A lady on here mentioned how taking a break from the subject of anxiety really helped her. I have also said it a lot in the past, and it is covered quite a bit in my book. As I felt it was an important subject, I thought it only right to dedicate a post to it.
It’s great to finally find information that builds up your understanding of anxiety and gives you the knowledge and tools to recover. But sometimes people can immerse themselves in the subject. They may spend hours trawling through books, internet searches, spending hours on chat rooms or forums.
This endless search usually occurs because people are desperate to find instant relief for how they are feeling. Many people have come back to me and said something along the lines of, “Paul your words resonated with me deeply back then, but you didn’t offer that instant fix that I so desperately wanted, and so I kept searching for it. This endless search made me finally realise you were right and that the miracle cure doesn’t exist and this has to come from me”.
I have lost count on the number of people have come back to me after going on this fruitless search for this miracle cure that somehow up to now the whole of the internet has kept a secret from them. It doesn’t help that there are so many people out there who promise to do just that.
The reason they do so is not that it is achievable, but because it sells. It is what people want to hear, they don’t want the long road that will lead them to freedom, they want the instant overnight fix and so they keep searching for it. Well, I have been around this subject for the last 25 years and I have yet to meet one person who found some program or technique that cured them instantly.
This search can become compulsive to many and in some cases, become a full-time job. People don’t realise that this constant search is just feeding the subject of anxiety into their subconscious mind on a daily basis, which in turn can lead to them thinking about anxiety 24/7. This fruitless search also tires them out mentally, and so the world can begin to appear grey and flat. Also, due to this exhaustion, the sufferer may find it hard to concentrate, and thinking can feel like a real effort.
Let go of the need to fix yourself
I can’t tell you how much time I wasted trying to ‘rid’ myself of anxiety and not just allow its presence. I read every book out there and visited every therapist within a 50-mile radius; I tried pills, potions, techniques and got nowhere.
I fought with myself daily because I genuinely believed I had the power to get rid of these feelings. I was also continually asking myself “why do I feel like this?”, “Why am I not getting better?”, “will this ever go away?”, “what if I do this, will it help?” my mind was continually going over the subject. I never had a break from it and never let anything else in.
At the height of my suffering, I did nothing else but think of anxiety; it was the last thing I thought of at night and that first thing I thought of when I woke. I got to the stage where I was utterly bored with the subject but yet felt compelled to think about it constantly. I just felt stuck in a loop and had no idea how to free myself; it was terribly frustrating.
I knew at this point that things needed to change and so I stepped back and looked at it objectively. I realised that the reason I could not get my mind of the subject was that I had thought about it that much that it had become a deep-seated habit. I knew that trying not to think about it would not work, as my habit would not allow this to happen. The answer would be to no longer try and figure anything out while allowing the past habit of thinking about me and the subject to die down naturally.
So this meant allowing the habit of thinking about myself and the subject to be present for as long as the habit demanded without adding any more thinking about it on top. This was the approach that would finally break the cycle.
The need to take a break from anxiety
I also realised that I needed to pack in some healthy living and so instead of brooding at home, continually thinking about my predicament, I would go for a swim. Instead of spending hours worrying about myself, I would go for a walk, and instead of spending all day trying to figure everything out, I would go out on my bike.
As you can see, I was not trying to ignore the subject; I was building up a new habit and giving my mind something else to immerse itself in.
When I first started to add other things into my day, then my world continued to appear pretty grey and flat, and I had little enthusiasm over anything. My mind was still exhausted due to my past overthinking and the habit of thinking about the subject still had a strong pull to it, but I understood that this would be present for a while and so I gave in to it.
I remember going for a swim when I felt at my worst. At the time I just wanted to shut the world away, and not go out, but I knew if I wanted the old me back, then I had to go. When I arrived, as usual, I felt strange and detached from my surroundings, but I got changed and went into the pool.
