One of the questions that I get asked most often is, “How long did it take you to overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia?” Or, it’s a variation of this question that I get asked. Questions like, “How long did it take you to overcome driving anxiety?” “How long did it take you to overcome toilet anxiety?” “How long did it take you to be able to do things without experiencing panic attacks?” And every time I get asked a question like this, I can’t help but think of why somebody is asking me this. And I know that it’s because they’re struggling so badly and they just want to feel better, and they want some hope and belief that recovery is possible and that it doesn’t have to take years to do it.
I know because I used to ask myself similar questions all the time. Questions like… When the heck am I going to recover? When am I going to stop struggling with anxiety? I’ve been struggling for years! Is recovery even possible for me?
So when I get asked questions like these, I bring myself back to when I was struggling and I ask myself what would have been the most helpful advice for me to receive back then? So let’s dive in and I’ll give you some insight and tips that will help to make your recovery journey less long and less hard!
01. This one is more of a clarifier and mindset shift... You don’t “overcome” anxiety. There is no cure for anxiety. I used to think things like, I have to stop feeling anxious. I have to make it go away. I can’t shouldn’t or can’t feel anxious. But the reality is, anxiety is an emotion and it isn’t going anywhere! Sure, it’s popping up more than what’s necessary, but you can change this.
This is why it’s so important to work to have a healthy response to your anxious thoughts, to your feelings, and to fear. This includes taking action and you proving to your brain that you are capable of doing things even while anxiety is present. And of course, also practicing healthy habits. Doing all of these things helps you to create a healthy relationship with anxiety. One that doesn’t have the thoughts, symptoms, and fears popping up all the time and ultimately running your life.
So if your current goal or wish is to overcome anxiety, instead change this to… I will create a healthy relationship with anxiety.
02. Stop focusing on the time it’ll take you to recover and instead put your focus on the healthy action that you can take that will help you to get there.
You know when you’re exercising on a treadmill and you can see how much time there is left before you’re done? And in this situation, you can do one of two things.
Option 1: You laser focus on the time that you have left because you just want to be done. And you see that you only have 10 minutes left. The finish line is right there! But the more you look at the time that you have left, the longer and harder it starts to feel. And once you’re in your head, all you can think about is how tired and over it you are. And then you start to feel a little defeated and in pain.
Option 2: You throw a t-shirt over the timer so that you can’t see the time as it passes. And by doing this, you consciously make the decision to take control and shift your mindset. You tell yourself, it’s just 10 minutes and I’m going to finish strong. So you push yourself, not focusing on the time but instead, you focus on the actual work that you have to put in that’s going to get you to the finish line.
See where I’m going with this?
The more you focus on the time it’s going to take you to create a healthy relationship with anxiety and overcome panic disorder and agoraphobia, the longer and harder it’s going to feel (and be). The reality is, nobody can tell you how long your recovery journey is going to take, but if you keep your focus on taking healthy action, I can sure as heck tell you that you’ll get there faster!
Oh, and stop looking for THE solution. This will also take your attention away from what will actually help you to heal. Because the truth is, there isn’t one solution or a “cure” for creating a healthy relationship with anxiety. If you haven't already, check out episode two of the podcast! In it, I share some small, healthy steps that you can take every day that will help you to heal and overcome.
03. You have to acknowledge and accept that recovery is a journey and it’s not some destination that you arrive at. I recovered in 2016, but I can’t tell you exactly when it was that I recovered. And this is because I didn’t just wake up one morning and say, Well, today is the day, I’ve recovered! Changing your relationship with anxiety is something that happens gradually and not abruptly.
When I stopped treating my recovery like it was some place that I’d suddenly arrived to, I became a lot less resistant to the challenges and I began to allow myself to just be human. It's when I really understood that life is full of healing, learning, and growing. It’s full of ups and downs. It’s full of gentle reminders that help to keep you on track. It’s full of not always getting it right and learning from those moments.
The important thing to recognize is that recovery is possible. Being diagnosed with panic disorder and/or agoraphobia isn’t a life sentence. And it doesn’t mean that you should put your life on hold and not live until you’ve recovered. Recovery happens WHILE you’re living. And you deserve to live! So start picturing your recovery as the life you’re currently living - because it is! Choose to be present with the life you’re living. And someday soon you just might decide to share your recovery journey like me!
04. Avoid playing the comparison game! I know that it’s incredibly hard not to do this, but comparing yourself to the “old you,” meaning the you who before you began struggling, isn’t going to help you any. And neither is comparing yourself to others!
I can remember so many times throughout my recovery journey thinking about the pre-anxious Shannon. The girl who didn’t have any trouble riding in cars… The girl who wasn’t consumed by immense fear on a daily basis and could do everyday things without thinking twice about it… The girl who didn’t experience panic attacks… The girl who seemed to have disappeared, never to return again.
