Help and Advice in Recovering from Panic and Anxiety Attacks by ex-sufferer Paul David. Author of the book 'At Last a Life', and 'At Last a Life and Beyond' since his own recovery, his life has been dedicated to helping other sufferers of anxiety.
It was through my own struggles with anxiety that my mental health also started to decline. As time progressed, I began to feel very down. I was constantly irritable, unable to think clearly, had little mental energy and struggled to find any interest or motivation in anything. Even simple tasks like tidying the house or cooking a meal seemed like an enormous effort.
Initially, I thought anxiety was to blame for all these new symptoms I was encountering, and so again, I set out to defeat them. It took me a long time to realise that anxiety wasn’t to blame here at all and these were just the symptoms of my failing mental health. The reason my mental health was failing had nothing to do with anxiety; it was all to do with my ongoing battle with anxiety. It was all the fighting, over thinking, worrying and attempts to figure it all out that was to blame for my current state.
Because of all these new symptoms, I then worried, ruminated and fought even harder, which resulted in my mental health declining even further. I was once again in a vicious cycle of my own making, due to my lack of understanding. Is it any wonder my brain struggled to cope when it was given so many tasks to do?
The effects that worry and over thinking have on your mental health
I had no idea that the brain was just like a limb and that if you overdid things mentally, then you would suffer. I had educated myself enough at the time to look after myself physically. I ate well and had taken up exercise, and although this had its benefits, I had done nothing at all to look after my mental health. My brain was still being used to worry, fight and figure things out on a daily basis, and this is why nothing was changing.
Even when I had figured all this out, I did not know how poor my mental health had become, as I had nothing to compare it to, and because it had crept up on me slowly, I don’t think I realised how bad things had become. Eventually, I think it just hit a threshold and instead of feeling a little bit off and irritable, I was now feeling quite a lot of psychological pain and my brain would no longer function properly.
Not only did it affect me emotionally and psychologically, but it also began to affect my social life too. I no longer found joy in doing anything and barely had enough energy for myself, never mind anyone else. I would constantly cancel on people and make excuses not to go out and socialise, which only gave me something else to worry about as I now feared I would lose those around me.
Learning to open up about your mental health
It was at this point I knew I needed to open up more as keeping quiet was just creating more problems. For a man, opening up was not easy as there was a lot of ignorance around mental health at the time, but I thought if people want to judge me, then that is their problem, not mine. My priority now has to be to myself, and if opening up helps me, then this is what I need to do.
I then started to explain how I felt to those closest to me and said: “The reason I have cancelled a lot recently has nothing to do with me not wanting to attend, I did. It is just my brain sometimes found it difficult and the reason I was quiet at times is that I didn’t always have enough mental energy for conversation”.
I also said, “I don’t want or need you to treat me any differently. All I need is your understanding and non-judgement”.
Overall people were very understanding and a couple of people explained to me how they had struggled in the past also, and so I found that talking about how I felt allowed others to do so too.
Once I became more open to others about my feelings, it took an immense burden off me. I could now finally be how I wanted to instead of trying to put on an act and pretend that everything was OK. Before this, I was always trying to portray how I thought I should be and not how I was currently feeling, and trust me, trying to keep up any kind of act takes tremendous mental energy to execute and why I felt even worse in social situations. I guess I also didn’t want to admit to myself how I felt and keeping up an act was a sense of denial. A big turning point for me was eventually accepting myself as I was and having other people accept me too.
The biggest thing I learnt was that it wasn’t socialising that was so exhausting, it was trying to keep up a pretence that was. I am not saying I always wanted to socialise, but since I dropped all the acts, I found it so much easier. I no longer dreaded social events like I once did as there was no longer any pressure to play a role; I could just be how I wanted to be and only give what I had.
Learning to look after yourself mentally and physically
Apart from the social aspect of things and opening up, I also learnt to be much kinder to myself. Instead of reacting with fear and frustration, I learned to accept how I was feeling with loving acceptance. It made no sense to fight, worry or figure out anymore, as all this just required more mental effort and the very reason for me not only getting to this point in the first place but also staying in the cycle.
I finally had to accept that I wasn’t the happy, confident person I was before, not just to myself but to others. It did not mean I couldn’t be again, but I wasn’t that person in the present moment and instead of fighting and getting frustrated with this fact, I needed to learn to be patient and allow my brain to repair itself at its own pace.
I now concluded that there were four significant points to recovery, and these were to look after myself, fully accept myself as I was, live my life and, more than anything, be patient. This also had to be a lifetime commitment as, initially, I began to look after myself but then as soon as I started to feel better, I fell back into old habits of worry, stress and over-thinking, and found myself struggling again. Once again, I had fallen back into the habit of pushing my brain beyond what it was designed to do, and anything you overuse will result in the same outcome. You can’t push anything beyond its limits and expect it not to break down.
This is why it saddens me when I hear people say “I have been battling with my mental health” and why I always advise them not to. I encourage them to seek help, educate themselves, talk with someone and make changes to improve their overall well-being. I advise them to do all of these things but then explain to them that the last thing you want to do is start battling with your mental health, as battling requires more effort and more thinking. All this does is use up immense brain power and results in more suffering.
This is why trying to worry and think your way better has the complete opposite effect; it wears out that weak and weary brain further. You wouldn’t go for a run on a broken leg, so why keep pounding the brain when the pain is telling you how broken it is feeling at the moment? In its current state, it needs looking after, not thrashing; it doesn’t want any more tasks or worries put on it.
Don’t be afraid to seek help about your mental health
For me, talking about how you feel is one of the most important aspects when it comes to improving your mental well-being. Apart from opening up to those around me, I saw a lovely lady who helped me progress just by listening to me. I had kept so much to myself and hadn’t spoken to anyone about how I felt for years, and once I opened up, I didn’t want to stop. I wasn’t really looking for advice from this woman as I was happy with what I had seen and the improvements I was making, but it was just so nice to have someone who would listen to me without judgement and allowed me to offload.
