To say I’m excited about this episode is a bit of an understatement. Because I think there are a lot of opinions and pieces of advice out there that actually hinder people's recovery. And I think that if you take these opinions and pieces of advice in and you make them your beliefs, well, it’ll make it extremely hard for you to overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. And I want you to overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. That’s the whole reason I’m here with you, right? Right!
So today I’m going to be sharing with you 4 unpopular opinions that I have that will probably make you rethink how you may be approaching your recovery, and I hope they do. And undoubtedly, you may disagree with some of these and that’s absolutely okay. But I feel like I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t share these with you. So, let’s jump into my 4 unpopular opinions!
4 Unpopular Opinions About Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobia
01. You don’t have to force yourself to do exposures every single day.
Yup, I know, this is probably making you go… What? Because this is likely the opposite of what you’ve been told, right? And we’ve all seen these pieces of advice… You have to do exposures! You have to face your fears! And you have to be consistent and do exposures every day!
And this is the part where I share something really crazy with you. I never did traditional exposure therapy. And yeah, and I still recovered. Crazy, huh? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely got out there and faced anxiety and my fears, and I did the hard things, but I just didn’t do it all in the sense that I forced myself to do well-planned out, calculated exposures, seven days a week.
So what did I do instead? Well, I kept choosing to get out there and live my life. I kept choosing to go places that I needed and wanted to go. I kept choosing to do the things I valued. I kept choosing to face anxiety, and do it all in a healthy way that felt good (well, as good as it could) for me.
Here’s the thing...I think so much emphasis gets put on doing the physical things, right? Like getting in your car and driving places, or going to stores, or appointments, and getting out of the house, or whatever it is. But people miss out on the fact that exposure therapy is really about teaching your brain that the anxiety, the symptoms, the panic, aren’t things that you need to be afraid of. It’s about learning how to change your response to anxiety when it pops up. It’s about practicing responding to the thoughts, symptoms, and panic in a healthy way when they pop up. It’s about allowing yourself to acknowledge and feel these things and not avoiding them. It’s about allowing them in rather than fighting them or trying to make them go away. It’s about looking inward rather than looking outward for help or solutions.
Because the reality is, you can do the physical acts of exposure all day long, but they won’t do much good if you aren’t practicing responding to the symptoms, anxiety, panic, and fear in a healthy way. Because if you aren’t responding in a healthy way, these things will just keep popping up.
But let’s go back to the fact that you don’t have to do exposures seven days a week in order to recover because I want to dive into that a little more. The reality is, we all have lives right, and most of us are incredibly busy. You may have a job, whether this looks like being a mom who works inside the home, or you may work outside of your home, or you may work in addition to being a mom or a parent, and chances are you don’t have a whole ton of time to dedicate to doing exposure therapy. And guess what? That’s okay. Consistency doesn’t have to equal you physically doing something seven days a week. Consistency for you may look like three times a week, or four times a week. But remember, and I want you to really hear this… It’s less about doing exposures consistently and it’s more about consistently responding to anxiety in a healthy way.
Because the reality is, anxiety, the symptoms, and panic doesn’t only show up when you’re doing exposures right? Right! These things pop up all over the place and at any time, sometimes even while you’re at home doing nothing. So this means that you don’t need to make everything about doing exposures. You can simply live your life, and when anxiety pops up, see it as your opportunity to face it and work through it in a healthy way.
So if you’re currently doing exposures seven days a week, I want you to stop convincing yourself that this is what’s going to get you to the other side. I want you to let go of this pressure and the extra stress you’re adding onto your plate. I want you to stop convincing yourself that you can’t let up. I want you to stop convincing yourself that if you don’t do something every single day, you won’t recover. I want you to stop convincing yourself that you have to do everything and that your whole life has to revolve around anxiety and your recovery. You can ease up. Please, ease up. And when you do ease up and you allow yourself to rest, you’re still healing, I promise.
