Anxiety can affect all of us; some experiencing it in more extreme forms than others. I could start this post by telling you about all of the mental health statistics and then move onto vague advice from “professionals” who haven’t experienced extreme anxieties themselves, but I’d rather be real with you.
My journey to overcoming severe anxiety was a long and hard one. There is no magical overnight cure, and even with medication you still have to do most of the work yourself. It can feel incredibly lonely trying to battle it on your own and it takes a lot of strength to push yourself past your comfort zones.
There was a time when I couldn’t even get into my car without preparing myself mentally and feeling my heartbeat speed up during every single ride. Grocery shopping was a no-go, because… line ups, duh. Being “stuck” anywhere — like in a line, a meeting or appointment, a car, a large building, (and the list goes on…) — was something that I avoided at all costs, because I believed that by avoiding it, I was stopping any bad feelings from happening. What I was doing instead was allowing my brain to believe that avoidance was the best course of action instead of facing those situations head on and becoming comfortable with them.
I tried a LOT of things to “fix” my brain. Over the past year especially, I’ve watched myself improve so much that I don’t even recognize the anxiety-ridden girl that sat in this same spot last Autumn. I don’t even think before hopping in a car now, and grocery shopping is second nature. I actually GO shopping now and take my sweet time in stores without trying to rush back out the door. I actually enjoy going out. I take 4-5 hour drives consistently without breaking a sweat (hi boyfriend who lives in the middle of nowhere!). I’ve made and kept appointments, and have come out alive every time. I am not who I was. I am a better version of myself. I am a happier version of myself that feels like I could literally do anything now.
I am telling you this because I want to help you if you have been dealing with anxiety or agoraphobia. What I did to overcome this could help someone else, so I don’t want to miss the opportunity to share what I went through and offer these below tips.
Comfort is key to overcome anxiety
I never truly understood my anxiety until I started thinking of it as simply being uncomfortable in certain situations. I think that is such an easy way to explain it to somebody else, and also a good starting point in overcoming it. The key to getting past your anxiety is to become comfortable in those less than ideal situations. If you’ve ever believed that there is absolutely no way that you could become comfortable in one of your panicky trigger situations, YOU CAN! The first step is knowing that you can!
How do you become comfortable doing something that makes you anxious? With practice.
Add something new to your routine
Having something to focus on and force yourself to deal with may be scary at first, but it has been one of the main things that has helped me so much. I took the plunge last year and purchased a reno property. In the beginning, I was nervous to have to deal with all of the meetings with accountants, lawyers, and realtors and I knew that I would be driving around a lot after the deal closed. While I was anxious during those appointments, the fact that I had this brand new project to work on was thrilling! There were things that had to get done, which required me to drive back and forth nearly every day to hardware stores and such. I started doing this so often that it became like a part of my daily routine. Soon, I wasn’t even thinking before I jumped in the car and made the trip. I became more confident in dealing with other people. I started to feel free again.
While I don’t suggest that you go out and buy a house to overcome your anxiety, I do recommend adding something to your daily routine that can push you to do things that you might not be comfortable with (yet!). Maybe this is driving to a new place every day on your lunch hour, starting yoga, or signing up for the gym (and actually going consistently!). It WILL feel uncomfortable at first… but like I said, the only way to become comfortable is with routine practice.
Whatever you decide to do, make yourself get out of the house. Despite anxious feelings and fears that might arise, just do it. I promise you will not die of panic. If you need to work up to it, take baby steps and challenge yourself every day to push a little farther.
Set goals for each journey
Without some sort of end goal, pushing yourself to evolve won’t happen easily. Whenever you take a step towards your anxious situations, tell yourself what the reward will be after you accomplish it.
When I was trying to make myself more comfortable with the whole grocery shopping debacle, I began my shopping trek with a single basket and used the Express checkout line. Each time I went to the store, I challenged myself to add a few more items and worked my way up to a full cart. I set goals each time that would allow myself to be pushed a little more out of my comfort zone than normal, but in the end those goals were what changed me from practically running through the store to spending about an hour picking out my favourite things and waiting in long checkout lines.
Little by little, inch by inch. My reward for those accomplishments: the amazing feeling I got when actually completing the goal.
Do something you never thought you could do
This year alone has been filled with things I’ve accomplished that I couldn’t have even imagined doing previously. And you know what… it feels GREAT!
The idea of going to the gym was frightening to me. So I walked my scared butt in there and signed up for a membership.
Taking myself to the doctor for important checkups was the bane of my existence. So I made appointments and actually followed through with them. Although uncomfortable, I did it anyways.
Driving 4-5 hours (both ways!) was something I would roll my eyes at and scoff “yeah right, not in a million years could I make it through that long of a car ride”. So I pushed myself to do it, and after realizing that it really wasn’t that bad, I became comfortable enough to make that same drive frequently.
Think about something that you are certain in this moment that you could never do, and do it. Yes, it’s terrifying, but that’s the point. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to expand it. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you… and you will feel so good once you do.
Remove anxiety-causing people from your life (or learn to deal with them)
I honestly believe that there are some people who just trigger our anxieties without even knowing it. High strung people are a culprit for me, with chronic worriers and dependents following in close second. I think that some people have a certain energy about them that just heightens anxious feelings in others.
I’m going to be completely honest here. My previous relationship caused me a ton of anxiety, and I didn’t even realize it at the time until I was free and able to recognize it. My ex was a very dependent person, and at times I admit I felt like his mother. Having to live my own life and deal with my own issues was enough, but adding someone else’s needs on top of mine really weighed me down. I was the one who was responsible for pretty much everything in the household and our partnership was far from equal. On top of that, dealing with anxiety was made to feel like my own problem that I had manifested myself. I was miserable, unsatisfied, and alone on the inside.
Removing myself from that relationship had to have been one of the best things for my well being. Was it scary at first? Heck yes! I mean, who would do all of the things I wasn’t able to do because of my anxiety? The answer: I would… because I knew that despite this issue, I was strong. Finally, the weight of someone else’s life had been lifted and I was free to focus on just one person… myself.
I know that you can’t always remove anxiety-causing people from your life as family members or co-workers might be a bit tough, but you can always learn to deal with them.
My own mom, though I love her, is an extreme worrier and always blurting out possible bad things that could go wrong. It is her nature and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. I didn’t even realize she was doing it up until I started studying the people around me to figure out if they might be heightening my anxiety. I’ve learned now to notice small things about how people act and the things they say, and if they say something that has a 95% chance of not ever happening, I brush it off. I call out my mom now whenever she says something ridiculous and worrisome and remind her that she’s just being a little too intense.
Realize that people just are who they are, and that their characteristics should not affect you in any way.
Don’t overdo it
While each of these things should definitely help you cope with your anxiety, I think it’s important not to overdo it. Throwing yourself into too many stressful situations at the same time in hopes of overcoming them could potentially have negative effects if you start to feel too overwhelmed and land you back at square one. Baby steps, remember? The more comfortable you begin to become while practicing these things, the less anxious you will feel over time.
Before I close this post, I want you to think about one thing that you are uncomfortable with and make a pact with yourself to overcome it. Think about (or even write down) the steps that you can take to accomplish this thing, no matter how scary it may seem at first. Then, create your own path to destination: Comfortable.
You can do it. It might take a while, but if you keep moving forward instead of looking back, progress is inevitable.