Learning to listen to my mind and body
Although I started opening up and socialising more, there were times when my brain just didn’t have the energy to be around others and I needed to be alone. During these times, I knew that it just wanted rest. I learnt to listen to the message my suffering was trying to communicate to me instead of fighting with it. When I needed rest, I needed rest, but this was not an excuse to shun the outside world. I knew the importance of living my life and socialising and that it was all about getting the balance right. Even if I felt too drained for company, I could always go out on my bike or take a walk on my own.
Many things helped me become mentally healthy again, some minor and some major changes. Below is a list of the things that really helped with my mental well being.
Being in the outdoors
Cutting down on stress and worry
Simplifying my life
No longer battling with myself
Reading up on Buddhist teachings and meditation
Talking about how I felt
Resting when I needed to
Looking after myself mentally and physically
Being kind to myself
Cutting down on alcohol
Making positive changes to my life and surrounding myself with the right people
Allowing myself to feel how I did without judgment
Being very patient and giving myself the time and space I needed
Dropping all fake personas and masks
It took me a long time to realise that my mental health was even more important than my physical health. It also made sense to me how I got to the point I did and what was keeping me in the cycle. Again I was the cause of my own suffering; I just didn’t see it at the time.
I can’t even explain the difference it made to my mental health when I just fully allowed myself to feel how I did. It cut out 90% of the mental battles I was having at the time and gave my brain the mental break it so craved while giving it the valuable time and space it needed to heal.
As I followed this path and made the changes I did, my mental health improved dramatically. I had to be patient and there were some tough days along the way, but I finally found the mental peace I was looking for. To this day, my physical and mental health is my number one priority and all the lessons I learnt along the way have allowed me to never put myself in that place again.
This article talks about my experience with mental health and what helped me and is not meant to be a cure-all for other mental health problems.
It’s not your thoughts or emotions that keep you in the cycle of suffering; it’s your constant struggle and rejection of them that does. Non-acceptance of ‘what is’ is what creates resistance, and it is this resistance that causes so much extra suffering. This struggle is what prevents the process of healing to occur.
If you want to overcome anxiety then struggling with it is not the answer.
Anyone who finds themselves stressed and mentally exhausted has got there through struggling with their inner or outer world. These people aren’t in the flow of life; they are always pushing against it. They aren’t allowing their mind or emotions to be as they are, they are constantly at war with them.
Let’s concentrate on those who spend all their time battling with their anxiety. The whole battle they enter into revolves around them not wanting to feel it. The truth is that if you have anxiety, then you have no option but to feel its presence within you, there is not saying, method or technique you can master that can prevent this
If you had a bout of flu then there is nothing you can do, not to feel it, you would just have to ride it out and allow it to pass of its own accord. Imagine if you wasted all your day trying to fight it, suppress it and tried to figure a way out of it mentally. Or maybe tried a few internet searches to find someone or something to make it go away.
All this would do is exhaust you, it would take tremendous mental and physical effort to carry out, and so you would feel worse than ever. All you would have achieved is to add more suffering on top of your initial suffering.
This battle would have been utterly pointless and counterproductive. Yet this is what most anxiety sufferers do and then wonder why they feel so utterly exhausted and spent and why they stay in a cycle of constant suffering.
Be open to any state
When you give up your battle with yourself, then your thoughts and emotions will change naturally. You can’t force or create a particular state through struggle or personal will; this will only create more suffering and mentally drain you.
The outside world, life and others act as they do, less stress and worry comes through understanding this one fact and realising that life won’t always go your way and that people won’t always act how you want them to.
The same principle is true when you experience any form of suffering; it is your non-acceptance of your current state that causes so much extra pain.
It doesn’t feel great to experience emotions of anger, fear, irritable, anxiety, sadness or any other uncomfortable state you may find yourself in. But trust me, if you allow yourself to fall right into your current state without struggle and resistance, then you won’t suffer the same as when you struggle and fight with it.
Also, it is the complete acceptance of your current state that allows your mind and body to start the process of healing. Left alone your mind and body are able to heal themselves, just like they are with a broken leg or a cut finger. Your body has the best healing in the world if you only step aside and allow it to do its job.
My recovery from anxiety came when I saw the truth behind my suffering and how I was creating the majority of it. Even with this knowledge the same thoughts and feelings were present for a while, but I just lost interest in them.
I no longer had any interest in trying to manipulate a state. If I needed to feel a particular emotion or mind state, then I would allow myself to feel it fully, no matter how uncomfortable it was.
There really is no outside force doing this to us, and so there is nothing for us to defeat. We are creating our own suffering and staying in a cycle through a lack of understanding.
So much suffering is self-created through lack of knowledge which leads to a pointless battle we enter into with ourselves. Recovery doesn’t come through some technique; it occurs when we do two things.
1. When we stop doing the things that are creating our suffering
2. When we allow ourselves to go through a process of healing our past suffering. This means to fully experience it as it is without trying to fight or suppress it.
Do you now see why battling with anxiety can never cure you of it? It was a battle that never needed to be fought.
I get asked many times ‘what I did do to recover from anxiety?’
I tell people that my recovery came through making plenty of mistakes. No one made as many mistakes as I did in the early days of my suffering. One week I thought I had the answer, that this was it, the end of my suffering. When in reality all I had found was something else to cover it up for a while.
I went from one technique to another, one concept to the next, until I finally realised that I never had any control in the first place, that nothing I could achieve peace through struggle or effort.
I saw my suffering like a snow globe that only settles when you stop shaking it. I finally realised that I could never force peace of mind or fight or think my way better. I got to this point through exhausting every avenue, until I realised that battling how I felt was not the answer.
Giving up the struggle with suffering
When I finally gave up this battle with myself I felt a little calmer; it was like my body was sending me a message that this was it, that this was the answer to being free and now I had to listen.
It was through this that I started to think about how our mind and body communicate with us. I then had a profound realisation that our mind and body are always guiding us.
If we drink too much then we get a hangover, it is our bodies way of saying it is no good for us.
If we eat bad food then we get a stomach ache or get sick, again it is our bodies way of saying don’t eat that again, it is not good for us.
The same as if we feel pain anywhere inside our body, it is our bodies way of saying there is a problem in that area and to go and seek a doctor and fix it.
