...and that’s the good news!
There is no cure because when you can see on an intimate level how your panic and anxiety is created, you would understand that there is no external factor that can heal an internal issue… at least not for the long term.
Believe me, there was a point that I tried it all. I was yearning for a quick fix. And why wouldn’t I be so desperate for a ‘cure’ when I was feeling the way I had been? I tried calming techniques that were advertised, like massages and yoga. I tried hypnotherapy, drinking potions and promises made through internet searches. I even tried my luck at an anti-curse-exorcism-type of ritual (when someone suggested that I may have been cursed). And all this did was heighten my anxiety and increase the feeling of hopelessness as I pinned my hope on each everything else, and believed that if only I could do ‘this’ or ‘that,’ then it would all be over.
While activities like yoga certainly help contribute to a better quality of life, they are not the way to long term
recovery of an anxiety disorder or panic attacks, and will always be a ‘cutting the tree at the stump’ approach.
Long term freedom from chronic anxiety and panic will come from working with your thoughts and shifting your perception. You need to switch the light on your thinking pattern and bring it to consciousness. Not doing so would be as fruitless as looking for a coin on the floor in the complete darkness. We need to switch on the light and shift our focus.
Your thoughts create your feeling state. That’s it in a nutshell. Happy thought = happy feeling, worry thought = worry feeling. So why don’t you just have a happy thought? If you try forcing a happy thought, you will find yourself having a conflicting feeling. It is the level of belief that you hold in your thought that your body reacts too, that is, you can’t lie to yourself.
The relationship between thoughts and feeling is so intimate, that they are having an affair. Your bodies physiological response (eg rapid heart beat, knot in stomach, unable to breathe, panic) to a thought is so rapid that we can look straight past the thought (and sometimes believe we weren’t even thinking anything) and immediately focus on the feeing state. And that feeling state can be so powerful that we keep our mind on it and consume ourselves with thinking about how horrible it is, and that makes us feel worse and the spiral just keeps going down and down until it feels all-consuming and we feel powerless. We are never powerless but it just feels that way. And in all of that we ignore the fact that there was a thought, or two, or several that started it all. It’s a matter of catching the thought/s before it does the damage.
Depending on what the thought it is, can determine what action you take. If it’s your worrying about the anxiety (eg, “I hate this… I’m going crazy”), you may just need to let it go and come back to the present (mindfulness); or if it’s representing of deeper issues/roots under the tree (eg “I’m not a good mother…I don’t know what I’m doing”), then you may need to challenge it and be self-responsible.
I recommend reading Bronwyn Fox’s book “Power of Panic,” to fully explain techniques and that relationship between thought and feeling.
But that is the cause of the anxiety – a thought. Not something mystical that’s coming from out there, that’s come to you, or chosen you, or you've been cursed with. It’s coming from a place that needs healing and helping.
And if it’s coming from within, then does it define you? Absolutely NOT. But that’s for another time.
NB: I have been asked about medication as a ‘cure’ of anxiety. I was once prescribed anti-anxiety tablets from a GP, after I told him that I was experiencing regular panic attacks and before I found the right help. He did not bother to refer me to any psychological assistance and immediately wrote the script. I was ecstatic to be prescribed anything, but an adverse effect for me was hallucinations which lead to more panic and anxiety, and I stopped taking them after a month. I am not saying this is the same for all anti-anxiety medications, and there may be a place for medication for certain people and their situations, but for most people who put the work into recovering and find the right help, I come back to the solution coming from you and ONLY within you. Even the most anxious and panicked can find their way as we all have the capacity to recover.
...that I forgot myself in the process. I lacked self-responsibility, and most of us do when we are overwhelmed with our emotions. We are usually the type of person that takes care of everyone else’s needs, and takes on other people’s problems and worries. We are the type that can sit for hours on end with a friend who is struggling; have all the time in the world to listen to their issues, and usually feel sorry or guilty when we can’t give our all. We are empathetic, patient and understanding and offer sound advice and encouragement. Never once do we dismiss another person’s struggle or make them feel silly for feeling the way they feel. Because they are entitled to… right?
But aren’t we?
We see others’ ‘imperfections’ as being human, and ours as failures. Why do we allow the anxiety and depression to consume us and paralyse us and why do we turn our anger on to ourselves?
Why do we lack self-responsibility?
When I was working through recovery, I was called to be self-responsible. I was given a task - to write down my thoughts when I was feeling anxious, to really ask myself what I was thinking at that moment. And then later, when exploring the roots under the tree, I was taught to challenge those thoughts with what I had learned. I was not a very good student for some time, because I didn’t give myself a chance. When the thoughts would creep up, I would be quite dismissive of them; rather than be open or accepting of what I was thinking, I would be angry at myself for thinking that way. The general feeling deep inside was ‘grow up… you know better than that…stop being stupid’ and just plain anger. Instead of giving myself a chance, I would tear up the paper and say, ‘I have no time for this,’ and continue my day, snaked in anxiety.
