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I have been asked all sorts of questions througout my years of helping people with Anxiety and Panic and certain questions came up far more than others. So for everyone's benefit I decided to list some of the most popular ones below...
Q.1 I feel so strange and out of touch with the world around me. Am I going mad?
No, you are definitely not. You may feel as if you are, but this is just another offshoot of anxiety. Anxiety is not a mental illness. These feelings cannot harm you and there is nothing to worry about.
Otherwise known as depersonalization and derealization, this feeling of unreality and detachment has a totally logical explanation. It comes from the constant worrying about how you feel as you search your mind for answers to your condition. Your mind has become tired and less resilient through watching yourself and worrying about your symptoms, day in, day out. It has been bombarded with worrying thoughts and becomes fatigued. Just as our limbs can tire, so can our mind. It craves a rest from all this introspection of oneself.
In fact these feelings of unreality are your body's way of protecting you from the onslaught of worrying thoughts. Your mind has a safety mechanism that protects against all this, causing us to feel strange and not with it. It is crying out to be left alone and just like a broken arm will heal itself; so will your body, you just have to step out of the way and let it.
The key to recovering from this feeling of detachment is to surrender to this strange feeling, to pay it no respect and realize it is just the product of an over-tired mind, fatigued by your constant worrying thoughts and the constant checking in to how you feel. Constantly worrying about this symptom is the very thing that keeps this feeling alive. When people are caught up in the worry cycle, they begin to think deeply and constantly. They study themselves from deep within, checking in and focusing on their symptoms. They may even wake in the morning only to continue this habit, "How do I feel this morning?" "I wonder if I will be able to get through today." "What's this new sensation I feel?" This may go on all day, exhausting their already tired mind further. This constant checking in and constant assessing of their symptoms then becomes a habit, but like all other habits this one can also be changed.
This question I have been asked more than any other over the years and I go into a lot of detail in my book to explain this harmless yet disturbing symptom. This condition can really throw people into thinking it is something far worse than it really is. I myself found this feeling of detachment very hard to accept and understand, but when it was explained to me in full, I was able to rid myself of this symptom of anxiety.
Q.2 Why do I feel better in certain situations and not in others?
This is a very common one and it all comes down to how you think in other situations. For example, you may feel better in the safety of your own home rather than at a family gathering. There is no difference in both of these situations, the only difference is in the way you think. You are the same person and it is not the situation that makes you feel worse it is your thought pattern.
You may spend the day worrying about going to a particular function, setting your body up to be anxious on arrival and then blame it on the situation you are in rather than the thought pattern you have created during the day while at home. You may get there and then also worry about making a fool of yourself, spending the whole time tensing against how you feel and creating more anxiety. Do you see how we do this to ourselves? It is not the situation, but our perception of the situation that causes us to feel worse in certain situations. You are merely doing it to yourself with your thoughts.
You must just accept how you feel wherever you are and in whatever situation you find yourself; deal with yourself and not the place. Sometimes a place may hold certain memories of failure, which makes us feel anxious, but this soon passes when we learn to accept how we feel and let go of that tension. Don't try and hold on to yourself, learn how to let go and just be.
If you truly accept how you feel in every situation and stop all the "What if's" and other negative thoughts that just increase anxiety, you will find that although you may feel uncomfortable at times, nothing bad is going to happen to you, and in time your reactions lessen until you feel more able to cope, day by day. Anxiety loves avoidance, so take it's power away and move forward and embrace these feelings of fear, this is the key , moving towards your fears is far more productive than hiding from them... By continually hiding and running away from how you feel you are training your mind and body to fear, this again is another habit born through anxiety, but again like with all habits it can be reversed.
Avoiding symptoms just does not work, as you must realize by now. you need to let all feelings be there, not to avoid them but to go through them, invite them even. This worked for me, I had faced my demons head on and realized this was the only way to stop fearing them. I ignored my body's instinct to avoid and started to embrace how I felt, I moved towards the feelings of fear. Eventually, I started to understand my condition so much more. I went from not been able to even mention or hear the word anxiety, to barely giving it a second thought.
I mention the word 'understanding' again, because this is the key to recovery. How can you not fear something you don't understand! How can you accept something that still scares you?
Q.3 Will these feelings ever go away?
Yes they will, once you understand why you feel like you do, you can then start to unmask a lot of the fears you hold about anxiety. There are so many myths about anxiety that it worries me just how many people are mis-informed and truly believe they will never get better, and that they will just have to live with this condition. Too many people spend years like I did, searching for that elusive miracle cure that just does not exist. Your body has been through a lot in the time you have had this condition, it maybe emotionally spent and feel so tired. None of this has done you any long term harm. Just see your body as running at 75% at the moment, in time when we learn to step out of our own way and start doing things the right way and changing our habits, it improves and starts to feel more healthy and refreshed. Letting your body recover at it's own pace is the key, overnight cure is impossible after what you have been through. But what a journey recovery can be when we allow it to happen.