If a snake was biting our foot and we didn’t feel immediate pain, it would chew it off, so our body sends a message before this happens.
So pain is a good thing and a vital part of our survival, it is a warning system and not there to punish it. We only continue to suffer when we carry on doing the things that are causing it.
It is the same if I spend too much time writing a blog post that can take up to three days to put together with editing and proofreading. When I begin to write, I feel inspired, and the words are just flowing out of me. But I find after a few hours my mind starts getting irritable, my enthusiasm starts to drop, and my wisdom begins to weaken.
My mind is sending me a message that it now needs a break, it has had enough for now. Once I heed the message, take a break and come back, then I feel refreshed and am able to write freely and happily once again.
I know the importance of now listening to my mind and body and doing what it asks me to do and not try and force it into something it doesn’t.
Psychological pain is our bodies way of sending the same message
If we feel stressed, it is our bodies way of telling us to stop worrying as it is doing us harm. If we are physically exhausted, then it is our bodies way of conveying to us that we are overusing our limbs and to take a rest.
Psychological pain is the same. The brain is an organ of the body just like a limb. So if we start to feel mentally exhausted, it is our minds way of telling us to slow down the thinking process and take a break as the brain is being pushed beyond its limits.
Many don’t heed this initial message and carry on over thinking, worrying or overworking and then cross a threshold which can then lead to a breakdown.
There will be many warnings before a final breakdown happens, it is just that the person did not heed them and carried on as they were. The mind and body could no longer operate under those circumstances and so a breakdown of mind and body occurred.
If you feel any kind of suffering then there is usually a message that something you are doing is causing you to suffer, it is like an alarm that will keep going off until you listen. This message is never asking you to stress and worry more; it doesn’t even want you to treat the symptoms you are creating, it just wants you to stop doing what is causing the suffering in the first place.
When I felt overly anxious, it was my bodies way of telling me to stop worrying, fighting, analysing, that it was not good for me. My mind and body were always communicating with me; it was continually trying to look after me and warn me that what I was doing was not serving me well.
I finally listened to this and many other messages it sent and thanked it for always looking after me and for creating the person I am today.
Today I am going to cover the subject of avoidance with anxiety. Some sufferers have a real problem with this, some hardly at all, but I think everyone can get something out of this message.
Avoidance can take many forms; some people may avoid social situations, driving, the supermarket, answering the phone. Some may turn down invites to meet with friends, not go for the job they want or not join that evening class they so want to go to.
The person who falls into avoidance behaviour restricts their own life due to becoming a prisoner to how they are thinking and feeling. They may find doing things too much effort and or not want to face triggering the anxiety that’s within them, and so they find it easier to avoid.
The above was me, and at the time I thought that I had to work out the magic formula and then I would feel normal and have my life back. The problem was that I did not know how to feel normal again, I had tried everything, read every book, tried every technique given to me and yet nothing had worked. So I was stuck in this continual pattern of avoidance.
I then realised that the outside was not going to change for me, it would just keep spinning the same while I shied away from it. I realised that there was no knowledge out there that was going to make everything OK. No day would arrive where I could just step outside and carry on with my life as before without feeling uncomfortable.
I realised by hiding away I was only strengthening the problem, I was continuing to send the message to my subconscious mind that there was danger in the outside world and social situations. I realised that the only way out was to start conveying it a different message, one that taught it that everything was OK out there.
I concluded that the best way to break out of these old avoidance patterns was to ‘Do everything I did before I had anxiety’ this meant allowing myself to feel uncomfortable until I no longer did.
Listen to wisdom and not the voice of anxiety
Even though now I was putting myself out there more, it was like there was a little voice in my head that would try and keep me safe by telling me not to go here or there and not to put myself in certain situations.
This voice was my mind talking to me and trying to keep me safe, this is a built-in system within everyone, and it acts on what information it receives. But the information it received from me previously was faulty; I had no reason to avoid the outside.
So if this voice was faulty, then it had no truth to it, and so I just needed to ignore it and do it anyway. In doing this, I would eventually silence that voice.
If you avoid certain places, then your mind registers this and files it under dangerous and will kindly let you know the next time you are in that situation, what a great operating system ! Well it is until we send it the wrong messages.
Understanding your inner voice
Someone without anxiety may have been fine with dogs, until one day they get bitten.
If this person then goes straight back out there and doesn’t start avoiding places where they may encounter dogs, then the reaction may still be present but not too much of a problem.
If on the other hand, this person then goes on to avoid dogs and any place where they may encounter them, then the mind would then pick up on this threat and registered as a severe one due to your behaviour of avoidance.
The inner voice would then be overprotective and fearful and guide you to make sure you never encountered one, and if you did you did, then you would feel an intense fear reaction. The mind has picked up on the threat and is now keeping you safe and telling you to get the hell out of there.
Do you now see how the mind picks up and reacts to the information we are sending it? It is not a reaction to the actual situation, only what you have made of it. It is picking up on the information it receives from you as to how high its reaction needs to be to keep you safe.
This understanding is what freed me of my avoidance, as I now understood why I felt the way I did and why I had such a reaction to the harmless situations I had previously avoided. I now understood that these reactions were not merited and I was just being tricked by my mind’s response and not the reality of the situation I found myself in.
My wisdom had finally shone through, and I now realised that there was no actual danger in these situations and eventually through my action of non-avoidance my mind would get this message too and so turn down its overbearing response.
Learning to reprogram the brain
So as you can see it is us that has created this false programming in our mind through our past actions, which is great news as now we can be the ones to reprogram it by changing how we behave.
The old subconscious programming in our mind will still have a certain pull to it and will try and keep us in these old patterns. This is because our mind still has our best interests at heart and believes by keeping us in old habits it is doing us a favour.
Even with this understanding, it is at this point where many people may fall back into old patterns of behaviour that are not serving them. They do so because trying to come out of old behaviours feels uncomfortable and so it is easier to stay on the old path.
But all that is happening is that your rational mind has got this understanding, but your subconscious hasn’t and so you feel uncomfortable when you try and step out of these old behaviours.