It was a different time for us growing up. We were not taught how to take care of our emotions, and perhaps were even scolded for expressing our feelings or showing ‘negative’ emotions like fear, anger or sadness. We are adults now, but that fact doesn’t magically arm us with the tools we need. Chances are we have taken what we have learned from our past into our present.
I have a friend who is suffering greatly from anxiety. She feels underserving of any self-care, and feels that she will be acting selfishly when I suggested that she begin to help herself. Yet she is the most caring and empathetic person to other people and will shed a tear with your tear in a heartbeat. It is a shame that her lack of self-worth and lack of self-responsibility are a huge road-block to her peace and finding freedom from fear.
I once read a sign that said, “No one is coming.” And this sums it up perfectly. Of course prayers and faith are integral to growth and peace but as I have always believed, God gave us the power of knowledge and the skills to self-help. His hand will not come down from the sky and pull you out of this. Neither will anyone else’s hand. It is time to step up, be ‘selfish’, start by being less responsible for everyone else, and being responsible for yourself. Perhaps step outside of yourself for a moment and imagine you are having coffee with you, and just see then how you would be or what you would say.
This is from Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem:
On Self Responsibility:
To achieve a healthy level of self-esteem, you must be able to accept who you are and be confident about your decisions and behavior.
But there is another important ingredient in the development of self-esteem that is often overlooked — the ability to take responsibility for your future. To live self-responsibly, you must be able to influence your behavior freely in three major areas:
Remember: You cannot respect or trust yourself if you continually pass on to others the burdens of your existence.
During one of my more difficult moments, when I felt overwhelmed by anxiety, I recall having a session with Bronwyn. She was quiet as I unleased my pain and gulped on my tears. “This is not me,” I cried. “I can’t be like this…”
Calmly, she said. “What would happen if you accept yourself, Sonia?”
I was horrified! “Accept? No way! How can I accept myself this way?”
I could still hear her voice to this day as she answered, “I will tell you what would happen if you accept yourself… you will recover.”
How could I? To accept myself the way I was feeling… anxious, nervy, riddled with all the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and feeling so different to everyone else… would be the LAST thing I wanted to do. And it seemed an impossible task to me. For me, I felt that self-acceptance would mean that I was relinquishing control. The thought that I no longer would need to ‘fight’ my experience was terribly frightening. I wanted to be in control, stay on to top of it, and conquer this by pushing my way past, with my anger, if you will. I couldn't see that in actual fact, giving up control would mean victory.
I felt that I was working hard at the recovery, and putting in the work that was required… I was meditating, practising mindfulness, I was letting thoughts go and challenging others. As I moved through the process I felt as though I was making some progress, but I never felt quite there, and there was a general feeling of unease inside of me, for which I couldn't understand why.
Bronwyn knew why and she was waiting for me to see that realisation. That no matter how much work you put in to yourself with all the therapies and tools you learn, it will mean nothing in the end if you hold yourself at an arm’s length away or if you despise and blame yourself. It would be like telling another, “I am here for you, I want to see you grow/improve/develop, I will help you… but please don’t get too close because I really don’t like you.” How would that sound? That person would run the other direction and put up an almighty resistance to any help you offer them. And that is the same for the way in which we treat us. We can not lie to ourselves... ever... you can try, but deep down you know the truth. And if you feel blame/anger/resentment towards yourself because of what you are going through, then you will be bashing your head against the recovery wall.
It's so easy to read delightful poetry and mantras that talk about self-acceptance but the hard bit is putting it into practise. Why? Because if we accept ourselves in whatever moment we are in, in however way we are feeling; if we accept our emotions, our perceived failures and shortcomings… then we are saying to ourselves “I am good enough...I am a human...I am imperfect..." And for many people, this is far from the truth that they feel deep within.
Self-acceptance does not mean you have to agree with or even like your experience. Self-acceptance does not mean self-love either. Who wants an anxiety disorder, or depression, or struggles in life? It will be terribly insincere to walk around saying "I feel great... I love myself..." when in fact you don't. I believe self-acceptance is owning your experience, to let go of the blame you place upon yourself and the hatred; to say these crucial words.. "THIS IS ME FOR NOW...not forever, but for now." And give yourself a break - having depression, anxiety or any pain or struggles in life, can be terribly frightening and difficult and is NOT YOUR FAULT. It is what it is. Does it mean you have to live with it and there are no other options? Absolutely NO! But can you begin to accept yourself so that you can trust yourself enough to work through it and power on? Absolutely YES!
Self-acceptance does not come easy, and it certainly didn't come easy for me. You need to work at it like everything else. The more you exercise it, the more naturally it will come. At times I can still find it a challenge. But I know that the self-hatred and blame took me nowhere, and I can see clearly that I have a choice - to go down the spiral or look up towards peace and freedom.