Healthy steps are something that you’ll hear me talk about often because there is so much power in the small steps! I’m going to dive in and share some small, healthy steps that you can take that will help you to create a healthy relationship with anxiety, and push past your anxious thoughts, the symptoms, panic, and fears! Get ready because this is one of my favorite subjects!
ANXIETY RECOVERY: STOP SEARCHING, SEEKING, AND WAITING
When we're working to recover, we're often looking for the big things that will help us to get there. And not just the big things, but we're often seeking out the one thing that will do it. For example, once I find the medication that will help me... Or, once I find the tool that will work, or once I find the therapist that will fix me.
And although medication, other tools, and therapists are all super helpful and can help and support you along your recovery journey, YOU are the one who is going to take the action and heal from anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. Not a medication, not a tool, or anyone else.
Somebody asked me recently, Shannon, When did you decide to do things differently than you ever had before? And wow, I thought that this was such a good question! And I’ll admit, I had to think about it for a few minutes because I definitely had many moments throughout my recovery journey that were pivotal.
But the truth is, there was no magical moment that changed everything for me. There wasn’t one thing (or person) that came along that led to my recovery.
However, there was a moment that I realized that I had been searching for and waiting for something… I had been searching for or waiting for the right medication, or the right tool, or the right therapist, or the right book… I was searching for and waiting for the thing that was going to change it all for me. And I fell into this trap over and over again! I felt so desperate, and tired, and sick of struggling. I would think, There has to be something that I'm missing! There has to be something that will work that I haven't tried!
And it was as if I was digging holes all around me instead of just digging where I was. And doing so kept me stuck for so long.
So to answer her question, I said, There was a moment in which I accepted that there wasn’t one solution or tool and I had to stop searching for and waiting for something. I had to start taking all of the little, healthy actions that would lead to me reaching my goals. I had to start digging where I was and stop digging all around me.
Clarity truly comes in taking action, not in searching, seeking, or waiting. Searching, seeking, and waiting takes our focus off of the action that’s actually going to help us get to where we want to be.
And I know, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But recovery happens when you consistently take small (healthy) steps! Because the reality is that what you’re struggling with is something that has been reinforced over months or probably even years. It’s simply unrealistic to think that there’s one tool or person that is going to come along and undo all of the unhealthy pathways that have been created in your brain since you began struggling.
WHAT THE SMALL STEPS DO
The small steps are what will help you to undo the unhealthy pathways, change your response to anxiety and to your anxious thoughts, and in turn change your relationship with anxiety. The small steps are what helps your brain to create new and healthy pathways, healthy pathways that have the symptoms, panic, and fears showing up less and less. The small steps are what helps to undo the unhealthy habits. The small steps help to show you that you are in fact capable of accomplishing amazing things. They are what leads to more courage, more confidence, and to a stronger belief and knowing that recovery is possible for you.
PRIORITIZE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
I want you to acknowledge something really important. Oftentimes people will say to me, Shannon, I just don’t have the time to take action every day. Have you said this? Yup, me too! But what you’re essentially saying is that you’re not willing to make your mental health a priority.
I didn’t prioritize my mental health for years, and if I could go back, I would have made it my number one priority. Instead, I put relationships first, and school, and work, and money, and it only added to my struggles, the stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
Here’s the thing, your mental health is more important than your job, degrees or accolades, an exam, Netflix, societal expectations, your family and friends expectations of you, and the list goes on and on. You have to make your mental health a priority! I know that recovery is so important to you, so I want you to really commit to you and to your mental health and make your mental health a priority. Take a moment to acknowledge that recovery doesn’t happen without your mental health being a priority.
SMALL STEPS THAT WILL SUPPORT YOUR RECOVERY
- Define (and remind yourself of) your why. Why are you working to recover? I know that this sounds silly but I want you to ask yourself this question right now... Why am I working to recover? Knowing and reminding yourself of your why will keep you pushing yourself even when things get hard. So are you working to recover so that you can... Travel the world, or to experience more peace, or to become a better partner or parent (a quick reminder, you are already an amazing partner or parent, anxiety and all), or to live out your dreams, or to experience more freedom? Think about this and write down your why somewhere and remind yourself of it often! Your why is such a powerful motivator that will continue to push you when you don’t feel like pushing yourself.