If you understand what is happening, then you are more able to allow yourself to feel uncomfortable and see that this is part of the process of reprogramming your mind. All you have to do is see it as growth and that you can’t create any true inner change without some discomfort.
Many people say to me ‘I got this last week and started to change and go out more, but now I’ve fallen back into my old behaviours of avoidance.’
I tell them the same thing that the subconscious mind takes a lot longer to get it than the rational mind and so it will try and pull you back into old behaviours, acknowledge that pull but do it anyway. In time the subconscious mind will get it, and the pull will leave you.
There is no big secret to changing this; it is all about understanding what is going on., I just finally understand that it was me that had created this problem and only a change in my behaviour was going to solve it.
I just stopped listening to this inner voice and so from now if the phone went off, I answered it every time, anxious or not.
If I got invited out to any social gathering, then I would go, even if my inner voice tried to warn me about what would go wrong.
If a neighbour approached then I would no longer follow my inner voice or emotions and rush to get back inside, I would walk right up and chat.
That inner voice and my emotions continued to try and keep me safe, but I just thanked them for doing their job and told them through my actions that I was perfectly fine, knowing they would get the message soon.
In time this inner voice and the emotional reactions left me. I slowly, but surely reprogrammed my subconscious mind and emptied it of all its old fears and beliefs and was now free to go anywhere with no problems whatsoever.
The journey was quite exciting, seeing my life come back slowly, but surely, I even got a thrill out of testing myself and seeing how fearless I could be while watching the progress I was making.
I will finish with a famous quote by Vincent van Gogh
If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced
The above is was one of the many questions I asked myself when I suffered.
Yes, I could find ways and techniques to suppress it for a while, but I never discovered that illusive SECRET to making the anxiety disappear for good.
I searched every corner of the internet, nothing there but false hope and charlatans wanting to part me of my money. I read numerous books but mainly just found another bunch of coping techniques. I went to many counsellers and found all they wanted to do was dig up my past. I searched inside my own head for answers and just felt more confused than ever.
Then one day I just bottomed out and was utterly crushed by it all. I concluded that if the answer was not out there, then this is me forever. This search had utterly exhausted me, and I was done with it. I just had to accept that there were no answers.
Was this searching all a waste of time?
Not at all, because if I had not been through this search, then I would not have given up the battle I was having with myself. I would have never realised that the answer was actually to do nothing. It was all the doing, searching, worrying and the analysing that had been the problem all along and the reason I stayed in the cycle of suffering. Bottoming out was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I said in my latest book ‘At last a life and beyond‘ that one day I looked at all my self-help books and just realised that I no longer needed them. Something just clicked inside of me, and I saw them as part of the problem and not the solution.
They were part of the problem because I had read them to try and find a quick answer to take my suffering away. That is what the medication, counsellors, techniques, books and the searching were all about, everything I had ever done was aimed at trying not to feel something.
Once I bottomed out and realised that this approach just wasn’t working, I thought to myself, ‘what would happen if I didn’t attempt to feel different than I do, what would happen then?
Is all this suppressing actually keeping these emotions stored within me? Maybe these feeling and thoughts needed to be felt so they can be released. Perhaps the real suffering is coming from all the resistance and struggle and not the emotions or thoughts themselves.
Understanding is key to overcoming anxiety
One realisation after another hit me and I could not believe I had not seen this before. It made complete sense to why I had continued to suffer. I remember how I would fight my mind to try and make it quieter, to act and think differently.
I then realised that I was attempting to solve the problem with the problem, I was trying to fix the tired and weary brain by trying to think my way to a solution, and all I achieved was to tire it out further. If the mind were exhausted, then it would show the signs of exhaustion, and it was pointless and counterproductive of me to try and change how it was.
If my body was full of anxious energy through my past worry and stress, then I would feel anxious. Why the hell was I trying not to feel anxious, what chance did I have? All this constant resistance and effort was the reason for my suffering.
After I started to see things in a different light, I then did a lot of research on how the mind and body worked. I read books on Buddhism and all sorts of various teachings, but this time I did it to educate myself more and not to try and feel any different.
These teachings were telling me the same as my own conclusions and that the route I was on was entirely correct. The answer was to allow myself to feel the way I did, to fall into my suffering and not try to escape it continually. I did not see this just on an intellectual level; I saw it so profoundly that I knew there was no going back, it just made so much sense.
The reason I keep writing is to spark your own realisation; my words are pointers so that you can see this for yourself. Trust me when you see it for yourself everything changes. Your whole attitude towards how you feel shifts and a lot of fear and resistance drops away. You start to leave yourself alone more and come more and more out of your head. You finally realise you never had any control in the first place and so you step out of the way and allow your mind and body to heal of their own accord.
Recovery from anxiety requires you to go through some discomfort
This journey out of suffering is one of the toughest you will have to go through. It isn’t pretty at times as all the old stuff come up to be released. It means you have to allow what needs to come up to come up; you have to turn towards it instead of turning away from it, you have to start living your life while harmless thoughts and emotions are running amok. You don’t cling to the bliss, and you don’t run away or try to suppress the bad, the more allowing you are of it, the better.
But at the end of the journey, it will be the best thing you ever did; you will realise how harmless thoughts and emotions are. You will realise how you did so much of this to yourself and that you were never broken in the first place and that you never had to go around trying to fix yourself and that no label given to you was actually true.
I have seen so many people bottom out, totally defeated with nothing else to try and yet this is the best stage to get to. As when you have nothing left to try, and you drop all the searching, suppressing, fighting and all the techniques and for the first time you truly start to leave yourself alone, and this is where recovery truly lies.
Today’s title ‘How long does it take to recover from anxiety’ has no definite answer and is like saying ‘How long is a piece of string?’
People can suffer to varying degrees with their anxiety and mainly go on to develop different habits and beliefs. The way in which people experience suffering can be down to many reasons and no two people’s experience are the same.
What influences how long it takes to recover from anxiety?
Overcoming anxiety is firstly dependent on having the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to begin recovery. Once this knowledge is gained and put into practice, there are many factors in the amount of time it takes people to recover
The length of time you have suffered.
