6 Things I Didn’t Do to Recover From Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobia
So much of what’s shared about anxiety recovery is about what you can or should do, and what tips and tools you can use that will be helpful, but there’s not much about the flipside, right? Meaning all the things you maybe don’t have to do (or even should do) in order to recover. Because the reality is that you can’t and you don’t have to do it all in order to recover, and the recovery journey is actually a whole lot about doing less. And now you’re probably like… What?? Yeah, I said it’s about doing less! We’ll jump into how you can do less soon.
So I just want to start by saying that I think that recovery is way harder these days than it was 10, or even 5 years ago. From social media, to YouTube, to podcasts, to self-help books. I feel like there is so much out there now on anxiety recovery. People are inundated with information and “solutions.” And with all of this information, it can sometimes make you feel like you have to consume all of it, or that you have to find the thing that will “work.” And with the overload of information, it can leave you asking yourself questions like… What am I doing wrong? Maybe I shouldn’t be doing that. Maybe I should be doing that. Maybe I should try that. That person said this, maybe I have that diagnosis, too! Although information is great, it can also lead to some very unhealthy places, and a whole lot of you always looking outward for answers, trust, and solutions rather than you looking inward.
Alright, let’s jump in and talk about the 6 things that I didn’t do in order to recover so that you can gain some helpful insight and tips!
01 - I didn’t read every self-help book. This is probably a shocking confession, but I don’t think I even made it through an entire anxiety self-help book when I was working to recover. And this is probably another shocking (and maybe even a cringe-worthy) confession, but I also haven’t read any of Claire Weekes' books. Yeah… I just admitted that. It’s funny because I’ve had a few people tell me that they’ve read Claire Weekes' work and that my work is similar, and I think it’s because we both have lived experience with anxiety and that’s what I teach based off of - my own lived experience.
So yeah, when I was struggling with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I bought one book. And I honestly can’t even remember if I finished it. And I’m sure that a huge part of this was because I was struggling so badly, often felt so drained, and I didn’t have the energy to read an entire book and THEN do the work. So, I didn’t read any books that explained physiologically what was happening to me when I felt anxious, or panicky, or was experiencing a particular symptom. And I didn’t read any books that taught me how to recover and what to do. And I’m not telling you all of this because I don’t think that education is important, because I absolutely believe that education is important and is definitely helpful. However, reading every book, watching every YouTube video, looking at every Instagram and Facebook post, listening to every podcast, can actually hinder your healing rather than help you.
Something that I hear often from people that I work with is… I’ve read every book and I understand anxiety and panic, but I’m still struggling! And this is often because healing doesn’t happen inside of books, or on social media, or on YouTube, or while listening to podcasts. Sure, these things can help to support your healing, but healing happens outside of these things. It’s important to take what’s helpful to you, but then you actually have to take action and implement it into your life and practice it. And also to hold yourself accountable to implement and stay consistent with the helpful stuff and practices. And this is often why people want to work with me one-on-one, so that they can get a little more guidance and help with the accountability part. And I’m a really good accountability partner!
So, in general, rather than overwhelm yourself with information, maybe taking in less would be much more helpful. Maybe limiting how much information you take in will actually relieve some of the overwhelm, anxiety, and tension you are experiencing. And I promise you this, decreasing the amount you’re looking outward for answers and solutions, and instead looking inward, well this is where so much magic lies. Because being able to listen to and trust yourself is a huge part of recovery! And beginning to listen to and trust yourself will help you to get to where you want to be even quicker and with less resistance.
02 - I didn’t do exposures every single day. Gasp, right? I know that there’s many people out there that proclaim that you have to do exposure work every single day, and I really don’t buy into this idea. Don’t get me wrong, I think that exposure work (or what I like to call facing anxiety and your fears) is absolutely necessary and important, but I don’t believe that you have to do this work every single day… or else you won’t heal. I see messages on social media, on podcasts, and on other platforms, saying that you have to do exposure work every single day, sometimes even multiple times per day, and I don’t think this is always feasible or even realistic.
