Those of us with anxiety disorders tend to steer away from situations that (we think) will induce high anxiety or panic. Here is why you should not avoid discomfort and what you can do to grow stronger.
I have lived with anxiety for most of my life and it grew worse with age. I avoided situations that induced panic, which meant I gradually moved further away from my values as I avoided more and more situations. When I did do something that I thought I would make me anxious I would drown it out with avoidance strategies like medication and alcohol, or just avoid it completely.
What I found and I think most with anxiety do is that avoiding discomfort makes your world smaller. One situation is avoided, and then another then another…and the next thing you know, you may not want to leave your house. After all, who wants to do anything that makes them uncomfortable, anxiety disorder or not?!
One of the reasons accepting anxiety – versus avoiding it – is tough is because it is scary as hell. When my anxiety spiked high recently my first thought was to go back to the meds, do something to avoid it. However, I persevered and did not succumb to my crutches from the past. Not only did I survive, my confidence grew and I fear anxiety a (little bit) less.
While there are some specific triggers I have not had the opportunity to tackle, yet I have come a long way since hospitalization in December 2018. I have become outspoken about my experience with anxiety and has been an exposure in and of itself, and does not make me comfortable.
I share my experiences with anxiety through my blog and social media. I worry about what my friends, family and co-workers will think – yet I feel that I am called to do this, so I do. I push through the discomfort.
I also share my experiences live. I spoke last week to the class going through the same treatment program I went through. Tonight I will share my anxiety experience for the People Tree. While I enjoy public speaking, I am still anxious about:
- Sharing my anxiety experience with complete strangers
- Speaking in front of 250 people
- Being vulnerable to what people might think or say
- Being good enough to even do something like this
- Being prepared enough to deliver a talk without notes
Yet I will push forward.
If you are in a position to push your comfort zone with anxiety, I highly recommend starting by exposing yourself to your feels. Certainly start with the aid of a mental health professional. Exposures can be small at first (e.g. if you have social anxiety, say hello to a stranger at the store) and grow larger as your confidence grows.
What ends up happening is that you learn that you will survive the situation. Do this enough and your brain will become convinced too, which means the anxious thoughts will grow weaker and happen less frequently. What exposure also does it is strengthens you by giving you confidence. After all, anxiety has a way of making someone feel weaker than others and like they do not belong. I personally experienced this and still do.
You ARE strong. You CAN do this.
Remember, thoughts are thoughts, not facts – so try not to give the intrusive thoughts the power to stop you from living your life. I am here to tell you that pushing myself has made me stronger and I hope it can help you or a loved one too.