People who have suffered longer may have built up more habits of avoidance and have more deep-rooted subconscious beliefs and memory of suffering than the person who has experienced suffering for a few months. Because of this, it may take more time and inner work to regain their former self.
2. Knowledge and understanding
People who have who have built up their knowledge and understanding of the condition are far more able to fall out of old destructive patterns of behaviour and become more allowing of their thoughts and emotions than someone who has little to no knowledge.
3. How brave you are willing to be
If you can develop a more fearless attitude towards living your life alongside anxiety, then this will have a significant bearing on your recovery. You get your life back by going out there and living it and not letting how you feel stop you. This life is yours to experience; it does not belong to anxiety, it belongs to you.
4. Looking after yourself
Looking after yourself mentally and physically will help you immensely. This means cutting down on all the worry and stress and taking more mental timeouts. Having a good diet and getting outdoors in the fresh air or taking up some form of exercise can also be beneficial.
Trying to get to a destination in the fastest time possible will just create needless struggle and effort and will only lead to impatience and disappointment. Recovery is down to many factors and patience is undoubtedly one of them. You need to be kind to yourself and allow your mind and body to heal at their own pace.
Many factors can help speed up recovery, but the simple answer is no one can say for sure how long it will take. So don’t get frustrated as to where you are at currently or try to compare yourself with others.
When I started on my path to healing, I had no interest in how long it would take to recover, for me it was all about progressing in the right direction. Progress could be slow at times, and then there could also be some huge leaps. But I just took it all in my stride without demanding too much, as long as I knew I was on the right road then I was happy.
This lack of patience for many is the very reason I rarely tell others how long it took me to recover, as people may then compare my time frame with themselves and think that they should be further down the road than they are. Frustration could then set in, and they may start battling and searching for the instant cure once again.
My recovery from anxiety did take time
I did not recover by waking up one day, and it was all behind me. My healing came in layers. I just began to have more good than bad days, and my mind gradually started to regain its clarity. I would say as soon as I saw these improvements then I knew I was on the right path and it was only a matter of time before I was back to my old self.
I don’t even recall any particular day where I said, that’s it ‘I am fully recovered’. It just crept up on me slowly, and near the end, the symptoms were so minor that they did not influence me anymore anyway. I had regained my life well before I would say I no longer felt any symptoms.
Recovery is there for everyone; I wasn’t special or lucky. Many people who first came to me now send me some lovely emails and pictures of them living their life once again. I recognise some of these people from years ago when they first posted on my blog. Most were in a terrible state, so lost and confused and had no hope that they could ever recover.
All they ever needed was understanding and time.
When you finally have the knowledge to start recovery and can see the improvements you are making, then how long it takes won’t even matter, you will just know that it’s inevitable.
If you would like more information on overcoming anxiety, then visit my site anxietynomore. If you would like to know more about my book, then visit At Last a Life
I was at my local bookstore recently and saw plenty of titles about relaxation, which got me thinking about certain websites that promote relaxation when feeling anxious.
Not that I think there is anything wrong with promoting relaxation, I swim, walk and run because I not only enjoy it but also believe that exercise and the outdoors is a great stress buster.
I was your typical searcher when I suffered from anxiety.
I was always searching for ways to find relief, make it go away, sort it out, fix it.
My thought process at the time was always ‘I have to get rid of what feels uncomfortable’ I read many books, searched around the internet and looked through the yellow pages for someone or something who could make this thing that was dominating my life go away.
My whole life was consumed with finding the answer to being free of my anxiety. I have no idea why I carried on this way for so long as it was obviously not working. I think deep down I felt the answer was still out there and so the search continued until I had nowhere else to go.
It was at this point I started asking some deeper questions like;
‘Why do I always feel worse when I react negatively to my anxious feelings?’, ‘why does trying to find a way out always make things worse?’.
Well, the answer was because I was trapped in a never-ending cycle.
I would feel an uncomfortable emotion or a rush of anxiety and then fight like hell to feel right, instead of allowing myself to experience it and letting myself come out of it naturally.
This reaction is what is non-accepting is; it is the opposite of allowing. When I first came across the concept of allowing, I tried to turn it into another technique.
Right so to no longer feel these feelings I have to allow them, right ill try that. Damn, they are still there, this isn’t working !! I had missed the point entirely and was trying to use the concept of allowing as another way of not feeling these uncomfortable emotions.
Allowing yourself to feel different emotions
I eventually realised that all techniques were utterly pointless and that you can’t be free of emotions without being willing to experience them.
By struggling with your feelings or mental state, you are trying to force or manipulate a different state, one that needs to be present at that particular time. Try manipulating a happy state when you feel down or try to force yourself not to be tired when you have had very little sleep, and you will see my point.
Do you see how we have little to no control over how we are feeling? The only thing we can do is to let go, relax and allow ourselves to feel how we do at any particular time. This is not about your mind or emotions being calm, this about you being calm.
We only feel worse when we struggle with or resist our current state. It is the resistance to your emotions that cause the majority of your suffering, not the feelings themselves.
Coping with anxiety
I came across a website last week that said ’10 ways to cope with anxiety’ and then went on to list ways to keep it at bay. I am so against this approach; I only freed myself from anxiety when I allowed every aspect of anxiety to enter my life.
I hid from none of it and no longer tried to keep it at bay or talk my way out of it. To be free of any negative or painful emotion, then we have to be willing to experience them. Trying to deny or suppress them will just keep them within us and the reason so many never become free of them.
Recovery is never about managing or coping, and it certainly wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I would rather spend a period of time allowing myself to feel these emotions and be free than spend the rest of my life trying not to.
To recover from anxiety you don’t need anything, no ten ways to cope, no mantras, no safety behaviours and no techniques. You just need to be more accepting with anxiety in your life and be open to it.
The only thing that changed with me was my attitude; there was no magic tablet or formula. I just stopped fighting with myself and quit trying to escape my current state. I went out and started to live again, taking how I felt with.
When freedom eventually came to me, then there was nothing left to manage to or find relief from, and that was always where I wanted to be.
When we suffer from anxiety, we can go hit a fork in the road with two signs.