Oh, and for sure I’d almost daily look at everyone around me, even complete strangers and think, I want to be that person! They’re so carefree, and adventurous, and I know that they don’t struggle with anxiety like I do. And did I actually know what they had going on in their life? Absolutely not! So who was I to say that I wanted to be them.
The thing is, I was seeing it all wrong, as you often do when you’re struggling with anxiety. You often don’t see things clearly because anxiety is typically the thing that’s always at the forefront and clouding your perception and your decisions.
The person that I wanted to be, pre-anxious Shannon, was the person who was struggling. I was still me! Sure, there were things that I wasn’t able to do that I had once been able to, but that’s just it, I was once able to. Which means that I was capable of doing them again. I was capable of getting back to that place where I had a healthy response to, and relationship with anxiety.
And I didn’t want to be another person. Deep down, I wanted to be me. I just wanted to be me without anxiety, panic, and fear consuming me.
I know that it can be hard to look back and remember all of the things you used to be able to do and what your life looked like before anxiety and fear jumped into the driver’s seat, but you are capable of doing all of those things and then some. You are capable of experiencing lots more peace and a whole lot less anxiety.
Do yourself a favor and start accepting who you are right now. Because anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia can’t take away all of the amazing parts of you. Your adventurous spirit, your creativity, your intelligence, your braveness, your dreams, your future. All of the amazing parts of you are in there! You just gotta keep taking healthy action to reignite all of those amazing parts of you and create the life you want and deserve to live. You choose your path. You choose whether or not you move forward and heal. Not anxiety, not panic, not anyone, or anything else! And you are going to continue to heal, and grow, and live in ways that you can’t even imagine… yet!
05. Really commit to you and your mental health. Alright, are you ready for this? Once I actually committed to me and my mental health, it took me months to recover rather than the 15 years I struggled. Yup, I’m serious!
Because the truth is, I’d often say that I would do ANYTHING to recover, but I wasn’t actually willing to do anything. For example, I knew that things like moving my body, eating well, working to reduce stress, and drinking less alcohol would go a long way to support my recovery, but oftentimes I put these things on the backburner. I didn’t see them as being important because I honestly thought and felt as though those things just wouldn’t really help me to recover.
I also very knowingly made decisions that I knew weren’t healthy and were sabotaging my recovery, like continuing to stay in a very unhealthy relationship and making really unhealthy lifestyle decisions. And oftentimes I fell back into unhealthy habits that I knew wouldn’t support my recovery, things like avoiding, and reassurance seeking, and the list goes on!
And finally, I reached a breaking point. I was at an incredible low and I remember saying to myself, Shannon, nobody can do this for you! If you really want to do this, do it! It was incredibly emotional. But this moment helped me to get really honest with myself. I began holding myself accountable. And I made some really hard but healthy decisions that had to be made. I began committing to me and my mental health on a daily basis and facing the hard things.
I can tell you this, if you don’t commit and make you and your mental health the priority, healing won’t happen. You and your recovery have to be the priority. And only you can do this. So the next time you say you’ll do anything to recover, check in with yourself and ask yourself… Am I making myself and my mental health a priority?
06. Therapy, therapy, therapy! I know you’ve probably heard this a thousand times and there’s a reason for it. Therapy is such an incredibly helpful tool. I’ve gone to therapy several times in my life and for all different reasons. In addition to going to therapy to support my anxiety recovery, I’ve also gone to therapy for body image issues, to work through childhood trauma and relationship trauma, to gain tools that have helped me to be more compassionate with myself, to help me find a healthier balance and to learn how to set healthy boundaries, and Adam and I have gone to couples therapy. Honestly, I could go on and on.
The beautiful thing about therapy is that it’s such a helpful tool that you can use to learn even more helpful tools that will support you throughout your recovery journey, and just through life in general! And going to therapy doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you, or that you’re weak, or broken. Instead, I truly believe that it means that you are making a healthy decision that will not only support you, but also everyone around you and to any future person that comes into your life.
If you have interest in going to therapy, getting connected with a therapist, or even if you’re currently in therapy, check out this helpful blog post that I created - Therapy Tips for Anxiety Recovery.
Alright, my friend, when you feel frustrated because the recovery journey is hard and it feels like it’s taking too long, feel frustrated! It’s okay to feel frustrated. The recovery journey is one hundred percent frustrating at times. It’s full of ups and downs, and it’s full of some really tough lessons. But the next time you’re questioning how much longer it’s going to take you to recover, or when it’ll happen, I want you to remind yourself that the actions you take are what will lead to recovery. Your actions, your choices, and how you approach your recovery journey are what will help you to create a healthy relationship with anxiety and ultimately heal.
And in the future, or even just a few days from now, you might find that you need a little reminder to reinforce all of this, and this is okay! Just hit replay on this episode, or head to this episode’s show notes.
Alright, until next time. Keep taking healthy action!