“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think you will agree with me when I say:
One of the biggest worries as an anxiety sufferer is that you fear that you will always have anxiety, that you will never completely recover and feel well again.
But does this have to be the case?
No, it certainly doesn’t.
Yet despite this there are thousands if not millions of people who have had anxiety for years and even decades who have never returned to the person they used to be.
In today’s post I am going to be explaining why that is and what you must understand and do to make sure you are not one of these people.
Thankfully, if you are one of these people who have resigned themselves to a life of anxiety, it is never too late.
The technique I will be talking about comes from a book called ‘The Slight Edge‘ by Jeff Olsen.
The book was not written for anxiety sufferers, however, the idea he talks about works in all areas of your life and I have found that it transfers perfectly to those looking to recover from anxiety. It’s a great book and one I highly recommend you read.
Ok, let’s begin.
What’s the difference between someone who recovers from anxiety and someone who does not?
The difference is actually very simple.
Someone who has recovered from anxiety did so because they stopped caring about the way the anxiety made them feel.
They learned the truth, that anxiety and the thoughts and feelings it gives you are a lie. They then believed and trusted in this one hundred percent and decided to get on with their life anyway, despite the way they felt.
Anxiety is only perpetuated and magnified by constantly caring about it.
The person who is able to stop caring about it eventually finds their anxiety is no longer there because by not caring they have removed the power it needed to exist.
It sounds easy, right?
Well in theory it is, but becoming this person is not as easy as just understanding it.
But before we look at what else is involved, we need to look at what you are doing which is perpetuating your anxiety.
It is key that you understand this first, because once you realise what is happening, it makes the new way of thinking much easier to adopt.
What prevents a person recovering from anxiety?
Let me start by first asking you a few quick questions.
When do you put the most time and effort into seeking help?
When do you post or read forums looking to get an answer?
When do you do most of your reading into anxiety and recovery help guides?
When do you sit there and say to yourself, ‘I’ve had enough, I don’t want to feel this way anymore, I need to work out what I must do to recover?!’
My guess for each of these would be when you’ve reached rock bottom.
When you feel your anxiety has got really bad again and you know you don’t want to go on feeling this way.
It is at this point that you start to feel that fire inside you, that this time you’re going to do what it takes, this time you’re going to beat anxiety and win!
So you start trying to make changes in your life and begin to follow some or many of the methods and advice you’ve heard or read about. Perhaps you even try something completely new.
After a couple of weeks, perhaps even just a few days, you start to see some positive changes and even get to the point where your anxiety feels a little more manageable again.
But then, without even knowing it you make the one big mistake.
You begin to stop doing the things which were helping you.
Only slowly at first, but it doesn’t take long until you start to let the bad thoughts and habits slowly creep in and begin to take over again.
That initial fire you felt inside of you when in your darkest moments of anxiety is beginning to fade, your willpower weakens and it is not long before your anxiety is starting to get the better of you again.
Eventually you reach another low and again vow that this time really is it, and so the perpetuating cycle of anxiety continues.
I know this cycle only too well, it is what kept the high levels of anxiety in my life for years.
So what is happening?
When you are facing those deepest darkest moments of your anxiety, panic and likely depression, then and only then do you get that feeling that you will do whatever it takes to feel well again.
It gives you that impetus to pull yourself up out of the anxiety to try and feel better again.
But guess what?
Once you have got to the point where you feel you’re just about keeping your head above water you stop doing what you were doing and you slowly start to sink back down again.
You’re stuck between high anxiety and just about coping and this cycle can go on indefinitely. Many of you may even feel you don’t even reach the level of ‘just coping’.
This cycle is not just applicable to anxiety, but to almost all aspects of your life. Be it your finances, your health, or your relationships, you’ll often find they will follow this cycle.
When things get bad, only then do you begin to really do something about it. Once they’ve got to a more acceptable point you stop doing what you did which got you there and then the only way you can go is back down again.
Dieting is a perfect example, something many people try and fail at time and time again.
You get to such a weight that you promise to commit to a new diet and exercise plan. After a few weeks or months you start to notice the difference and are feeling a little bit better again, your weight has got to a more suitable level. It is at this point you begin to lose the fire you felt when you were feeling at your worse, and slowly but surely you revert back to your old eating habits and lack of exercise again.
The only place you can now go from here is down again, while of course your weight goes straight back up.
Yet as we know, some people continue moving upwards, they keep losing the weight and then remain at the new lower weight.
It’s the same in other areas, there are people who keep succeeding at work or in their business, they keep improving and increasing the number of good relationships they have with others, they keep improving their personal development and happiness.
Most importantly, these are the same type of people who are able to keep reducing their anxiety and eventually reach the point where they become anxiety free.
So what is it that they are doing differently and how can you do the same?
What allows a person to recover from anxiety?
Earlier I explained the simple difference between someone who recovers from anxiety and someone who does not.
The answer to what allows a person to recover from anxiety is just as simple.
The same activities which got you from your dark days of severe anxiety to the point at which you feel you are just about coping are the same ones which will get you to the anxiety free line – but only if you keep doing them
But do you know what the best part of this means?
It means that if you have been doing the things to get you moving upwards when at your lowest point you already know what you need to do to get to your point of recovery.
Be it the advice in other articles of this site, reading books about anxiety, help from people on forums, a therapist, whatever you have discovered which helps with your anxiety, the rule is easy:
You have to keep doing them
Unfortunately it is the one thing the majority of people who suffer with anxiety do not do.