One points us to a safe path that has very few challenges and can be very lonely, unsatisfying and ultimately leads us nowhere. The other points to a path that looks more daunting and is full of challenges but eventually leads to a far more fulfilling place.
To make my point, I once saw a documentary on a soldier who lost a leg and half his arm in Afghanistan, and when he came back to England, his partner said he had given up on life and that he just stayed locked in his room. He was full of self-pity and became very depressed with plenty of ‘why me?’ He had decided to give in to his disability and taken to hiding away, getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself.
This attitude continued until someone came and spoke to him and said ‘You can have a very fulfilling life with the way you are, you just have to choose to live again, your disability is not stopping you enjoying life, your attitude towards it is?’.
These words hit the solider hard and from that day on he was determined to give life a go and stop hiding away feeling sorry for himself. He chose to embrace his disability and went out socialising while finding local disabled clubs that he could get involved in.
This person then went on to represent his country in a particular sport at the Paralympics and made so many new friends, going on to live a life that he never thought possible.
I am telling this story because this person had a choice, he also met a fork in the road and initially took the safe one. He decided it was easier just to give up and hide away, while at the same time feeling sorry for himself; the same route I chose many years ago.
Well, I finally got fed up of this road, and one day I decided that hiding away was not going to give me my life back, only living it would.
Yes, this approach would be a lot harder, and yes there would be some discomfort and challenges to overcome, but I was sick of the life I had now and was determined to make some real changes. I had anxiety, yes, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t live my life, that was a choice I could still make.
Choosing the road of avoidance
Most people pick the path of avoidance because they don’t want to feel the anxious energy within them. They falsely believe that the outside is actually causing their anxiety and so by avoiding it they think they will solve the problem.
The truth is that the outside has nothing to do with your anxiety, the inside does. If you didn’t have anxious energy stored within you, then you would not feel it unless you were presented with an actual situation that merited it.
So avoiding life is completely pointless and counterproductive, all it does is teach your mind that there is danger in the outside world and so instead of your mind being open and at peace with life, it becomes fearful of it. The world then appears to be a threatening place full of danger, when it is nothing of the sort. The world spins the same for all of us; it is only our mind that makes it appear differently.
So this road of avoidance not only creates a fearful mind, but it also restricts our life and helps keep all the anxious energy stored within us.
You have to realise that this safe road is not working and it is never going to give you your life back.
Initially taking the other road is hard as your mind will still be unsure and have some fear present due to your past actions of avoidance. But once you decide that you are no longer going to hide away and that your life means more to you than a few uncomfortable feelings, then you slowly teach your mind that the outside world is not to be feared. The best way to reprogram it through your actions, it won’t come through a book or by trying to master some technique.
Going out and living your life will also give you a chance to release this anxious energy within. The more willing you are to feel it, then the more you free yourself of it. Finally, your world will also begin to open up, and you will no longer be a slave to how you feel. Your anxiety will no longer make choices to what you do and don’t do; you will.
I remember the day I had, had enough and decided a life wracked with anxiety was better than no life at all. So from now on, how I felt would have to come with me, there were no more deals to be made with my anxiety, no more compromising. I was regaining my life back come what may and apart from a few uncomfortable emotions, what else could happen?
I am not saying going out there and starting to live again was easy, it wasn’t. I still experienced high anxiety, my mind still felt fearful, and I still felt a real sense of disconnection. But none of this was going to stop me getting my life back; I realised that to feel normal emotions again, then I had to be willing to go through the uncomfortable ones too and release the garbage within me.
There would times when I felt pretty exhausted mentally and physically on this journey, and so I would take some timeouts and rest when needed, but apart from these times, I decided never to let how I feel stop me doing what I wanted to do.
Choosing the right road opens up your life
When I chose this new road, I still expected to feel anxious, disconnected and fearful, even more so, as I was now coming out of my comfort zones.
I held no expectations of how I should feel, my only goal was to live a fulfilling life again. Progress wasn’t going to be measured on how I felt, but more on how much normal living I was doing. How I felt was secondary and certainly not something I would be trying to control anymore, I had tried this for years, and it did not work.
This fearless road finally took me to a far better place and a far more fulfilling life. Places and experiences that I previously feared and avoided now looked peaceful and welcoming. My life just began to open up, and all my previous emotions of fear and uncertainty began to leave me.
I eventually learned to love this new road, it was not as safe as the other road, and it had many twists, turns and bumps in it, but it was one full of victories and surprises. It felt good being in control of my life again, to be able to do what others did without going through a long list of what could go wrong and trying to plan escape routes.
I always thought that I had to feel great before going out and living my life when the only actual way to regain my freedom was to go out and live it. I had just had to let go of all my uncertainty and insecurities and embrace life and life it with these emotions present. Life ended up being my salvation; it was my cure, it was never something to avoid and hide away from.
Life helped me unearth all of what was inside of me, it brought all that anxious energy up, all the fear and insecurities and forced me to feel their presence, it was only through allowing myself to experience all this stuff that finally set me free.
I look back and realise that I was never avoiding life, I was scared of life triggering all the anxiety and fear that was within me, and that was my mistake. Once I stopped blaming life, I was finally able to live it again.
I was talking with someone the other day about his anxiety and how he first suffered. He said that it initially came about due to being put under a lot of pressure at work and there were a few problems at home that were causing him a lot of stress and worry.
He then said ‘ But Paul I have cut my hours down, the other problems no longer exist, so why do I still feel like this, nothing is changing, and I feel worn out?’
I said “The reason you are still in a cycle of anxiety is that you now have a new problem and it is this problem that is keeping your anxiety going.
To which he replied ‘What new problem’?
I replied “Anxiety'”
I could tell by talking with him that this was the case. He was rubbing his hands constantly and seemed agitated and kept mentioning how anxiety was ruining his life and that he had tried everything to overcome it without success.
How we stay in the cycle of anxiety
I explained that initially, yes, the anxiety was brought on by him worrying and stressing about work and home but even though this was no longer the case, the work and homes stresses had now been replaced with worrying and stressing about anxiety and his current predicament.