- Carve out 10-15 minutes of your day to face something that you've been avoiding, or to do something that scares you. Yup, it's going to be hard and scary, but facing your fears and the things that scare you is how you push past the things that are currently leading to anxiety, the symptoms, panic, and fears. And I’m talking just 10 or 15 minutes. 10 minutes in a car, 10 minutes walking around your neighborhood, 10 minutes going into a store alone, 10 minutes being alone… Believe it or not, I still practice this one every single day. I set a goal to do one thing each day that scares me. And you know what, doing so has led to more courage, more confidence, more joy, more peace, and more freedom. It’s absolutely worth it! Remember, feelings of discomfort do not equal danger.
- Celebrate your wins. It’s so important for you to recognize all of the amazing work you're doing. It's so easy to get caught up in what's not going well and the hard stuff, but you have to choose to acknowledge what's going well so that you stop to recognize that you are in fact making progress. Ask yourself, What's something that has gone well this week? And take a moment to really acknowledge your wins. Either say them out loud or write them down. And also celebrate them! Yes, I’m serious! Celebrating your wins will help to remind you of your strengths and abilities for working through the hard moments, especially in those moments when you’re questioning yourself and your capabilities.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen that I do something called Wednesday’s Wins on Wednesday’s. I absolutely love reading and sharing what others have accomplished. And it’s also incredibly inspiring and motivating for others to see what’s possible when you consistently take small steps.
- Take time to rest. I know that it can be really hard to allow yourself to rest because you often convince yourself that you need to be pushing yourself in some way to recover, but here’s a big truth about the recovery journey - Recovery doesn’t happen without rest. Rest is essential. It allows your mind and body to recharge so that it can continue to take the healthy steps. And rest doesn't mean you're lazy, and it doesn't erase any of your progress, or lead to setbacks. Rest is a part of the recovery journey. Remember that constantly pushing yourself won't help you to heal faster. Set aside time to rest each day and acknowledge that this is a healthy step that is absolutely supporting your recovery!
- Focus on what you have control of. We often spend so much time focusing on all of the things that we don’t have control and we forget that there is so much that we have control of. And what we have control of is incredibly powerful and focusing on these things can lead to amazing things! Here are some examples of things that you have control of:
What you tell yourself (your self-talk).
How you respond to your thoughts and to challenges.
How you act on your feelings.
The actions you take.
When you ask for help.
Speaking of asking for help!
- Ask for support. When you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder, you often think that you can’t ask for support because if you do it means that you’re needy, or weak, or dependent, or incapable, or seeking reassurance. But the truth is, we all need support. And we’re all deserving and worthy of support. You don’t have to recover alone. In fact, you’re less likely to recover if you try to do it alone. Ask for help. Share what you’re struggling with. Those who love you and care about you see it as an honor to support you. After all, don’t you feel this way about those you love and care about? I know that when somebody I love and care about needs support, no questions about it, I’m there because I want to be, not because I feel obligated to be.
- Give yourself kind messages often. This one is so simple but so powerful! And I know that it may seem like something like this can’t possibly help you to recover from anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, but it does! We all thrive off of kindness and self-compassion, and it’s necessary along the recovery journey. I give Amelia, my 3-year-old daughter, at least 20 kind messages a day. And you know what, my needs (and yours) are no different than hers! I need to hear that I'm doing a good job and so do you! We deserve to hear kind messages! Give yourself a kind message every single day, afterall, you’re doing a great job!
- Unfollow accounts on social media that make you feel bad. Do you ever scroll through social media and walk away feeling worse than when you started scrolling? Yup, been there many times! If certain accounts often lead to you feeling bad after viewing them, chances are it’ll be a really healthy move for you to hit the unfollow button! You are in control of what information you take in on, make sure you’re making healthy choices.
Speaking of social media…
- Disconnect from social media. Sure, there’s lots of helpful and entertaining stuff on social media, but too much of it just leads to overwhelm and even anxiety. And social media isn’t exactly a place where the true healing work happens (it’s outside of social media, right?)! So allow yourself to fully disconnect from social media at least once a week. Yes, I’m serious! No social media for a day, or start with half a day. Better yet, silence your phone and only allow emergency calls to come through and instead allow yourself to connect with nature, your loved ones, and yourself.
- Do one thing you enjoy every day. This is so important. Just because you’re working to recover doesn’t mean that you should stop living. It can be something super simple. For me, it’s making sure that I get outside and take a walk in nature every day. Set aside even 10 minutes each day to do something that you enjoy. Remember, recovery happens while you’re living. If you try to hit pause on finding happiness and joy in life until you’ve recovered, recovery is a whole lot less likely to happen!