And I also want to add, recovery doesn’t just happen by doing exposures. There’s so much more to recovery than exposures! And in my online courses, I walk you through how to take the healthy steps that will help you to heal and overcome, including how to face your fears and anxiety.
02. Genetics or not, you aren’t “just an anxious person.”
I hear this all the time, and heck, I even used to say it! “I’ve always been like this.” And, “I’m just an anxious person.” And, “It’s just a part of who I am.” But let me tell you something, as much as you may think and believe it, you didn’t just come out of the womb anxious. You aren’t just an anxious person, and you aren’t destined to live your life consumed by anxiety and fear.
Through working with people, one of the most common things I hear is… I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a little kid, I’ve just always been this way. And then people often share some of their earliest memories with me of when anxiety popped up when they were a kid. And trust me, I have my own. Like waking up feeling nervous and thinking about what my day at school would look like and telling my mom I was sick so that I could stay home. And not eating my lunches at school because I was so nervous that I felt like eating would only make me feel worse. And dreading recess because I was nervous about interacting with other kids. And going on field trips and feeling even more nervous because you know, new places, new situations. And I could go on and on.
But I think that when we struggle with something (like anxiety) so deeply as an adult, we often assert way more memory and meaning to that thing than we can actually remember, and even more than what our experience actually was. Let me explain… The anxiety that you experience now is likely very different from the anxiety you experienced as a kid, and the reality is, you don’t remember what the anxiety that you experienced as a kid actually felt like. You just remember bits and pieces, likely based on some faint memories you have, or maybe based on stories that you or somebody you know has told several times. So who knows what that anxiety felt like then, or was actually like, right?
And a big reality that’s helpful to recognize, is that being thrusted into an environment like school as a kid IS big and scary. And if you’re an introvert like me, things like school can be very overwhelming and scary. Like, you’re this tiny human who doesn’t have a fully developed brain, you’re separated from your parents, and you just have to make a go of it and trust that you’ll be a-okay. This sounds scary, right? It’s no wonder lots of kids feel anxious when starting or going through school, and it’s quite normal that lots of kids feel anxious. I wish society did a better job of talking about this and normalizing these feelings, but that’s a whole separate topic for another time.
So then there’s this other argument that says, well, anxiety is genetic and it just runs in my family. And trust me, I get this, too. My mom, my uncle, my grandfather, my great-grandmother, and other people in my family have also struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD, so for a long time I thought I was just screwed and destined to struggle with anxiety because of the fact that anxiety disorders ran so prevalent in my family. But I often overlooked two things… 1) Multiple people in my family have overcome their struggle with their anxiety disorder and haven’t had issues with it since. And 2) There were loads of other contributing factors as to why I struggled with anxiety.
And these two things are important because 1) We often overlook the fact that there are many people (sometimes even people in our lives) that have overcome their anxiety disorder and live amazing lives, so clearly you don’t have to accept that you’re “just an anxious person.” And 2) Genetics aside, there are likely other big contributing factors to your struggle with anxiety. Things like your physical and emotional environment growing up, your lived experiences, stress, trauma, your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, a really bad panic attack that scared you and changed your relationship with anxiety. I just want to mention - if you haven’t yet listened to the episode that I did with my mom, I highly suggest you give it a listen. In it, my mom and I talk about the many reasons why I struggled with anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia, and genetics, I don’t think, was a factor.
So here’s the thing, genetics may be a factor, who knows. But I say, even if it is, I don’t think it’s something that prevents you from overcoming anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. And just because you struggled with anxiety as a young child, doesn’t mean you have some genetic component for anxiety disorders.
Overall, I’m a huge fan of just picking up from where you are right now and learning how to have a healthy relationship with anxiety now, and this doesn’t mean going back into your past to do it. I always say, it’s less about figuring out the why and it’s way more about how you respond in the moment - to your thoughts, to your emotions, to anxiety, to panic, and to fear.
So if you’ve been saying for years that you’re just an anxious person, I want you to really start to question this idea. Are you just an anxious person, or have there been some factors that have contributed to your struggle with anxiety? Are you just an anxious person, or have you learned and taught yourself that anxiety is something to fear?
