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Q&A: Your Questions About Anxiety, Panic Disorder, & Agoraphobia Recovery Answered Part 1



A few weeks back, I sent out a survey to everyone on my email list and I asked what questions you had for me relating to your recovery, and I got so many good questions! So in this episode, I’m going to answer 10 of your questions, and then I’ll do another Q&A episode next week so that I can answer some more. And I got hundreds of questions, so if you don’t hear your question answered here, I may instead answer it in a reel or in one of my weekly emails.


And if you aren’t on my weekly emails, you can get on my email list here! You really don’t want to miss them. Every week, I send you tips, tools, and inspiration that will support your recovery, and I never send junk.


Okay, let’s dive into your questions!


01. How do I control my thoughts? This is a question I get asked often. And I think it’s first helpful to understand why you’re wanting to control your thoughts. You may think, if I can control my thoughts, I won’t feel anxious. And it’s pretty basic, right? We want and think that we need to be able to control our thoughts so that we can feel and be safe. And when you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder, in general, you typically seek control often in an attempt to feel safe. But seeking control is actually what’s causing you to feel anxiety.


So here’s my simple answer. You can’t control your thoughts and you don’t need to. And trying to control your thoughts is only going to lead to more anxiety, more symptoms, more panic, and more fear. Your thoughts can’t be controlled and they can’t be stopped, and they don’t need to be. What you really need to focus on is having a healthy response to your thoughts. Which instead of trying to control them, is to practice letting them in. This means practicing acknowledging them, and practicing allowing them in by sitting with the sensations, symptoms, and discomfort that may accompany them, and practicing not trying to fight them or stop them.


The reality is, you’re making things so much harder by always seeking out control. When you actually practice acknowledging, accepting, and allowing, which are huge pillars of what I teach in my 10-week live program, Panic to Peace, you actually start experiencing less anxious thoughts and feelings and more peace. Remember, control doesn’t equal safety. You don’t need control in order to be safe. Things can be out of your control, and things can be uncertain, and you can still be safe.


02. What if I’m different and I won’t recover? Or, what if I’m not capable of recovering? This is another question that I get asked often. Or sometimes people will say to me… Shannon, I’m different. I just don’t think it’s possible for me. I’ve been struggling for too long, or too much has happened, or I’m too far gone. And you know what I say to all of this? You’re scared, and it’s okay to be scared. You’re scared that you won’t recover. You’re scared that you’re going to spend the rest of your life struggling with anxiety, and you’re probably really frustrated and angry about it. And you feel all of these things because you’re human and you’re experiencing something really hard.


It’s okay to feel all of these things, but you have to feel these things and keep telling yourself that you’re going to keep choosing to heal. You deserve to heal and overcome. You deserve to live a beautiful life that is full of peace, joy, freedom, and adventure. And just because you can’t see that it’s all possible for you right now, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.


I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for 15 years, and there were so many times that I truly believed that I was destined to live a life of anxiety, panic, and fear, but I wasn’t. I’m now living a life I truly thought was never possible for me. But it’s not just a possibility for me…


A few months ago, I had 20 students go through my Panic to Peace program, and guess what…


One of them struggled with panic disorder and agoraphobia for 16 years and couldn’t travel. And since finishing the course, she’s traveled to several different places by train and by car, which used to be unthinkable for her. And all of this in the midst of finding out that she’s pregnant! It’s so amazing because she’ll message me every now and then and say… Shannon, I’m doing it again. I can’t believe I’m doing it! How is this possible? Like, she still can’t believe it even though she’s living it.


And another student who had lived with agoraphobia for over 20 years, and had a hard time just walking in a field next to her house, just went on a hike with her family where she hiked two hours from the road where they parked.


And another student who struggled with panic and agoraphobia for years and was scared to leave her house at the beginning of the year has since gone out with her husband and kids for ice cream, and to a big charity dinner, and went on a work outing.


I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. Recovery is possible for you, you just gotta keep taking the healthy steps that will make it happen, and have some blind faith that it is possible!


03. Will I ever go back to “normal?” I love this question because I have a super simple answer to it. You aren’t looking to go back to “normal.” You’re wanting to go back to being able to do things without anxiety, panic, and fear being present in everything you do. But you aren’t working to recover in order to go back. You can’t go back. And you don’t want to go back. Life is not going to go back to how it used to be before you began struggling, because it’s not meant to. You are meant for more. You are meant to be more than you were yesterday, and the day before, and years before. And there is much more for you here and now. Keep focusing on taking the healthy action today, and allowing yourself to live, and soon you’ll be doing all of the things you used to do and even more!


