Today we are continuing our reading of the book “Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks”, a book by best-selling author Barry McDonagh.
It’s OK not to feel OK
Let us begin on page 18 “You are the cure”. The very first thing to be aware of as we set off on this journey is that it’s OK not to feel OK.
That’s the launching point all the months or years, that anxiety has been with you can really take their toll. It may have been a very long time since you really felt like yourself.
A person who experiences frequent panic attacks or general anxiety is constantly bombarded with a cocktail of stress hormones. This bombardment not only makes your nervous system highly sensitized to stress, but it also leaves you feeling cut off from the world reality.
Now, you know that the anxiety you feel is simply due to your body’s stress response, you can begin to feel more and more comfortable about it. The second thing is to be aware that you are not a weak or cowardly person for having an anxiety problem.
I have worked with some of the bravest people you could ever hope to meet, i.e. police officers, firefighters, and military personnel, who could perform incredibly brave feats in the line of duty and yet who were tormented by anxiety issues.
I once worked for the police chief, a decorated officer who supervises over 300 police officers who wouldn’t sit in the barbers for a haircut. He dealt with highly pressurized situations every working day and felt very much in control.
Yet, in the barber’s chair, he fell out of control as he had a panic attack there once before. So, don’t think of yourself as being weak or less courageous than others.
Just because you suffer from anxiety far from it, I assure you that the anxiety you feel is not that different from the anxiety experienced by all the other people who have successfully used this approach. Over the years I have come across such a wide range of anxiety issues that nothing surprises me anymore.
The Overwhelming False Notions Hurt
Panic disorder, anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or OCD behind all the different manifestations is the same thing “Anxiety”. I don’t like to subcategorize anxiety into individual labels or even call it a disorder, I mentioned those terms above only so that you’re clear that what I’m talking about is what you’ve heard labels are useful only for defining an experience.
A person is going through right at that time in life. They should not be understood as something that now makes up a person’s personality or as something they will have forever, yes. We started recording people who tend to over-identify with clinical labels. Once they have been given one by their doctor or mental health professional.
Yet an anxiety disorder is simply an experience that a person moves through just like a period of grief or sadness. Would we give a person with a broken heart or someone suffering from grief a label for it? Yet people who go through a period of anxiety sometimes end up believing that this diagnosis, this label, is now a part of who they are.
How fast will I be able to end my anxiety problem? The speed and matter in which each individual heals their anxiety is always different, so it’s impossible to say exactly how fast and in what way it will happen for you.
The Combination of Right Approach and Willingness
In general, however, it’ll unfold in stages for most people. Before I explain what those stages look like I want to share an important point. The speed of your recovery is determined by your “willingness” to experience your anxiety in the right way up until now you’ve been experiencing anxiety in the wrong way.
I’m going to teach you how to experience it in the right way and paradoxically by doing this you can heal it quickly. It’s a bit like turning a release valve the wrong way and just closing it tighter. You need to turn it in a counter-intuitive manner to cause a release. Once you apply this new approach, you’ll move through some predictable stages.
6 Stages of Healing
First of all if panic attacks are a problem for you, they become less frequent in a very short space of time. This happens because you learn how to remove the fear of the bodily sensations that have been triggering them. Your confidence in your body’s ability to handle the stress starts to return enabling you to visit again the places you may have been avoiding.
Next, your level of general anxiety starts to go down from say an 8 out of 10 to a 4 or 5. This stage of reducing general anxiety is a slower process as you have to allow time for your nervous system to become less sensitized as in being sensitive to sensations and triggers that trigger your anxiety, including the sensations, just regular sensations in your body, that aren’t necessarily anxiety.
That can trigger anxiety when you are highly sensitive. Usually, it takes about six to eight weeks so about a month and a half to two months on average.
For most people to become grounded and desensitized this healing process is not linear. It’s not like the mending of a broken bone. You’ll likely move forward and then back and then leap forward again.
Your general anxiety decreases and anxious thoughts or worries appear less frequently. This happens because your fearful response to them has reduced.
