you will likely end up disappointed and frustrated. Expectations are important. Understanding the concepts of recovery is important. Aiming at the right target is important. Episode 192 of the podcast may help here.
I’m doing my exposures but it’s not working! Why?
There are a few common explanations for this. Are you just trying to do exposures without being too afraid? Are you trying to do your exposures without triggering high anxiety or panic? Are you only doing exposures now and then when forced or when you’re having a good day? Are you doing exposures while also using all your soothing and coping tools to “calm you down” if it gets uncomfortable? These are all exposure “red flags”. Remember, exposure is designed to intentionally put you up close and personal with fear, anxiety, and even panic so that you can experience them WITHOUT using all the saving and soothing techniques. Exposure also has to be consistently done, and it’s most valuable when done on the “bad days”. Yes, this is a crappy deal for us. But it is the deal we have so we have to work with it. If you search my website for the word exposure, you’ll find quite a few podcast episodes that cover this topic.
How do I deal with a setback?
A setback is what people call it when the experience anxiety or panic again after period of relief. But if the core principle of recovery is to learn that anxiety and panic are not emergencies, then how is feeling those things a setback? Setback is usually a red flag word that indicates that you are still insisting that you must never feel afraid of uncomfortable. True setback only occurs when you launch into all your old fighting, resisting, escaping, “figuring out”, “predicting” and compulsing behaviors. If anxiety returns after some time, your job is not to wring your hands and try to figure out why and how to stop it. Your job is to surf through it like you presumably did as part of the progress you’d made earlier. Episode 14 of the podcast from way back in 2015 addresses the non-linear nature of recovery and talks about setbacks.
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