If you’ve suffered for long enough, then you’ll have seen a lot of people promote the exposure therapy approach. Is there anything wrong with exposure therapy? Not at all. If it works for people, then that is great. I am happy for them.
Did it work for me? No, not really. In fact, when I made the intention to push myself in order to feel better, I made myself feel worse. Isn’t this the point of exposure therapy though? It might be but what’s the point if pushing yourself to do things that makes you panic even more?
Then you might say, well shouldn’t we just apply the ‘ask for more’ approach when we find ourselves panicking in situations? Yes, that would be very helpful. As long as you dis-empower the panic attack when you are out and about. If you can manage to do that then that is fantastic.
Am I confusing you? First of all, I said that exposure therapy didn’t really help me, didn’t I? Then I said that asking for more panic when we are experience panicky sensations whilst we are out is a good and effective approach. I guess it did help but not by scaring myself by doing big things. I played it small. This is what helped me.
Playing it small
In my experience, baby steps were the answer. Whenever I tried to push myself too much, I would end up going back to square one, so it didn’t take me too long to realise that going crazy is not an effective strategy.
Baby steps are a comfortable way of moving yourself back into the outside world. Is there anything wrong with never leaving the house again? No, not at all. There’s nothing wrong with it. Who am I to judge?
If that doesn’t bother you and you are quite happy to be a house cat, then that is absolutely fine. However, if you don’t want to be confined to four walls, then you can find yourself back out into the world again.
But for goodness sake, don’t over do it. Start small and get comfortable in that routine. When you feel comfortable doing something that was originally a big deal for you. Then you’ll know that that is the right time to repeat this process.
But you don’t have to force yourself into situations because that comes from a place of struggle and a ‘trying to fix’ myself mentality. What you might find better is just being true to yourself about where you want to go and do. The energy behind this approach is one of inspiration and enthusiasm.
You are not making it about overcoming your anxiety, you are just doing what you want to do regardless of the anxiety being there or not. If it arises, then you know how to approach it.
Know your limits
We all have limits. Let’s be clear about that. In this context, it means that we only do something that makes us feel a little bit uncomfortable. Just uncomfortable enough that we know we have stepped outside our comfort zones.
It doesn’t matter if it’s just a tiny bit out, stepping outside your comfort zone, no matter how small, is a huge win that will give you a big confidence boost.
Please don’t try to travel to another country if you can only walk around your block. Please only start to walk to the end of your road if you haven’t left the house in a while. The word acclimatisation is key here. Personally, it took me a very long time before I could travel to places on my own.
Eventually I could walk into my town without another person being by my side and this was a huge deal for me. Now I can travel to my closest city on my own, go abroad with people and be absolutely fine. I could never have done that before, not in a million years.
Again, it didn’t happen overnight. It takes baby steps. Do not focus on the bigger picture. Focus on one step at a time. Before long, no one can say exactly how long, you will start to feel more confident in yourself. As you feel more confident, you’ll feel more inclined to challenge yourself a little bit more each time.
You’ll know intuitively what is suitable for you. Plus, you’ll know intuitively what is currently outside of your limit. Gut feelings are true. Listen to them and know your limits. Be realistic.
Should we push ourselves then?
What actually helped me more than anything was to not make going to places about my pushing myself to conquer my anxiety. Instead of intentionally exposing myself to certain situations.
I would ask myself what I wanted to do. If I wanted to get the bus to my closest city, then I would do so. If I felt anxious, then I knew I had the understanding and tools to help me deal with it there and then.
I wouldn’t make this whole experience about getting one up over my anxiety. No, I didn’t do this because ironically, we actually place more emphasis and focus on our anxiety when we try to beat it. Actively trying to beat anxiety just ends up becoming like a cat chasing it’s own tail.
You are coming from a completely different mindset and energy when you do something because you want to. Not because you feel you have to or because it will be lower your anxiety levels.
You can think like this if you want to as you have free choice, but it will only make you more fixated and obsessed about how you feel and this never ends well.
This article isn’t just about pushing ourselves in terms of leaving our zone of comfort. It’s also about everything else.
Understanding is what helps to remove a lot of fear
What I just mentioned above is helpful, really helpful when you get into the routine of doing it. But I believe understanding comes first. Just blindly challenging yourself a little bit without gaining new understandings and insights is kind of pointless because when you inevitably feel anxious again, you won’t have the understanding of how to approach it which can make you suffer more.