- Start saying no more (& this includes to yourself)! We’ve all been there, saying yes to just one more thing doesn’t seem like such a big deal in the moment, but just one more thing can lead to stress and overwhelm, and ultimately to anxiety. It’s okay to say no to others and even to yourself. Setting healthy boundaries is a must. And saying no isn’t selfish, it’s healthy! Start by becoming aware of when you’re potentially adding something to your plate, and really take a moment to ask yourself, does this need my attention right now? Does this need my attention at all? Saying no and crossing things off of your list will most definitely help to reduce unnecessary stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
- Make sleep a priority. This one is huge! Your body and mind are working so hard every day and you need to get good sleep. I found it super helpful to get on a sleep schedule. This means that I go to bed at the same time every night and I wake up at the same time every morning, weekends included. I never thought that I could wake up without an alarm but I do, every single morning. And I find that I have more energy throughout the day than I’ve ever had before (and I no longer drink caffeine)!
- Allow yourself to acknowledge your anxious thoughts and feelings and give yourself space to feel them. Rather than trying to fight, suppress, or avoid your anxious thoughts and feelings, make space to acknowledge them and to feel your emotions. And acknowledge and feel them without judgement. It’s okay to feel anxious, or scared, or upset. Allow yourself to feel your emotions so that they pass more quickly and with less tension. Remember, you are allowed to feel anxious. And it doesn’t have to mean a darn thing! Allow yourself to feel it and then let it go.
- Practice mindfulness. Whether it’s a breathing exercise, meditation, yoga, or just pausing and paying attention, practicing mindfulness can help you to get more in the present moment and away from the anxious thoughts, symptoms, panic, and fears. Oftentimes we spend so much time trying to figure out the past, or trying to plan for what might or could happen in the future, and it pulls all of our focus on where we have the most control - the present moment. You get to decide what happens in the present moment, and practicing mindfulness can help you spend more time in the present.
- Acknowledge when you’re using an unhealthy coping mechanism or making an unhealthy decision. This is a big one. How many times have you reached for an unhealthy coping mechanism or made an unhealthy decision that you know wouldn’t support your recovery? When you do this, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up! Simply acknowledge when you make an unhelpful decision and see it as an opportunity to make a healthy one next time. Being aware and shifting your approach is such a big part of recovery.
- Journal your thoughts & your wins. I know, you knew this one would be on the list! And I’m sure it’s one that you’ve heard so many times, but there’s a reason for it. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help to release them from holding space in your mind. I’m a big writer, and I’ve found that it’s a super healthy and helpful way for me to release the thoughts and emotions that I find myself unnecessarily cycling through and holding onto. I also love to journal my wins because it gives me a space to go back to when I’ve forgotten just how far I’ve come and all of the things I'm capable of.
– Pay attention to what you consume. I know, this is an annoying one that you’ve probably heard on repeat, but how you treat your mind and body is key. How you treat your mind and body will either support your recovery or it’ll add to your struggles. Start paying attention to what you’re consuming every day and maybe make an effort to drink a little more water. To eat a more balanced meal. To eat more regularly. To eat more whole foods. To consume less sugar. But by all means, I’m not saying to cut out the joys of food. Just look to find a better balance and remind yourself that your mind and body will best support you and your recovery if you’re supporting it.
- Move your body every day. Yup, another annoying one, right? But the truth is, your body requires movement. And it’s such an effective way to reduce stress, anxiety, improve your mood and sleep, provide you with more mental clarity, and the list goes on! Start with a small goal, maybe it’s walking for 30 minutes a day, or doing yoga, or playing with your kids or your dog, or doing a sport or activity that you enjoy. Try to make it fun. Personally, I’ve never been a gym person, so instead I move my body by walking on my lunch break at work or by exercising at home. Do what works for you and do what you enjoy!
START TAKING HEALTHY ACTION!
There are so many small, healthy steps that can support your recovery. And these may seem insignificant and not-so-powerful, but it’s truly the small, healthy steps that lead to healing, peace, and joy. Start small and pick 1 or 2 that you are drawn to and try them out! And commit to them daily! The more you take consistent healthy action, the more quickly you’ll make progress and reach your goals.
And remember, the small steps don’t always lead to immediate relief. It often takes consistency and practice to reap the rewards of these actions.
And please, stop waiting for something and start (or keep) taking healthy steps. They might not seem like they are doing much in the moment, but they are! The small steps truly lead to amazing things. And you know what, you are worthy and deserving of amazing things!