I recently wrote a tweet advising on ‘How to recover from anxiety’ The tweet ended up being one of the most liked and retweeted ones I have put together, so I decided to expand on it in the blog post. It will explain not only what causes anxiety but also what keeps you in the cycle of recreating it.
Firstly the original tweet is below
Recovery is not just about going through a process of healing past suffering: it is also about truly understanding what created that suffering so that you no longer recreate it.
The point is pretty obvious, in that if you are going through a process of healing, yet still doing the things that caused you to suffer in the first place, then healing will not occur, as all you will do is keep recreating your initial suffering.
One of the main things I did through my recovery from anxiety was pinpoint the very thing that was causing me to suffer and then concentrate on that. I had no hope at all of recovering if I didn’t understand and deal with what was initially causing me to feel the way I did.
I had zero interest in treating or managing my symptoms; I just wanted to pull out the root. Going for massages, doing yoga, meditating and drinking chamomile tea, etc, is all well and good and I have nothing against it. But in pretty much every case, it is done with the goal of calming the symptoms and is not an attempt to eliminate the cause of the suffering.
I know of many sufferers who go on relaxing retreats and while on them feel great, but yet come home and carry on as they were before. They often get addicted to how they felt when they were on the retreat and so continually book in for another. Wouldn’t they be far better finding out why they felt the need to go on the retreat in the first place, what is the cause of their constant stress and discomfort?
The analogy below may seem a bit silly, but it was the one that I used because it made sense to me.
So let’s say I had this baking machine at home that made lovely cakes and as these beautiful cakes were being produced I started to eat them. The trouble is I can no longer eat the number of cakes being produced, so I began to store them. The only problem now is that they are taking up vast amounts of space in my house and I can barely move.
So to deal with this, I approach a local company who said they would transport the cakes to the local tip to be disposed of for a small daily fee. At last, I had found a solution to my problem. So each day as the cakes were being made, I would place them in boxes and load them onto the van.
The problem I had now was that this was getting way too expensive and it was also very tiring work: I had not solved the problem at all! Then one day I realised that the only lasting solution was to no longer create these cakes in the first place, I needed to pull the plug from the machine and all my problems were solved. Why had I never thought of this before?
Again this may seem a silly way of putting my point across, but it is the same principle. If you are still creating your symptoms, then the problem will always exist. So, in the same way, you can’t recover from the symptoms of worry and stress, while you are still worrying and stressing. You have to stop creating the worry and stress so that you can then go through a healing process of the symptoms that the initial worry and stress created.
How I recreated my suffering
Here I will give you some of my own examples of how I realised I was solely responsible for how I felt.
When I was at my worst, I used to worry and obsess daily about how I was feeling; I would spend all day continually trying to think my way better. This constant mental effort eventually pushed my brain beyond its limits, so it became incredibly exhausted, and so I felt the symptoms of this.
The outside world would look very grey and lifeless, my thinking became slow and laboured, and I had no motivation or interest in anything while also feeling detached from my surroundings. What I mistakenly did then is worry and think deeply about these new symptoms, which only served to exhaust my mind even further. This process is precisely what kept me in the cycle of mental exhaustion and why nothing ever changed.
To recover, I had to understand what was causing me to feel the way I did and so I started to ask myself questions like: Why do I feel so detached and confused? Why is the world appearing so grey and one dimensional? Why is my thinking so laboured? Once I realised that I was mentally exhausted through overthinking, worrying and obsessing about how I felt. Then I knew for me to recover that not only did I have to stop doing these things but that I also had to give space and time for the past suffering I had created to heal.
So this is what I did, I just allowed my mind to feel as detached and as worn out as it needed to be (I had no choice anyway). I no longer tried to fix the symptoms. I didn’t worry and obsess over how I felt, and so with the break my mind now had, this symptom of exhaustion healed. It didn’t have a prayer of healing before with the cycle I was in, as, through a process of trying to fix myself, I was stuck in a continuous loop.
Coming through anxious feelings
It was the same thing my feelings of anxiety that I worried and fought with for years. My initial anxiety was brought on through stress and worry and then when the severe anxiety hit I had a new thing to stress and worry about and hence why nothing changed; another loop was created.
I had to realise that stress and worry were the initial cause of my anxiety and so find a way to cease this and then allow the symptoms of my anxiety to heal. This is the whole basis of what allowing is about; you are not doing it to try and feel better; you are doing it to allow your mind and body to heal.
It took a while before I understood that I had created this anxious energy within me through stress and worry and me feeling anxious was just my body’s way of releasing what I had created. So the best thing I could do was to allow this anxiety to be present, it was the only way I could be free of it. Trying numerous techniques to suppress it was utterly pointless and counterproductive. No one has ever defeated anxiety through struggle, effort, or through suppressing, as it doesn’t work that way.
It is the same as someone who suffers from panic attacks: this is just a more intense build-up of this energy. Going through a panic attack is just your body’s way of releasing all this extra energy. It is the same principle as when a volcano explodes: it is just releasing all that excess energy within that it can no longer store and then when it has released it then goes back to being calm.
Recovery comes through understanding and not through fighting
So as you can see, my recovery came through a deep understanding of what was causing the suffering in the first place. Realising, I had to stop doing what was causing me to suffer and then going through a process of allowing my past suffering to heal.
There was no amazing realisation that made all my suffering go away: I had to go through a process of healing like everyone else. A big part of ending the constant search is to realise that there is no miracle answer out there or quick fix. You just have to be able to see the truth behind what is causing you to feel the way you do, cut out what is causing the suffering and then go through a process of healing. There really is no fight to be had.
When you truly understand the process, then you realise that all your attempts to get out of the condition were the exact reason you stayed in it.
If you would like to read my personal story of how I overcame anxiety, then you will find this and much more in my best selling book ‘At last a life’. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and is recommended by many therapists and is now on prescription at many doctors surgeries.