You know you can still have those thoughts, but by this point, you’re not as sensitive to them as you used to be, So you can be more present with them if they felt like a punch to the stomach. Before now they might feel just like a mild annoyance and not something that really shocks you anymore. It’s also at this stage that uncomfortable feelings, like derealization, which are feelings of unreality start to diminish. We get to come back to reality.
This is a transition phase where you move from always feeling anxious to noticing the absence of the anxiety. If anxiety has been present for many years this stage in the process can feel strange, like a storm that’s been raging for so long that suddenly goes quiet. Can it really be gone? You ask yourself what if it comes back worse than ever returning to the metaphor we used earlier.
This stage can feel a little bit like being freed from prison where you’re still worrying that you might get thrown back in at any moment. The key there is to remain open to that ok that includes those of you who have physical manifestations of your anxiety, such as back pain.
Next comes a setback. Setbacks can be a major blow to your newly found confidence. You thought you were free of anxiety and now it seems to be back and as bad as ever.
You think to yourself, I knew it would come back. I’ll never be rid of this. There is something seriously wrong with me. After all, many people flounder here because they get so upset and frustrated. This is a normal response, but it’s essential at this point to understand that setbacks are part of the recovery.
Don’t give up; you’re very close to the finish. This is a crucial phase. You must pass through a bit like a final test to see if you’re really ready to let go of your anxiety. Remember it’s truly darkest before dawn.
Finally, after some more time practicing, you realize that it’s been a few weeks since you gave much thought at all to anxiety. This is a sign that you’re almost recovered from the sensitization of anxiety.
Always bear in mind that setbacks can happen sometimes even years later and without warning. But for the most part it’s just a matter of staying the course from here on out and enjoying your newfound freedom.
The above stages are typical of how recovery happens from most people. As I mentioned, not everyone experiences the same pattern as anxiety manifests differently for each individual. You may deal only with anxious thoughts and not bodily sensations or maybe you have a problem. That is not only with general anxiety but with panic attacks as well. That is why I added a special chapter on the dare response for panic attacks.
I like to sometimes imagine the process of recovery described above. Like the sun coming out from behind a dark cloud and shining its light on a thick fog. The fog represents anxiety and how it traps you in a confused and fearful state.
As you apply the dare response, the sun appears and its warmth begins to lift the fog. Sometimes the weather changes and the fog rolls back, the temperature drops, and the fear returns again.
Great Things Take Time
These are your setbacks however if you stay focused and practice the dare response, the sun reappears and lifts the fog once more. The journey of recovery is done at each individual’s own speed. “Please don’t compare yourself to others”.
There will always be people moving faster or slower than you toward recovery, allowing yourself to heal in your own time and that’s a good reminder to have as well if those of you who like affirmations. I am personally not a big fan of affirmations, but if there is a set of words that you can use to remind yourself of what you’re working on that’s a good one right there.
So allow yourself to heal in your own time. So, you can say to yourself whenever you’re addressing your anxiety, you can say, take as much time as you need or you can just say to yourself I am taking as much time as i need.
The beauty of it is that the statement starts to become real in other areas of your life as well such as your lunch break, your sleeping time at night, your rest time, your time off, and all those spaces during your days and your weeks where you really need to slow down and take as much time as you need to get whatever task or whatever duty you have to take care of. As opposed to rushing yourself through those things.
The same is true for personal goals and desires to take as much time as you need to achieve your goals. You didn’t have to achieve your goals yesterday, which is the usual thing that people in the chronic pain community want to do and then these episodes of anxiety become more and more frequent because that’s one habit that needs to be addressed for the chronic cycle.
You know we all have our so-called abnormalities and it just so happens. You know if control is your thing. If that’s what you’re into whenever you don’t feel like you’re in control. It’s normal for that to trigger your anxiety and it’s also normal to be completely unaware of how attached you are to your need for control.
So at some point becoming more aware that you have a strong need for control and that sometimes not feeling in control can trigger your anxiety. That awareness can have a very therapeutic effect especially if you work towards being a control freak anymore.
