This article looks at the period of my struggle with anxiety disorder where I took the choice to face my fears. I feel this can be helpful for others as the story can often be related to by fellow sufferers of anxiety. This article focuses on the period of my life where my anxiety could be deemed at its strongest. I felt like the anxiety, and the many panic attacks I was experiencing, was forcing me to stay inside the house – afraid of the infinite ‘dangerous’ scenarios that awaited me outside. The emotional crutch that was my home was something I irrationally believed to be the main reason I was ‘keeping myself together’. That was until I woke up one day and simply came to the conclusion that ‘enough was enough’.
‘Facing my fears’ seems like the title of some pseudo philosophical book aimed at self-motivation for the directionless. However, with regards to dealing with anxiety, it is a highly relevant and necessary step to take to try and regain a sense of normality back in life. I’d spent too much time (years in fact) confined to the isolation of my home – pacing around the house trying to work out why I felt the way I did. Below is a rough guide to my daily routine when I was dealing with my anxiety disorder:
- Wake up after poor sleep
- Wonder if I still feel the same
- Become anxious when I realised I still felt the same
- Struggle to eat breakfast
- Scrap all plans for the day
- Pace the house shaking
- Eat poorly
- Isolate myself
- Try to think of a miracle thought that can ‘fix’ me.
- Think about why I feel I do.
- Obsess over physical symptoms
- Wonder if I’m going insane
- Go to bed and repeat
One day I woke up and I started the same routine again. This dangerous thought routine unsurprisingly lead to excessive anxiety, panic attacks, palpitations, dizziness and long, lengthy spells of derealisation. My social life and relationships were crumbling around me and I’d taken so much time off of work. I needed to stop hiding. I needed to do something different. Below is a step by step guide explaining how I managed to face my fears and get my life back on track. If you have read the book Anxiety: Panicking about Panic then some of this may read quite familiar to you:
1. I reminded myself about what’s going on in my body
The first thing I did on the day everything changed for me was to just time take out to think about what was going on in my body. Firstly, I realised I was tired. I was tired from all the stress I was putting my mind and body through. I concluded that if I was constantly tired then my nervous system was also tired; therefore I acknowledged that my nerves were likely to be sensitive and prone to being aggravated.
Next I thought about why I was tired and what was making me so tired. Well I know I spent a lot of my day worrying and panicking all of the time, so no doubt this contributed a lot to my overall tiredness. I also realised that – much like lazy days – I failed to get out of ‘first gear’ so I was carrying around this constant feeling of lethargy. This bad habit cycle needed to stop so I thought about what I was doing to my body chemically.
Every time I worried about my condition I triggered off a sensitive and tired nervous system. This, in turn, lead to my body releasing disproportionate amounts of adrenaline and cortisol into my bloodstream. I realised a lot of my symptoms that included racing thoughts, palpitations, dizziness, feeling breathless, derealisation, etc, were actually caused by the amount of adrenaline in my bloodstream.
2. I went outside
With this knowledge I decided to walk outside by myself for the first time in ages. However, I decided to do it as an experiment so I could monitor – without judgement – the chemical changes and symptoms in my body. As I walked down the garden path I began to feel the overwhelming feeling of derealisation (feeling detached from reality), my heart started pounding and I began to feel panicky. Then I observed that my thoughts started focusing on all the ‘bad’ things that could happen whilst I was outside – the worst case scenarios.
I realised that, as I was walking, I was still obsessing about the condition without allowing myself to take in any other information. I felt awful, but I persevered and walked to the end of the garden. Then, I swiftly reminded myself of what was happening in my body. I reminded myself about the adrenaline, the cortisol and the sensitive nervous system. Then I waited.
3. I began to understand
After a short while standing at the bottom of my garden feeling pretty awful, I began to notice that my symptoms – ever so slightly – eased as a result of me focusing on what was happening in my body. I began to feel the adrenaline easing and my muscle tension lessening. My heart stopped racing as fast and I had more of an enhanced ability to focus compared to five minutes previously.
Importantly, I had let my brain know that there was in fact ‘no danger’ outside. My body had triggered a load of adrenaline and this forced my mind to find the ‘danger’ in my surroundings. Once I had concluded that there was no danger I noticed that my symptoms calmed a little. This was a massive discovery for me. I know it sounds a little simple and basic, but if you’ve experienced anxiety and panic disorder then you’ll know how much of a hard task this is. I understood what was happening to my mind and body during times of panic.
4. I re-enacted my ‘normal’ day
After my perceivably small discovery, I decided to persevere in trying to act out a ‘normal’ day – something similar to what I would have done before my anxiety / panic disorder. The house needed groceries so I decided to go to the supermarket to fetch some supplies. The prospect of leaving the house and going into the public domain was terrifying for me, however I felt a little surge of confidence from my garden experiment and ultimately I felt it was time to face my fears.
I managed to complete my shopping despite it not being an enjoyable task. I had to constantly remind myself that what I was feeling was normal and the negative feelings would eventually pass. By the time I got to the checkout my anxiety had halved, thus proving to me that I was beginning to rewire my brain by exposing myself to ‘normal’ situations.
5. Exposure and rewiring the brain
After successfully managing to cope with going outside, I made it my future aim to attempt and complete everything that I used to enjoy in terms of activities and hobbies. I made efforts to see friends (explaining I had anxiety so not to expect much), started exercising and took day trips out. What I discovered is that the more I exposed myself to these uncomfortable situations, the more the anxiety and panic lessened. My brain was actively rewiring itself and creating alternative neural pathways, so I didn’t automatically default to ‘panic mode’ when I was outside. The more I did this, the better I became.
Thankfully, facing my fears was something beneficial in a non-hallmark sense. It actually serves to rewire the brain and calm the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder over time.