The path to overcoming anxiety disorders can be winding and unpredictable. There’s rarely a straight line between anxious train wreck and “normal”. There are good days and bad, ups and downs, and there will be set-backs along the way. Knowing what to expect and how to objectively and accurately judge your progress can make the process a bit easier on us.
Recovery Is Not Linear
Even the greatest athletes in the world don’t turn in dominant performances game after game. Even the world’s most successful business leaders fail now and then. You are no different. Your progress is not going be rock steady. There will be good days and bad, and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re stuck or going backward. So long as you’re putting in the work and following the right path, just stay with it.
The smaller the time interval you examine, the more likely you are to be discouraged. Worrying about feeling badly at noon after feeling good at eight AM isn’t terribly useful in the long run. Recognize that you have to “zoom out” to see your steady progress. Try to stay focused on the big picture. Don’t obsess over what’s happening at any given moment or on any given day. Progress is measured and observable over longer time periods.
Panic and Anxiety Are Part of the Deal
This is HUGE. If you are going about the business of challenging your fears and facing them, you WILL experience panic and anxiety along the way. This is supposed to happen! If you are afraid to fly, you can only overcome that fear by ultimately getting on an aircraft and taking off. The same applies to losing your fear of panic or anxiety. You must experience it for this to happen. Do not expect otherwise or you will be disappointed.
A Panic Attack Isn’t a Setback
This is such a common issue. Having a panic attack is not a setback in any way. We already know that panic and anxiety are going to be part of your journey forward, yet many still attempt to engineer a panic or anxiety-free situation. That’s not realistic or helpful in any way. Experiencing panic is actually a positive thing in that you need the practice in order to lose your fear. Setbacks are measured not by panic or anxiety, but in how you react to them. Panic. Be anxious. Just work on not reverting back to your avoidance or escape rituals when it happens.
Be Realistic In Your Goals
If you’ve been housebound for a year, deciding that you’re going to attend a wedding 100 miles away in four days is probably not realistic. While you can learn a fear or phobia almost instantly, un-learning that fear takes work, and TIME. Understand that progress will come in small doses on an almost daily basis if you’re working at it, but that those tiny steps will add up to giant leaps over time.
Be Patient. Be Persistent.
Frustration and discouragement is to be expected, but they’re really counter-productive. When you feel this way, acknowledge how you feel, understand that its normal, then do your best to find some patience and to allow yourself the time you need to make more progress. Don’t judge yourself harshly for going “too slow”, but at the same time you must be persistent and tenacious in your work. If you’re doing the work every single day regardless of how you feel, then you’re moving at the right pace. Being persistent and tenacious in your approach means you don’t have to wonder if you’re working hard enough. You are. This can help you find the patience you need to reach your ultimate goals.
Appreciate The Journey
When you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder – especially agoraphobia – its very common to view your life as “on hold”. We often hear the phrase “getting my old life back” in conversation. While its easy to see where this comes from, try not to forget that your life is happening every day. You’re living it right now while you read this post or listen to this podcast episode. Do your best to appreciate the positive things in your life, no matter how small they are, and also to appreciate the fact that you’re rising to meet a challenge. The greatest human stories almost always involve overcoming adversity of some kind. We all encounter it. Take heart in the fact that this experience isn’t going to bring the “old you” back. This is helping to create the NEW you! A stronger you. A more confident you. A new and improved version of you that’s better equipped to handle future challenges. There’s a silver lining in all this, and the journey you’re on now is helping to reveal it.
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Intro/Ending Music Credit: Title Autumn Day (Kevin MacLeod – incompetech.com) Licensed underCreative Commons: By Attribution 3.0