04. Why isn’t exposure working? So, there’s lots of reasons why exposure isn’t “working.” Let me give you some insights. Sometimes we think that exposure isn’t “working” because things feel harder. And the truth is, things will feel harder when you’re doing exposures and facing your fears. Things are supposed to feel harder. So it may be as simple as, you’re convincing yourself that exposure therapy isn’t “working” when it actually is.


But then there are actual reasons why exposure isn’t working. Here are some of the reasons! 1) You’re facing the hard stuff, and the stuff that causes you fear, but you aren’t responding to your anxious thoughts, the symptoms, and panic in a healthy way. You may be avoiding them, fighting them, running from them, or allowing yourself to ruminate. 2) You’re still practicing safety behaviors that are reinforcing the anxiety, and sometimes you may not even be aware that you’re practicing them. 3) You aren’t being consistent with it. 4) You aren’t actually pushing yourself, and you’re still avoiding or trying to make things easier on yourself.


And there’s more! But, I want to share something really important with you. It’s not all about exposure work! People put so much emphasis on exposure work but there’s so much more to recovery than just doing exposures, and this is a lot of what I dive into in Panic to Peace, plus we make a plan for facing your fears and I make sure you know how to tackle this all in a healthy way.


05. How do I stop making a plan B? I love this question! And again, it’s important to remember why you’re creating a plan B. You’re mapping out exit strategies, and actually physically looking for exits, and thinking of excuses that will help you to bail, because you’re scared and you’re wanting to create safety. But the safety is in not telling your brain that you need a plan B. Because if your brain thinks you need a plan B, it means that whatever is happening in the current moment is dangerous and unsafe, which just isn’t true.


So when you catch yourself looking for exits, or planning escapes, or making up excuses, or leaning on safety behaviors, and so on, pause and tell yourself… I see what we’re doing and we aren’t going there! Remember, you can’t stop the thoughts from coming but you have control of whether or not you plan and solve.


06. Why does panic seem to come out of nowhere? It really does feel like it comes out of nowhere sometimes, huh? The thing is, panic typically doesn’t come out of nowhere. Panic typically happens because of a build up of stress, or because of how you’re responding to sensations, symptoms, and thoughts, or because something happened and your brain associated that something with danger or with feeling anxious, and so it sounds the alarms, which often feels like it was of none of your doing.


I think it’s so important not to get caught up in the why. Why did it happen? What caused it? What did I do wrong? What is wrong with me? Going down the rabbit holes of analyzing, trying to figure things out, trying to find meaning in things, and beating yourself up is only going to cause more anxiety and panic. Yes, you want to be mindful of your choices, habits, and how you’re responding to anxiety, but you don’t need to figure out why a panic attack happened in order to work through it and prevent it from happening again. A big thing that will prevent it from happening again is responding to it in a healthy way.


07. Is there a way to heal forever? My simple answer to this is, how about just focusing on healing right now. We often make the recovery journey harder and set ourselves up for failure when we request that things look like this… I want to be able to do X without anxiety being present. I need to heal by X because, say, I have a big trip planned. I need to heal before I do X.


I get it. You don’t want to struggle with anxiety anymore. You want it to go away so that you can live your life. But, what if you started living your life while allowing anxiety to come along for the ride? What if you didn’t put additional pressure on yourself and make yourself feel like you have to heal by a particular time frame? What if you just did the thing before you were healed?


You already know this but I’m going to reinforce it here. Anxiety is an emotion and it isn’t going to go away. Your only job is to respond to it in a healthy way and create a healthy relationship with it. This will stop it from showing up so much. And when it does, it won’t lead to the symptoms, panic, and fears like it’s currently doing. But you have to allow it to be there while you’re living and recovering.


08. How do I get rid of ALL symptoms? Have you ever noticed how I don’t teach what to do when you’re experiencing particular symptoms? Like, here’s what to do when you’re experiencing dizziness. And here’s what to do when you’re experiencing a racing heart. And here’s what to do when you’re experiencing dpdr. And the list goes on. This is because, for the most part, it’s all the same because it’s all anxiety. You don’t do something for one symptom and something different for another. If this were the case, how would you even remember what to do when you’re experiencing it.


