My journey with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia started when I was about 15-years-old. I had always been an anxious kid, but in high school I began struggling with severe anxiety and panic, experiencing panic attacks nearly every day. I often missed school, I withdrew from my friends and even family, and had a really hard time leaving my house every day.
A couple of years later I began going to therapy. I had experienced trauma as a child and also as a teenager while in a very toxic relationship. There were many hard things that I knew I had to work through in order to heal and push past anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia. And committing to me and my mental health, well that was an idea that had never been familiar to me.
Throughout my recovery journey, I had some tough realizations. And these realizations taught me just how important it was to commit to me and my mental health. I want to share these realizations with you in hopes that you can learn from them, and avoid some of the mistakes that I made.
1. Recovering meant a lot of hard work, work that only I could do. And sometimes I was the reason why I was staying stuck. This was such a hard realization for me.
In the beginning, I truly thought that going to therapy was enough. That if I showed up and talked some things through, I’d be miraculously cured. Yeahhh, that’s not how it works, but wouldn’t that be nice if it did? Whether you’re going to therapy or not, you have to put in the work. In therapy, I learned tools and wisdom that I actually had to put into practice. Although talking through your struggles is hugely helpful, you have to take action in order to push past your struggles. It means doing the hard things over and over again. It means pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It means encountering setbacks but continuing to push forward.
Recovery is going to take lots of hard work, and if you don’t do the hard work you will remain stuck. What’s on the other side of recovery is worth every ounce of hard work. You are worth every ounce of hard work! Remember, you are capable of doing hard things. You are already doing hard things!
2. I had to stop putting others before me. This was also a tough one for me. Some people put others before them because they are hugely empathetic, and although being empathetic is important, you’ve also got to be empathetic with yourself and what you’re struggling with.
But to be honest, my problem wasn’t that I was a huge empath. I put others before me as a distraction, a means to try to avoid my own struggles and healing. And by continuously putting others before me, I continued to struggle.
I firmly believe this… If you put others before you, you and they will never get the best version of you. Make sure you’re putting you and your mental health first. This means making time for you, for self-care, to do the work you need to do, and to spend time just doing the things that bring you joy.
3. I had to stop running from past wounds, and instead heal from them. All of the trauma wasn’t going to just disappear, and although I knew that, I was avoiding doing the work because it was hard to face it. But my past wounds were huge barriers that were preventing me from moving forward. I remember sitting in therapy in my late twenties, sobbing about my parents divorce. Although my parent’s divorce was healthy for everyone involved, it was still traumatic and something that I had to work through.
And because I was holding onto all of these wounds, it caused a lot of frustration and anger. And unfortunately I took out my pain, frustration, and anger on people I cared deeply for. Here’s the thing, your current (and future) relationships will suffer if you don’t work through past wounds. If you want healthy relationships with others and with yourself, you have to heal from past wounds.
In therapy, I worked through several traumas. If you’ve experienced trauma, I highly recommend therapy. Therapy is a great tool that leads to lots of healing and growth.
4. I wasn’t allowing people to fully support me. Sometimes I would get so frustrated with my family and friends because I felt as though they weren’t fully supporting me and my journey, but it was my own fault. I wasn’t always being honest about what I was experiencing and feeling. I often hid my pain, my emotions, and my struggles, which made it impossible for people to fully support me because they didn’t even truly realize or understand what I was going through.
If people don’t know what you’re struggling with and how you’re feeling, you can’t blame them or be upset with them for not giving you the support you need. I know it’s hard, but sharing your emotions, worries, thoughts, experiences, and fears will give you the support you need in order to push past these things.
5. I had to say goodbye to some people that I really cared about. I had a couple of toxic relationships in my life, and although I knew that these relationships were preventing me from moving forward, there was a big part of me that didn’t want to say goodbye to these people. But this goes back to putting you before others. Ask yourself, is this relationship negatively affecting my mental health? If it is negatively affecting your mental health, really evaluate that relationship. If the other person isn’t willing to work on themselves in order to grow and get to a healthy place, it’s okay to end the relationship. Heck, it’s imperative that you end the relationship!
6. I had to start saying no more, and not just to others but also to myself. I used to fill my days with stress and overwhelm by saying yes to things that could either wait, or were things that I didn’t even need or want to dedicate my time to in the first place. Before you say yes to something, ask yourself, is this something that I truly need/want to do? Is it going to negatively affect my mental health? Remember, stress = anxiety, panic, and symptoms! Setting boundaries will hugely help to relieve stress, anxiety, and the symptoms.
7. I had to commit to implementing healthy habits. Do people ever tell you to drink more water, exercise, or get enough sleep and every ounce of you just wants to hit them over the head because you’re convinced that those things won’t help you to overcome anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia? Been there! But the thing is, healthy habits like these WILL help you to overcome your struggles.
Here are some healthy habits that will relieve and help you to push past anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia:
- A healthy diet (drinking plenty of water, eliminating alcohol from your diet..)
- A healthy lifestyle (getting adequate sleep, moving your body for 30 minutes every day..)
- Positive self-talk
- Gratefulness practices
8. I had to stop beating myself up, and truly accept myself unconditionally. You can make all of the healthy changes in the world but if you don’t accept yourself as you are you will continue to struggle. Yes, you are struggling with something that is incredibly hard, but you aren’t less than because of it. You are strong, brave, smart, and capable.
A big part of accepting yourself is working to change your inner dialogue. What you tell yourself dictates how you feel as well as what you’re capable of. Your brain needs to hear kind, positive, productive, and healthy messages. You are doing a good job, and you deserve all of the peace and joy!
These realizations were incredibly tough, but these were all things that I had control of and could work to change, and did! Overall, I had to put me and my mental health first, otherwise I would have never gotten to where I am today - a place of peace and joy! And you are capable of getting there, too!