Something that you have to keep in mind is that every message, every piece of advice, tip, or tool, is being delivered as a general message, or piece of advice, tip, or tool. It’s not being tailored and delivered specifically for you, taking into account your situation, your struggles, etc. So although the thing may be helpful to some, it may not be so helpful for you.
For example, when I see messages like… You have to do something every day that scares you! Which is a message that I’ve definitely put out there, I think… Cool! I like that. But how some people might translate that is… I have to force myself to ride the train every single day, otherwise I won’t recover. Which really isn’t true. Sure, you have to face your fear and ride the train, but you don’t need to do it every single day in order to overcome this fear.
And because I’m a mom, when I see messages that say you have to do exposure work every single day, I immediately think of women like me, who don’t have a whole lot of extra time in their days to dedicate time every day to do exposures. Because typically alongside being a mom, you are also working, and taking care of others, and doing lots of life-related things, feeling for everyone around you, trying to do it all, all while struggling with your mental health. So what might be feasible and realistic for someone else, may not be even close to feasible, realistic, or even helpful for you.
Here’s what I want you to know. Facing anxiety and your fears is important, but overcoming anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia is more about changing your entire relationship with anxiety, and this doesn’t happen by just doing exposure work. My platform is called A Healthy Push because it’s so important to push yourself but in a healthy way. And sometimes pushing yourself looks like… Resting, and changing your self-talk, and being compassionate with yourself, and practicing self-care, and giving your body lots of nutrients, and making time to do things that you actually enjoy and things that bring you joy. These things are just as important as facing your fears. And that last one leads nicely into the next thing that I didn’t do to recover!
03 - I didn’t stop living. Yeah, this one is big. I didn’t put my life on hold in order to recover. I had hobbies and passions, and as much as I didn’t have the energy or desire sometimes, I continued to do things that I enjoyed because I knew how important it was to not allow anxiety and fear to take it all from me. I continued to choose doing things that I valued. And by doing this, it also helped me to overcome many of my fears.
You know, it’s funny how many times I get asked… How the heck did you get tattoos while you were struggling? And my answer… I really love tattoos, so I got them while feeling incredibly anxious. Was it hard? Of course it was. But I wasn’t willing to let anxiety dictate my every move. Simply put, I wasn’t willing to shrink my world because of anxiety and fear. And this is something that we often lose sight of, and it’s the fact that our choices, behaviors, and actions often shrink our world. Don’t allow anxiety and fear to shrink your world. Keep living while you’re working to heal.
I want you to really think about this and answer this question honestly. When’s the last time you did something that you enjoyed? Or maybe you’re like… Shannon, I don’t even know what I enjoy anymore. It feels like I can’t enjoy anything! Trust me, I get it. But I want you to think about what you enjoy doing in life. Think about what you used to enjoy before you began struggling. I want you to think about hobbies, or passions, or even things that you used to do as a kid. And pick one thing and give it a shot! Take small steps to start doing it again. Choose what you value over and over again, and do it while feeling scared and anxious.
04 - I didn’t force myself to do everything. I think when you’re struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, you often convince yourself that you have to do everything in order to recover. Let me tell you a story that will help me to explain what I mean by this.
Back when I was struggling, Adam and I took a trip to NYC to visit some family and friends. And while out and about one day, exploring the city, the group of people we were with started talking about riding the Roosevelt Island Tramway. If you’re not familiar with what this is, picture a gondola going up a ski lift, except what’s underneath you is water rather than mountain and snow. Yeah, you just ride in this little metal box from the city to an island, which only takes about 4 minutes.