Anyway! I know you want to get rid of all of the symptoms, and there’s probably one in particular that you really want to get rid of, but the more you focus on getting rid of a particular symptom, the more it’s going to hang around. It’s the same with your thoughts, right? Stop focusing on getting rid of them and start focusing on having a healthy response to them, and this is what will help them to stop showing up.


09. I have had glimpses of a feeling of unimportance towards my anxiety & symptoms but they were like fleeting moments, I wish I could make that a state of my mind. How can I be more consistent with feeling discomfort and not fearing its return? First off, I am so freaking proud of you for acknowledging that you’re capable of letting anxiety and the symptoms be there without it derailing you or leading to more anxiety. We are all capable of this, it just takes lots of practice. And yes, the end goal is to make it your state of mind, right. To not be scared of anxiety, the symptoms, and panic. And what will help you to get there is by continuing to put yourself in situations and places that you know will likely lead to discomfort, and allowing yourself to lean into it rather than avoiding, running, or fighting.


This can look like saying to yourself… I can feel this and still do (blank). I can feel this and still continue on with what I was doing. Or, Oh hey, anxiety! I see you! We’ve been here so many times before and I’ve always worked through it. Is that all you got? Let’s do this!


And when you find that you’re scared because it shows up or gets worse, it’s okay. Sometimes your tolerance will go down because of stress or other things. Be gentle with yourself. Being scared doesn’t equal failure. Failure is never allowing yourself to face it.


10. How can I get past the shame and embarrassment I feel about toilet anxiety? And really, you can fill in the blank here with whatever it is that you feel shame and embarrassment about. Maybe for you, it’s driving anxiety, or the fact that it’s hard for you to be home alone, or that fact that it’s hard for you to be away from home, or it’s the fact that you struggle with panic attacks. Shame and embarrassment gets so much of its power from not being spoken.


There was so much about my journey that I hid for so long. I hid the fact that I struggled with toilet anxiety, driving anxiety, and being far from home, and the list goes on, for years. And toilet anxiety, that’s something I even hid from my mom for years (who was my safe person and the person I’ve always been closest to), and I also hid it from my husband. And if I could go back, I would have practiced being vulnerable a whole heck of a lot sooner. Being vulnerable and actually sharing what you’re struggling with not only allows you to be supported, but it helps to release the power that shame is having over you. Because when you tell shame… Nope, you’re not welcome here. I’m going to speak this out loud and you can be on your way now. It gets the message loud and clear, and you actually feel such a sense of relief afterwards.


I think that vulnerability is a big key in the recovery journey. Because the truth is, yeah, some of the stuff you’re struggling with is a little outlandish, and embarrassing, and silly, but it doesn’t make your struggles any less valid. And there’s sure as heck nothing wrong with you. You aren’t weird, or broken, or incapable of being loved and supported because of these things. And these things especially don’t define you. I truly feel like if we all practiced being vulnerable just a little bit more and allowed ourselves to show up just as we are, the world would be a much more peaceful and happy place. So yeah, is being vulnerable hard? Of course it is. But it’s so worth it. You are so worth it.


Alright, I really hope that you’ve found this little Q&A helpful. And I’ll do another one of these soon, because I love answering your questions and helping you to see and believe that the recovery journey doesn’t have to be so stinking hard and complicated! And of course, I love helping you to see just how capable you are.


And if you want in on the next round of Panic to Peace, I’ll be opening the doors on 9/12/22. This program runs over the course of 10 weeks. And during the 10 weeks, I show up live each week and I teach, we do Q&A’s, group discussions, we share wins, and I help you to finally push past your anxious thoughts, the symptoms, panic, and fears and start living the life you want to live - a life that is absolutely within your reach. To get on the waitlist, simply head here!


Alright, until next time, keep taking healthy action!

Ways to work with me...

Panic to Peace

(live course)

A 10-week course that will teach you the tools that will help you to overcome your anxious thoughts, the symptoms, panic, and fears (no matter where and in what situations you experience them), and start living a life that is full of lots more peace, joy, freedom, and adventure!

1:1

Coaching

Work with me one-on-one to transform your relationship with anxiety and reclaim your life!

Overcoming

Driving Anxiety

(online course)

Whether you experience anxiety or panic while driving, or riding in cars, or riding as a passenger, or riding public transportation, or traveling, this course is for you! This course will teach you tools that will help you to experience lots more peace and freedom behind the wheel and in life in general!

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A HEALTHY PUSH

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Shannon Jackson

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