Let’s build on what we’ve already learned in last few episodes to make an anxiety/panic/agoraphobia recovery plan. Since we know that anxiety disorders including agoraphobia are cognitive in nature we’re generally going to ignore the physical symptoms. Instead we’re going to address behavioral and cognitive issues, because that’s what makes a lasting difference.
We’ll lay out five general strategy points, then we’ll put a broad action plan in place.
- It’s all about goals and expectations. Have the right goals in mind. In our case, making your anxiety and panic stop or go away is NOT the goal. Our goal is learn through experience that anxiety and panic are not actually dangerous and therefore are not to be feared and avoided. The end game here is to simply not care if you experience anxiety or panic because you no longer fear them.
- Be resigned to the fact that you’re going to have to be afraid and uncomfortable – especially in the beginning – to get things moving forward. Sorry. There’s just no way around this.
- Stop focusing on your physical anxiety and panic symptoms . Stop thinking about what you can swallow – natural or otherwise – to make them go away.
- Think and start small. If you haven’t left your house in three weeks or you haven’t gone shopping alone in two years, don’t start by planning a three week trip to Paris. Don’t worry about how impossible it might seem to get back to being “normal”. You’re now in the business of un-learning negative behaviors and re-learning old skills. That’s done in small steps. Every step, no matter how small, is a step you can build upon. Its all matters.
- Be consistent, persistent, and tenacious. This is what matters most. A panic-fueled white-knuckle run through the shopping mall you’ve been avoiding – followed by four days of not leaving the house – is pointless. Walk around your block four times every day for a week. That’s more effective. When you win a battle, don’t stop to admire your work or reward yourself with a rest. Don’t make excuses. Keep going! Be tenacious.
Our Action Plan For Recovery
A. Learn to calm your body and your mind. These are skills that must be learned and practiced all the time. Star with muscle relaxation, relaxation breathing and basic meditation skills. The goal is to be able to use these skills to relax “on demand”. It’s hard. Work at it!
B. Intentionally put yourself into situations that make you anxious. Do this every single day, as often as you possibly can. When you feel the anxiety or panic, start using your relaxation skills. Don’t run or fight. Do not expect to be able to make your symptoms go away. Focus on your breath and the tension in your body and work on those things. Ignore the catastrophic thoughts racing through your head. This is where the meditation skills help. Do these things and truly accept that you are not in danger, then you will find that your symptoms will not escalate. Your symptoms will begin to level off or even decrease in intensity as the adrenaline gets flushed out of your bloodstream.
That’s it – the whole plan! There’s nothing else. Everything else is mechanics and fine tuning.
The situations you expose yourself to will naturally change over time. Start small. Very small. Gradually expand your circle and take on larger challenges. Be consistent. Be persistent. Be tenacious. Expect to fail sometimes. Expect to be terrified – especially at the start. Expect to be uncomfortable. Expect to work hard, but that’s hard work you’ll be happy you did. If you stick to this plan and really work it, you will be amazed at how fast you can progress. Things you thought impossible will begin to seem within your reach. You’ll start to build confidence and you’ll be emboldened to keep going. Above all, you’ll learn that YOU are in control of the process and that you are not a helpless victim of some horrible mental illness. You’re not! Your brain has just gotten into some bad habits and it’s time to set things right again.
In upcoming podcast episodes we’ll talk about the specifics of things like relaxation, calming your mind and exposure therapy. In the meantime you can get started right now by talking your first step forward. There’s no need to wait for any reason. You can do it!
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Intro/Ending Music Credit: Title Autumn Day (Kevin MacLeod – incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0