Believe it or not, there are some people out there that get a tremendous amount of pleasure from cutting people open and taking out their organs and a great way to use that shadow tendency in a positive way in society is to become a surgeon.
So be very careful with the internet gurus that their mission is that you have to become enlightened, you have to become transcend your ego and don’t be a control freak anymore and don’t be a warrior anymore don’t be this type of person anymore. These are impulses that you can spend an entire lifetime trying to get to the bottom of and some of us don’t have that much time.
You know there are other ways. You can just integrate that into your life in a healthy way, perhaps if you are working in a company and you’re not the head of the project, you’re not the leader, you’re not the boss, you’re not the decision-maker and you are a control freak then yes you can work towards making your career in a way where you are the shot caller.
You make the decisions, you call the shots and you supervise x amount of people because that’s the type of person you are. You are a self-starter. You don’t need people to tell you what to do as a matter of fact most chronic pain sufferers don’t like being told what to do.
Hence why I never tell people what to do so it’s all suggestions and recommendations. You don’t have to join these girls. You don’t have to do anything but that’s one thing to be mindful of and yes does that make sense.
I find the whole concept of control and anxiety really interesting because I know myself when I am losing control. Things aren’t going the way I think they should be going then. That’s when I believe the anxiety comes in. That’s right but you know I think a lot of us hear about the textbook description of anxiety.
Could you go over some of the less obvious manifestations. Do you have some examples in mind? Like I know that there’s a lot of different ways it can manifest but I know, like the rapid breathing, the chest pain, the panic, the obvious panic attacks, but I think that there’s some other things that I’m feeling.
For instance, just the mind can’t process the conversations anymore so I don’t know if there’s any other examples that you can provide of the less obvious forms of anxiety other than like the textbook when it comes to the what I call a healing journey for people with chronic pain.
I point out some that are not so obvious.
The striving is one that’s very common in the chronic pain community and they can show up for people. Who are workaholics may not even realize that they’re workaholics or the productivity junkies that have a strong need for productivity and constantly being productive and constantly having to do something that’s a very subtle manifestation of anxiety and that’s one of the manifestations that usually goes unnoticed because it feels fantastic.
It feels great, you know. It’s not the usual uncomfortable feeling that you know that most people describe in books, like people-pleasing, striving, controlling, overachieving etc. I have been contemplating, I am still debating with myself on reading a fourth and final book after this one.
I am still contemplating it and it goes into detail of different types of anxieties. We have some health anxiety you know. You’re always concerned about your health. The medical people may call it hypochondriac personally.
I don’t like that word because I have had that form of anxiety before and mainly because I was a sick child so moral anxiety is the type of anxiety where you’re overly concerned with moral issues, overly concerned with being a very good christian or a very good Buddhist or very good monk etc.
For people who have that type of anxiety and it is so common in the chronic pain community, they go really heavy into spiritual practice, especially if they heard from some internet guru that you have to practice mindfulness and practice meditation and be more peaceful in order to heal your back.
Yet this individual may not realize the reason why the back pain is there. To begin with is because they have disowned their anger, their rage, their aggression, their hostility, their heated emotions that are not so spiritual.
Give Yourself Enough Good Time
The very first thing that I believe may be beneficial for you is to give yourself as much time as you need to not be okay just experiencing this experience that you’re having. Maybe back pain, anxiety, depression whatever it is give yourself as much time as you need, especially if you’re the type of person to give other people as much time as they need.
You are extremely patient with other people and not so patient with yourself so if there’s an affirmation the words are I am learning to be compassionate with myself, I am learning to be patient with myself, I am learning to give myself all the time and all the space that I need to be with myself not necessarily to heal because there’s really nothing to heal.
You know just to be with yourself, be with your emotions, be with your pain, be with your grief, be with your sorrow, be with your anger, be with your resentment, your frustrations and life. And, all that stuff just give yourself as much time as you need to be with yourself and that will be the exercise for this week.
We will explore and we may have a different exercise for you all based on what we get through in the reading other than that.
Thank you for reading this and taking the time to be here. Feel free to join the Book Club to get the exercises with each reading.