If only you kept making the right decisions each and every day then your line would move forever upwards.
Yes, you will have some set backs along the way, but it is the overall upward trend that you’re aiming for.
If you are someone who feels they have never even left the bottom line, then you must first find out what you should be doing right, and I would suggest you start here.
However, if you know you’ve had those days, weeks or even months where your thoughts and actions have helped you feel at least a little better, than you already know a lot of what you need to be doing.
The issue is not the not knowing what to do, it is the ability to keep doing them.
There is so much help and advice available nowadays to anxiety sufferers, yet despite this advice there are still so many people with anxiety.
It is therefore not the lack of help and advice which is available, but more your ability to do it and to keep doing it.
Or in other words, it is not the ‘hows’ which are the problem, it is how to do the ‘hows’.
It doesn’t matter where you are with your anxiety right now, if you keep doing the small things over and over it will slowly tip in your favour.
You can’t see their effects today, tomorrow, or even next week, but eventually they will work together to help your recovery.
This is why forgetting the past, learning living day to day and realising that only what you do today can affect your future is so important.
Why does knowing this help?
It helps because you have taken a further step back to understand what creates the mindset and attitude that is responsible for your actions and ultimately your recovery.
Just knowing the mindset you need, the thoughts and habit actions you must change and the results you want to see are not enough on their own.
As Jeff Olsen (the author of the book I mentioned above) puts it, it’s your philosophy you must get right first, this is the missing ingredient.
Now this is not some profound and complex philosophy, like everything we have spoken about so far it is yet again very simple.
This is the philosophy which will help you recover from anxiety:
By making the right choices and repeating simple actions (which you know help with your anxiety), they will become compounded over time and add up to the difference between the success and failure of your recovery
Now of course this works both ways.
If you are constantly making simple errors or bad choices, then when compounded over time, they will draw you down towards the anxiety again.
It is only by doing the right things, however small, and repeating them daily that you can break the perpetual cycle of anxiety and continue on the upward curve.
Jeff explains that having this knowledge and using it every day is what he calls ‘the slight edge’, that ability to do what most people do not.
This is the reason most people never really recover from anxiety, it is also the reason some people do.
How to use the Slight Edge to recover from Anxiety?
First let’s be clear, this is not a question of want.
Everyone wants to be free of anxiety and those who have recovered did not want it anymore than those who have not.
This is the question of understanding how just simple changes repeated over time add up to the difference required.
The problem is, we live in a society where we all want it all NOW.
Everything has to be instant or at least pretty fast. Patience is seldom seen as a virtue and everyone is looking for the answer to their anxiety which will help them recover today.
This is the reason why anxiety drugs are so popular, yes they may help almost immediately by numbing your brain and thoughts, but they do not address the real issue and in many cases remove the will to make the right changes you actually require.
It’s also why people shell out silly money for the latest ‘panic recovery’ method, which promises you ‘to stop a panic attack in under 90 seconds’.
I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way.
There are good techniques out there to prevent panic attacks, but you have to repeatedly do them along with a number of other actions so that you will see the improvements over time.
The best actions are not some new fancy technique which takes a lot of time and effort to learn, they are simple and easy to do.
The difference is you keep doing them long enough to make a real noticeable change over a long period of time.
They are often pretty mundane actions; getting a good nights sleep, eating healthily, getting exercise, keeping a daily diary of your thoughts and feelings, writing to-do lists, facing a situation which makes you anxious until you feel calm, learning how to spot negative and unrealistic thinking and replace it with positive realistic thinking.
None of these if done for a few days are going to make much of difference straightaway, but when you do a lot of them and keep doing them, they will.
Often sooner than you would expect, but it will never be instant.
This is how you use the slight edge, you use it ever day because you know that it will lead to the recovery you desire.
The final part of this, the one you have no control over is time, but with the slight edge it is working for you, not against you.
Time allows all those small but important changes to work together to pull you to the future you want.
You’ll also find this works like a snowball effect, the longer you keep doing it the more pronounced the results become and the effects will also seep across into other areas of your life too.
The actions which help you recover from anxiety may seem insignificant at the time, but when compounded together they make the difference.
How to keep doing the right things for your anxiety?
This is where anxiety and panic attacks are a little different.
For weight loss it is universally accepted that if you eat less calories than you burn you will lose weight – it works the same way for everyone.
Anxiety and panic attacks, however, although they show some common themes across most sufferers, are also a very individual and personal condition.
Each person will have a list of thoughts, emotions, feeling and physical symptoms which when put together are likely to be unique to them.
This means that although the help and advice available can go a long way in providing recovery, each person must also find there own specific way to use these to feel better.
It therefore takes a combination of knowledge and understanding as well as putting these into action with a little trial and error to see what works best for you.
The ability to do this is just a choice, but one which will have to be made many times a day.
They are as easy to do as they are not easy to do.
It is only when you know and realise that by doing them you will get the results you want that you will start to make the right decisions.
It’s a cumulative effect of all your choices and actions that will add up to your success.
These are what form the habits which take you away from your anxiety, this is what leads you to no longer caring how you feel.
Instead you just decide to get on with it anyway and end up feeling all the better for it.
Every decision you make has an impact on this slight edge, one way takes you up and out, the other back down.
Remember, if you choose to not do them, you are not standing still, you are slipping back down towards the anxiety again.
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