Instead of worrying and stressing over a deadline at work, he was now worried about his anxiety and how it was affecting him and those around him. His whole day was also taken up by fighting it mentally and physically, and this is the reason he felt so worn out.
He agreed with me and explained that he felt he had to beat his anxiety and that the people around him were telling him that his family needed him and that he must beat this thing. He said “Paul all I want is to be left alone but I have responsibilities, a family to feed. Everyone relies on me and your right, I have been up all night at times trying to figure a way out, trying to defeat this thing, only to have very little sleep and then wake up more defeated than ever”.
I explained to him that he was caught up in a cycle of creating new suffering through the process of worrying about his current state. All this battling and over thinking was only wearing him out further and keeping him awake at night. Recovery could never come through this approach.
The anxiety loop
This is the cycle that so many find themselves in until they see the truth for themselves. You can’t heal your symptoms of worry and stress by worrying and stressing about the symptoms themselves. You have to realise that you are creating your own problems and continued suffering through a lack of understanding.
I did the same thing, in fact, my initial problem no longer mattered, this anxiety was a far bigger problem than what brought it on.
I went through the whole cycle of continually worrying about how I now felt. I went to war with it daily and tried everything to make this damn thing go away and just got worse. I had no idea at the time that I was creating all this extra suffering.
Once I explained all this to him, he said ‘Paul I truly understand what you’re saying here, and I realise now that I am doing all of the above and it makes sense and to why I am getting nowhere’.
We then spoke about how he could now explain to his family and his boss about not only how he was feeling but also what was needed for him to recover. He needed time, space and some understanding from others, so they put no any extra burden on him.
I also explained to him that he had to accept he had anxiety for the time being and stop this pointless pursuit of trying to defeat it. In doing this, he would just create more suffering and stay in a constant loop while not giving his mind and body the chance to recover.
To recover he had to break this cycle of recreating his anxiety and then be patient enough to allow the process of healing to happen. If my body could have spoken to me many years ago, it would have said ‘Paul just leave me alone and I will heal myself’.
It kept shouting this message at me until one day I finally listened!
I used to ask myself this very question, as I always seemed to be in some form of suffering. Yes, I would have some good days along the way, but I spent most of my time unhappy and always seemed to be worrying about something or other.
Life just always seemed to be against me and wouldn’t fall into my ideal; nothing seemed to go right, and people didn’t act in the way I wanted or say what I thought they should say.
I was always searching for what was missing while thinking the outside could give it to me and so that’s where I looked. I thought, ‘I just need that promotion, a new car, a new partner, my own home and then I will finally be happy’ yet I achieved most of these things and still peace and happiness eluded me.
I also thought I had to manipulate the world into what I wanted it to be to find peace and happiness. If only I could get others to act how I wanted them to be, then I would finally be OK. I concluded like so many others do that it was the fault of the outside world and others why I was unhappy and that I just needed to make sure the outside and others were how I wanted them to be, and then peace of mind and happiness would follow.
This peace of mind and happiness is what everyone is looking for; they aren’t looking for the new car as a possession, they are looking for how it will make them feel. But how can a lump of metal ever make you feel happy inside? It can’t; it will never fill that lack inside, nothing on the outside can.
I genuinely believe that is why so many people do suffer these days as we are constantly bombarded with how we should look, how much money we should have, what material things we need, what job we need, what relationship we should have. That unless we achieve these things, then we can’t be happy. Unfortunately, the consumer market only has one interest, and your inner happiness is not one of them.
I finally realised that finding peace and happiness is an inside job and that the outside may bring snippets here and there, but I won’t find true peace and joy out there if I don’t already feel it within.
Blaming the outside can harm our friendships and relationships.
Blaming the outside for how we are feeling is also why many friendships and relationships can break down, as we mistakenly blame the other person for our emotional disturbance and unhappiness.
Because we blame them for how we are feeling, then we may lash out or think that the answer to our happiness is to change them and this is what ends up causing so much friction and arguments.
We can end up lashing out at others because we genuinely believe that this is what is causing us to feel the way that we do. It is the same with life, if we honestly think that life is making us suffer then we attempt to manipulate it. When this doesn’t work, we get angry, frustrated, stressed and so of course we suffer.
You have no control over others
The simple truth is that we have no control over how others are, who they are is hardwired into them and the result of the experiences they have had in life.
If they truly aren’t the person for you and the majority their behaviour genuinely does make you unhappy, then in the most cases you have the choice to leave the relationship or friendship behind.
But if you genuinely love and care for that person and want more peace and less drama in your friendships and relationships then begin to accept them as they are. Even if there are little quirks that annoy you then just recognise that no one is perfect.
Celebrate the fact we are all different; you cannot mould someone into who you want them to be. All attempts will just make them resent you and cause so much unwanted friction and drama and in some cases end up in you losing that person.
In my days of suffering, I lost a couple of relationships and a good friendship, as I too eventually blamed them for how I was feeling, I concluded that if I was suffering, then it had to be them.
It was only when I took a break and stepped back that I realised that I was the cause of the problems and that I was just projecting and blaming the other person for how I was feeling and so the inevitable break up followed.
It was at this point that I realised that I was doing the same thing with life. I was blaming my lack of happiness and inner peace on life itself. I honestly thought my life was the reason I was suffering and so I either spent all my time complaining about it or trying to manipulate it and then getting angry when it wouldn’t fall into place.
I would complain when it rained, complain when I was stuck in traffic, moan when the shop ran out of milk, get angry if someone cancelled on me, the list was endless.
The irony is that all of these things that I thought were making me suffer, I didn’t have one ounce of control over. Yet, there I was spending my whole day complaining about them!! There were people in the world who had no food, water or transport and could only dream of going to the shop to buy food, to drive a car and be stuck in traffic or have water drop from the sky so they could cure their thirst, and there was I complaining about it all.
I started to understand now that my suffering and my breakdown was not due to life but my non-acceptance of life as it was. It began to make real sense as to why I was always stressed and unhappy.
My lack of happiness and peace was due to my complete resistance to life as it was and because of this, my mind was never at peace with anything.