The more you tell yourself that you’re just an anxious person, the more you’ll believe it, and the more you’ll act in a way that strengthens this idea which then makes it a reality. Do yourself a huge favor and don’t label yourself as an anxious person. You aren’t anxiety, and you are far more than the emotions you experience.
03. The recovery journey isn’t about learning how to manage anxiety.
I don’t care what anybody says, trying to manage anxiety will only make it harder for you to overcome anxiety!
When I was struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, for years, I truly thought that I just had to figure out what would keep the anxiety in check. Like, what tools, what techniques, and what solutions could I throw at it to keep it from making my life so difficult? And I tried everything! And when the things didn’t work, I thought… Yup, I’m just an anxious person.
And at the time, I didn’t realize that the things I was throwing at it were only reinforcing the anxiety, the symptoms, panic, and fears. And the things I was throwing at it was only reinforcing the idea that I couldn’t work through it on my own. And the things I was throwing at it (when they did “work”) was causing my brain to see those things as being the things that saved me, rather than me (who was the thing that actually successfully worked through the anxiety).
So this one is really two-part. The first part is more of a mentality shift that you have to have, and it’s that your goal isn’t to manage or to cope with anxiety, your goal is to overcome anxiety and not have it continue to disrupt your life and lead to all of the really hard stuff. Remember, you aren’t just an anxious person and you don’t have to accept that this is something that you’ll always struggle with. You can absolutely have a healthy relationship with anxiety, one where the thoughts, symptoms, panic, and fears don't pop up.
And a part of this is, this is the second part, is not throwing stuff at the anxiety in an effort to make yourself not feel anxious or to make anxiety go away. Remember, your brain will always think that anxiety is a problem if you’re always trying to make it not pop or go away. So this means that those lovely coping mechanisms, like the water bottle, or oils, or ice cubes, or always looking to your safe person, or the just-in-case medication that you never take, or escaping when you feel anxious, or avoiding, etc., are only reinforcing the anxiety. Remember how I often talk about looking inward? Yeah, that will be much more helpful than throwing coping mechanisms at the anxiety.
Remember, trying to manage anxiety is only going to make things harder for you. Make your goal about overcoming anxiety, not managing it.
04. You CAN actually overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia - for good!
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because it’s pretty simple. Regardless of what people say on the internet, and regardless of what you might tell yourself and currently believe, you can absolutely overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia and live a peaceful, joyful, and very free life. I know how hard it is to believe that this is true, but you don’t have to believe it in order for it to happen. And I really want to encourage you to keep taking the small, healthy steps. Because the small steps are truly what leads you to living the life you want and deserve to live.
And I know you might think that you’re special, and different, or that your anxiety is just different, therefore recovery just isn’t possible for you… and I get it, and many of my students also felt that same way. And you are special, but you aren’t special in the sense that recovery isn’t possible for you.
And I think this is a good time to mention this… I’m super excited to share that a couple of past students of mine who have taken Panic to Peace are coming on the podcast to discuss their journey with overcoming panic and agoraphobia, and I can’t wait for you to hear their success stories. Because I’m not the only proof that it’s possible, there’s lots of people out there who have done exactly what I’ve done and what you’re absolutely capable of doing.
Alright, there you have it! 4 of my unpopular opinions relating to anxiety recovery. 01. You don’t have to force yourself to do exposures every single day. 02. Genetics or not, you aren’t “just an anxious person.” 03. The recovery journey isn’t about learning how to manage anxiety. 04. You CAN actually overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia - for good! My honest hope is that a couple of these things (or maybe even all of them) have caused you to stop and really think about your beliefs, your actions, and your behaviors. I share these things because they will absolutely make your recovery journey less long and less hard. Alright, until next time, keep taking healthy action!
And if you're ready to change your relationship with anxiety and overcome the symptoms, panic attacks, and fears, check out my online course Panic to Peace. The doors will be opening in early 2023!