I feel like I’m unravelling. Rapidly. All the ground I’ve gained in the past months seems to be giving way under my feet. I’m falling through the cracks. Holding on. Holding on for dear life. This can’t be happening again. Not again.
Those were the words I hastily scribbled in my journal as I fought off an impending anxiety attack. Words riddled with fear. With anxiety. Words that describe a world that is spinning out of control. My world.
Dr. Archibald Hart, a clinical psychiatrist, writes this in his book, The Anxiety Cure:
“Anxiety has many faces. It is the ‘butterflies’ you feel in your stomach before you give a speech or take a test the nervousness you feel when you know you are about to be bawled out, or the heart palpitations you experience when you are in a threatening situation. Because it puts you on your guard and prepares you for what is to come, a little anxiety can be a good thing.
However, when normal anxiety seems to spin out of control, disrupting your daily life, you could be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
…If there is one message that anxiety experts are shouting from the rooftops, it is this: Anxiety sufferers must take personal control over their anxiety. “
The question is – how? Here is what I have gleaned from Dr. Hart’s book and from my own therapy sessions.
1. Recognize that recovery is a process, not an instant cure.
In a world that rewards efficiency and quick-fixes, we often become frustrated with ourselves when we don’t see results immediately. Have a headache? Pop an aspirin. Need a snack? Add hot water to a cup instant noodles. Feeling alone and needing company? Send a text or get chatting on Facebook.
It takes less than a day to have our daily needs met. But to wait for a week or two, or perhaps a few months to get our illness under control? That seems unbearably long. In our minds, we’re just not used to it. And we become easily discouraged when things aren’t happening soon enough.
The key thing is to manage our own expectations. If it took us years of learning unhealthy thinking habits, wouldn’t it be unrealistic to expect those habits to disappear overnight.
Recovery is therefore an insightful process and we have to recognize that each person’s journey is different from the other.
2. Self-empowerment is key to gaining control over our anxiety.
It begins with knowing ourselves – having an awareness of our limits and boundaries, our strengths and weaknesses, our triggers and triumphs.
Being mindful of our capabilities empowers us to make good decisions, even in the midst of a storm. It doesn’t matter how small or seemingly insignificant those choices are. What matters is, we are aware of what works for us and what we can get better at.
Often we expect our family, friends, the medical industry, social welfare, and even the government to solve our problems. There is a place for those, and indeed, they prove to be great support in our recovery journey.
But ultimately, the choice towards recovery begins with us when we say: “I will try”.
3. It takes practice.
Making self-empowering decisions requires discipline and a series of failures. We might fail this time around, or the next, and even the next. Over time, we learn to fail less and less. As my therapist once said: “Readjust and try again tomorrow.” As long as we don’t quit trying, we are getting somewhere.
Before achieving any goal, we must first define what that goal is for ourselves. Likewise, for recovery, we need to know what that looks like for us.
Facing relapses will always be a part of my life, and that’s okay — it can only get better each time.
What about you? How do you cope with your anxiety?