Understanding anxiety also takes away so much fear out of how we feel. A lot of anxiety is habit, a learned behavior that can be reversed. Every stage and symptom has a logical explanation that can be explained. With less fear and more understanding, we also calm the constant worrying; it is the lack of information on the subject that keeps the worry cycle going. Constant worrying that we will never get better also adds to the belief that we will just have to live with it.
Once we start to understand anxiety and use the tools we have learnt to cope with how we feel, the change can be dramatic. In my recovery, I found that the more knowledge I had and the more I understood my condition the easier it was to accept how I felt. I started to lose fear of my symptoms and how I felt. Eventually they began to hold less power over me and I started to pay them less respect.
It is your desperation to rid yourself of how you feel that keeps your anxiety alive. The stress you put on yourself day in day out, the constant worrying and thinking about your condition, this puts a tremendous pressure on your body. Is it any wonder you stay anxious? It's time to stop beating yourself up about how you feel and give your body the rest it craves.
Knowledge is power. The less you fear your symptoms, the less they mean. This also stops the worry cycle you may find yourself in, which is the very thing that keeps anxiety going. You are bound to worry if you don't know what is wrong with you, that is why you need an explanation to help break this cycle.
Q.4 Why do I find it so hard in social situations? I find it so hard to communicate with people.
Is it any wonder we find it difficult to follow a conversation when all we are concerned about is ourself and how we feel. We can't concentrate on what the other person is saying because all we are concerned about is how we are feeling and how we maybe coming across. I found myself trying to hold on to myself, trying not to crack. It was like acting out a part in a film. It was like being two separate people, one trying to hold a conversation, the other watching my body's reaction. Is it any wonder we struggle to fit in to the world around us?
Once we find the courage to accept how we feel and try to not put too much importance on how we come across, we find it easier to follow what the other person is saying. We become less concerned about how we feel, which gives us more time to be interested in the situation we are in and we start to become more involved in the present.
Q.5 Why do I seem to have so many bad thoughts running around all day?
The reason you seem to have your attention on yourself all day and it feels like there are hundreds of thoughts running through your mind is because of all your confusion about how you feel. You go round in your mind all day long, looking for answers, trying to find a way out of this hell. Some people may even stay up all night reflecting on the whole day, trying to figure it all out. Mostly these are negative or worrying thoughts and that's why they seem to come automatically and with so much force. When you are in an anxious state, emotions seem to be ten-fold. Everything magnifies, a little problem becomes massive, and something that you could dismiss when you were healthy, sticks around all day.
Eventually thinking just becomes automatic; it becomes a habit. All day, every day, these thoughts seem to come before you even think them. Looking at it from another angle, when people meditate, they stop thinking for hours on end until it becomes a habit and they can go all day without a worrying thought. That is why they feel so refreshed.
Not you, your thoughts just carry on and on and when your mind is tired, like it is now, it grasps hold of every thought, pulls them in and they seem to stick. Some people worry to the extent that they believe everything they feel is life threatening. A headache becomes a brain tumour, a stomach ache can become cancer and so on, and no matter how many times their doctor tells them there is nothing wrong with them, they are never quite convinced.
If this is you, then realize these thoughts of illness are just figments of your imagination, mainly created by your anxious state. Everything becomes magnified when we are anxious. Let these thoughts go, don't react to them and see them as just that, thoughts that carry no weight whatsoever, no matter how loud they shout.
When we try too hard to do ANYTHING, it seems to slip further from reach. This applies to ridding oneself of unwanted thoughts. The more you "try" to push them away, the longer they linger and the stronger their impact. When we welcome, yes actually embrace, unwanted thoughts, they lose their significance and quickly diminish. When you impose a false sense of importance upon a thought, it will often appear more serious than it deserves.
Time is a great healer, especially concerning this condition. I allowed them to flow in and flow out and I didn't react. When I did this, I noticed the scary thoughts seem to lose their scary edge. Stop fighting them, just say: come if you wish, I am ready for you. Do not be thrown by these symptoms or this experience. Once you begin to recover, the mind and body settle down and these overwhelming thoughts disappear, along with the anxiety condition.
Don't ever think, "I must not think that". Let all thoughts come, do not run away from any of them. See them for what they are - thoughts - exaggerated because of the way you feel. They can do you no harm and they mean nothing. They won't be around when you recover, so pay them no respect.
Why not try following a negative/scary thought through and ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" Ask yourself, "Is it really going to happen? Is this thought rational in any way?" If you do this, you may find an answer to a thought you have been so frightened of. So the next time you can see them for what they are and let them go, and deep down inside of you there is a place where you can see thoughts for what they are, you will realize they just come from habit and are just not important.