As I was swimming the other people there seemed strange, like I was in some kind of dream, and my mind kept reverting back to me and the subject. But I expected this and knew that things would not change overnight. In the past, I would have felt sorry for myself while questioning it all and trying to force normal feelings through more deep thinking.
When I arrived home I was pleased that I had taken that first step, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, as I didn’t, but I didn’t go to enjoy it, I went to regain my life. After that, I went out more often without demanding or expecting anything. Within a few weeks of doing all the things I had previously avoided, I felt almost normal at times, and the habit of thinking about me and the subject was genuinely starting to weaken.
I now realised that if I wanted the old me back, then I had to pack in as much normal living as possible without continually questioning and getting down about how I felt and without trying to manipulate a different state, no matter how strange or detached I felt.
Don’t allow anything to stop you living your life
Living my life while taking how I felt with me was certainly starting to change me. At first, I felt like a prisoner who had just been freed from jail, and it took time for me to get used to living normally again. My mind and body took time to adjust as I had been so used to hiding away, but the more I did things, the more normal they began to feel.
This is what I mean when I say recovery comes in layers; it takes time to adjust to a new way of being, but with perseverance, it does happen.
Within a few months of continuing in this way, I can honestly say that the habit of thinking about the subject was entirely behind me. I was now thinking about what to have for lunch and what I would wear for the night out, rather than what technique I could come up with next to get through the day.
I recently had a comment on my Facebook page from a lady who replied to someone who said they couldn’t stop thinking about anxiety; here is her advice on what helped her.
Once I completely unfollowed all anxiety related stuff online, stopped reading books on the subject and stopped discussing it with others and finally decided that I was going to enjoy my life with or without anxiety present, then it finally started to go away. If you are still spending all your day trying not to feel anxiety, then you are still giving far too much attention to it.
It is much better to acknowledge you have anxiety and decide not to let it get in the way of living your life, don’t try not to feel it, if you allow it there then you have nothing to obsess and worry about. This approach will lead to your brain focusing on other subjects, and you will start to feel engaged with the other things in your life and the world around you. Then one day, you will look back, and the subject will be a distant memory.
Someone recently asked me how I manage working with the subject of anxiety to the degree I do now. The truth is I manage my time well, if I ever feel I am overdoing it then I take some time off. I also rarely, if ever talk about the subject outside of the work I do.
I have plenty of healthy time away where I indulge in hobbies and socialising. Also, the subject is behind me now, so it doesn’t affect me writing about it. It doesn’t bring back any uncomfortable emotions or memories; it is just an outlet to help others.
Tips for leaving the subject of anxiety behind
- Go out and live your life as you usually would, don’t let how you feel stop you. If you want normal feelings to resurface, then you have to live the life you normally would.
- Learn to take breaks from the subject of anxiety and have the courage to leave the subject behind you. What I talk about in my books and on this blog is meant to eventually guide you away from the subject and take you back to living your life. Gathering knowledge is not intended to be a practice you do for the rest of your life.
- If you find it hard to not think about anxiety due to a past habit of doing so, then learn to allow the habit to be present without adding more thinking about it on top. In doing this, you are breaking the constant loop of thinking about it and just letting the habit die down of its own accord.
- People who give up smoking have a strong pull out of habit to put a cigarette in their mouth, the ones who finally give up are the ones who allow this habit to be present without indulging in it and then in time the habit leaves them. It is the exact same principle, the habit to think about and go over the subject of anxiety and how you are feeling may be present, but it doesn’t mean you have to indulge in it. In time, and without your participation, that habit will begin to fall away, and your mind will naturally think of other things.
- Finally, be patient, it takes time for habits to die down and the reason so many people stay stuck in a loop of trying to change things instantly. We all want the instant coffee approach where we can step out of discomfort and habits straight away, but unfortunately, this usually only takes you further into what you are trying to be free of.
Changing any habit takes time, so allow this process to take place with as little frustration as possible.