For me, ignorance was the biggest perpetuation of my suffering.
Why is understanding so crucial? Because it is the foundation. How does changing our relationship with anxiety work? Through an understanding. How do we stop doing the things that reopen the wound of anxiety? Through an understanding.
How do we feel reassured that we are safe? Through an understanding of what is going on in the body and why the fight/flight response exists in the first place. How do we know that we are creating our anxiety and that it is not the cause of things happening in the outside world? Through understanding.
All of these things that ultimately allow us to let go and heal do not require a ton of effort. It happens naturally and automatically when we gain a new understanding of what eases anxiety and what perpetuates it.
After that, it’s just a matter how reminding ourselves of this knowledge and repeating the approaches that make us feel at ease.
When we see that fighting our anxiety makes things ten times worse, we will see that doing the opposite is a no brainer.
Your anxiety levels will go down a lot just by gaining knowledge on anxiety, giving up the fight with it and stopping the behaviours which are fuelling it. In my experience, this was enough to help me lose so much fear.
Because I gained a lot of extremely helpful knowledge on anxiety, I didn’t have to struggle as much as I could of done. I didn’t have to white knuckle my way. So, gain that knowledge which will help you to look at things in a different perspective.
Read books that really empower you. Understand how anxiety works and what is going on in your body and mind. Educate yourself on what things help and what things don’t help. Find the approach that works for you and stick to it.
When your anxiety levels have lowered thanks to the above, slowly acclimatise yourself to your environment. If you need certain people to be with you when you do this to begin with, then that is absolutely fine.
The whole point of this article was to make you feel at ease within yourself. I didn’t want to leave you feeling like you are failing because you are currently yet to leave your home. I didn’t want to make it feel as though I am pressurising you into getting out there and putting yourself in situations that you perceive (an important word here) as anxiety provoking.
The most important thing for you right now is deepening your understanding about anxiety and knowing that we don’t need to fight with it, fear it or even get rid of it in order to live a life we are proud to live.
With that being said, not getting rid of it doesn’t mean that it won’t actually dissolve, because it will in time.
That’s not to say that you won’t ever experience anxiety again, because that is being very unrealistic. Personally, I believe that people who sell us these programs where they claim that we will never experience anxiety ever again once we’ve recovered are not being as real as they could be.
However, what it will mean is that because your relationship with anxiety will have changed, you will not experience it in the same way as before. In fact, thoughts and moments of anxiety will come but you won’t treat it as an important thing that needs a lot of attention and concern. It will just come and go like any other experience. I will write more on this in another article.
The point I’m making here is that we don’t need to adopt a fixing mentality in order to become free of our anxiety. I was in that mindset for most of my life and it didn’t get me anywhere. It just left me chasing my own tail on a constant basis.
We will “fix” ourselves naturally when we see things in a different way. that allows our relationship with anxiety to changes.There is so much less to do than we really think. We think that we have to do a lot of things in order to free ourselves but in reality, we are creating it all.
Which means that we can stop creating it. Of course, that isn’t to say that doing things doesn’t help us. Changing our diet will probably make us feel better. Exercising on a consistent basis will make us feel more refreshed and energised and will have a positive impact on our mental and emotional well-being naturally and effortlessly by releasing “happy” chemicals.
Visiting places and doing the things we used to love doing will of course make us feel good about ourselves that allows our confidence to grow. But what I’m saying is that we don’t have to be in this pushing/forcing mentality because that is a form of resistance and pressure which will make us feel tensed up and stressed out.
At the end of the day, being in the mentality of “I should do this and I shouldn’t do that” is what is putting even more pressure on ourselves that leads to more stress and anxiety.
What if it was okay for you to be in a mindset where you understand that you don’t have to do anything? What if you could live from this place which would allow you to drop the heavy weight of self-inflicted pressure off your shoulders? Surely this would allow the process of desensitisation to happen a lot faster?
Ironically, when I stopped putting pressure on myself to “push myself”, then I just started to find myself going to places and doing the stuff I used to do without putting pressure on myself. I felt inspired whereas before it wouldn’t feel right if I was living in this forceful and pressurising mindset.
If this article has resonated with you, then I am very grateful. If it doesn’t make sense to you, then give it a reread and if you are still left feeling confused, please reach out to me and ask any questions you have.
Until next time.