If my mind was always disturbed, stressed, worried and complaining then it made sense as to why I was never at peace. Life and others didn’t need to change to suit me; this was all down to my attitude changing.
Accepting life is full of ups and downs
The end of so much of my suffering was about seeing life and reality as it truly was and making peace with it, even when things didn’t go my way. I never complained when life went well, so why would I complain when it didn’t? Where was the rule made that it must always go our way?
The truth is that life is full of ups and downs, good and bad things will happen, that was the reality of life. But I never accepted this; life always had to go how I wanted it to, and others must behave how I thought they should. I was at constant war with my experience and then wondered why I suffered as I did!
It seemed utterly crazy to me now that I could ever believe this could be possible and that I could ever think I could find peace with this mindset. The odds of one day going exactly how I felt it should, would be over a billion to one, never mind for the rest of my life.
Life didn’t care about me or my needs; it just carried on regardless. I could either accept the reality of life with all its ups and downs or I could spend all my days suffering by fighting, worrying and getting angry with it. I tried the latter approach for many years and life always won; it wouldn’t change because I wanted it. I still got stuck in traffic, it continued rained on my day off, and I still couldn’t find my keys when I was late.
I finally accepted that life was a mixture of ups and downs, highs and lows. Some days great things would happen, and other days everything would go wrong. This process was part of life, and the ones who suffer less are the ones who accept this.
I used to come across people who always seem to be chilled and calm, nothing seemed to go wrong, and I thought they were just lucky. Looking back now, I realise it had nothing to do with luck; they mainly had the same problems as others, but they just accepted them as part of life. It wasn’t life that created their inner calm; it was their attitude towards it.
A true story of how a change in attitude brought less suffering
I have told the story below before, but I think it is worth repeating as it had such an effect on me and taught me a lot about how we create so much of our own suffering.
It is a story about a man who had fought in the gulf war where he lost a leg and half his arm in combat and was bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
He said when he first arrived home he would argue with everyone around him, snap at his partner and children. He wouldn’t accept any help and started drinking heavily. He felt immense frustration and anger due to his situation and what life had thrown at him and fell into a deep depression.
He was on the verge of ending it all and looked at his daughter sleeping, and a sudden realisation hit him. He realised he did have so much to live for and that even with his disability he could still enjoy life. He may not look like he did before but inside he felt like the same person, and that it was only the anger at his predicament that was changing his personality.
He said it was at that moment that he fully accepted his situation and with it, this immense calm come over him. He realised he wasn’t suffering because of being in a wheelchair but because he hadn’t accepted it.
This man went on to represent his country in the Paralympics and now does talks all over the country to those in the same situation.
This story hit me very hard when I read it, and it took me back to my non-acceptance of my anxiety that created so much extra suffering. When I initially suffered I was always fighting against it, arguing with it and feeling sorry for myself, not once did I accept my situation.
I remember feeling a similar peace when I let go and just allowed myself to fall into it. The anxiety was still there, but it felt different now I had finally allowed its presence and all the extra suffering created through the resistance to it fell away.
I realised the same principle held true for my life, that life wasn’t making me suffer, it was my non-acceptance of the ups and downs of it that did. My suffering was telling me that I wasn’t accepting life and others as they were.
This realisation is just pure science that if you allow things to be as they are, then there is nothing to stress or worry about, so then only peace remains. I am not saying this is easy at first, especially when we are conditioned to react differently, but with practice, it does start to become a more natural way of being.
My first test came when I was out cycling and had my wallet and phone stolen from my car. Apart from the financial cost, this was a major headache to me as it meant changing all my bank cards, getting a new driving licence and also the hassle of getting a new phone.
But even though all this had happened, I was strangely calm, like I had this inner knowing that there was nothing I could do about it. What had happened was the reality of the situation, and there was no point getting stressed or worried about it, all I could do was go and sort it out.
I would not say that I always reacted correctly and at times I did fall back into old responses, but overall there was a real shift in my attitude and due to this I found a lot more inner peace.
Accepting life as it is
Accepting life as it is doesn’t mean you don’t try and achieve anything, it’s good to succeed as long as it is not to the detriment of your health.
It also doesn’t mean you shrug your shoulders and stop caring. It means you learn to accept the reality of the situation and then take what action is needed to resolve it in a calm and balanced way. Understanding that getting angry and stressed about it only hurts you and does nothing to change the situation.
I know there are things in life that really test us and I recently had a situation where I couldn’t help but feel the strain of it. I didn’t try and deny this, I accepted the predicament and just did the best I could and allowed the concern to be present while adding no more worry to the mix.
I also realise that some really traumatic things have happened to people in their life that have caused them a lot of pain and they may need extra help and support to work through them.
But I am mainly reaching out to those who continuously stress and worry over everyday problems, things that they have no control over. To help them see that not one person who has lived on this planet has never had anything not go wrong.
I am not saying this new attitude happens overnight, it doesn’t, but life will present you with opportunities every day to practice, and in time the new approach becomes automatic.
It is about training your mind to react differently to a situation, so it spends more time in a calm space and less time in a frantic, worrying state. The less you worry and stress, then the more your mind begins to calm down naturally, and so you start to feel more peace in your life.
So much suffering is self-created
I was the reason I had a breakdown; it wasn’t due to my life or circumstances; it was a wrong vision on my part, a non-acceptance of reality as it was. My life didn’t need to change for me to be happy and find peace, just my relationship with it.
My suffering was actually telling me this and guiding me back to the right path, it forced me to look and change and so it that sense it was a blessing.
You can’t create peace; as it is your natural state. To experience it, then you just need to stop doing the things that are disturbing it. My worrying, complaining and stressing is what took me away from it. You look at anyone who suffers, and in most cases, you will find a chronic worrier, stressor or someone who always expects things to go their way. Life won’t fall into place for them to no longer suffer, only a change in attitude and perception will.
Life still brings me the same problems and challenges as it did before but my reaction and way of dealing with them are entirely different. I no longer spend my time pointlessly complaining or worrying, and due to this, I have a much more peace in my life.
Life didn’t change to bring me far more peace and happiness, I did.