But my response to taking this 4 minute ride at the time was a big heck no! At the time, the idea of getting on this thing was unthinkable. I thought to myself… I can't do that! I’ll be trapped! What if I panic? I can’t just get off of it. What if I can’t handle it? What if I freak out and lose my shit in front of everyone? So I made up some excuse as to why I didn’t want to do it, an excuse that had nothing to do with anxiety. Then I beat myself up for the next hour or so for not doing it. And then I quickly convinced myself that I sucked, that I was so ridiculous, that everyone thought that I was crazy, and that I’d never recover.
Sooo should I have gotten on the tramway? Who cares! I didn’t get on it and I still recovered. I want you to really acknowledge this... You don’t have to do EVERYTHING in order to recover. Not doing things sometimes doesn’t mean that you won’t recover. I think we often think about what we should do (because if we don't, it'll mean something about our recovery), and we don’t give ourselves any breathing room. Allow yourself to breathe. You don’t have to do it all in order to recover. Remember, the small steps will get you there.
05 - I didn’t always believe in myself. Crazy, huh? I mean, I’m human! And just like I didn’t always believe in myself, I’m sure you have moments where you don’t believe in yourself. And this is because you, too, are human! Although your actions every day will help you to create a stronger belief in you and your capabilities, at times you are going to question yourself, your capabilities, your choices, etc. It’s okay to just let yourself be human.
I can tell you, there were so many times that I questioned myself, my capabilities, and just my recovery in general. There were countless times that I questioned whether or not I’d ever recover. There were many times that I went down the path of… See Shannon! This is just who you are. You are always going to panic. You are always going to struggle with anxiety. You can’t do this. And this was just my brain doing what human brains do. When things feel uncomfortable, when things feel hard, when you feel resistance, it’s natural to question yourself, your capabilities, and your decisions.
In the moments where you find yourself questioning yourself, your capabilities, or your recovery, really pay attention to the dialogue you’re having with yourself. Because how we talk to ourselves and the stories we tell ourselves hugely shape our beliefs, our actions, and our behaviors. And you have control of the messages and stories you tell yourself. Your reality is that you aren’t your struggle. And anxiety doesn’t define you. You have always worked through every panic attack and you will continue to. And sure, there are probably things that you can’t do quite YET, but you will get there.
And just because you maybe can’t see that recovery is possible for you right now, or believe that it’s possible for you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible.
06 - I didn’t always “get it right.” And honestly, the idea of getting things “right” when you’re working to heal is kind of funny to me. Because if you always got things right, how the heck would you ever learn, grow, and heal, right? I think we often put these unrealistic expectations on ourselves that our healing should look a certain way. And the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to get things right only adds to the anxiety we are already experiencing.
A theme I hear a lot in people that I work with is… I don’t know if I did that right, and… I don’t think I should have done that, but I did. And this a little bit goes back to… You are human. You are learning and you are practicing. You aren’t always going to make the best or healthiest decisions. You are sometimes going to make the decision to avoid, or run, or fight, when you really want to face it, or stay, or accept. And this is okay. I know that you don’t want to “mess up,” but the healing journey is full of messing up, and it’s about simply being aware and super compassionate with yourself when you do.
It’s okay that you want to get things right because you really want to heal, but you don’t have to get everything right in order to heal. Allow yourself to be human in the process. This means checking in with your expectations of yourself. Not allowing others' expectations of you to define your expectations of yourself or your recovery. This means letting go of some of the perfectionism tendencies and just allowing yourself to make mistakes. This means starting to lean into yourself and building more trust in yourself that you can make mistakes and still heal. It means seeing these moments as getting you one step closer to healing, rather than it taking you ten steps back.
Trust me, friend, I didn’t always get it right. I made plenty of mistakes, FOR YEARS. Which is why I’m here with you now, sharing my mistakes, my insights, and knowledge, because I don’t want you to struggle for years like I did. Because you don’t have to continue struggling for years. You can mess up a whole lot, and will mess up a whole lot, and you can still recover.
Alright, I could throw so many more things onto this list, so maybe I’ll do a part two episode soon! Until next time, keep taking healthy action, and allow yourself to be human in the process!