But what about those people who aren't able to do that? What's anxiety like when it takes over? It's paralyzing, in short. Anxiety can take over your life - whether around specific things like certain phobias, or around entire large chunks of your life like interacting with people (social phobia) or even going about your life in general. I've seen people wanting desperately to live normal lives, that aren't able to because of the fear that holds them back.
Anxiety, is in large part, fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the known, and sometimes both all rolled together. So what do you do when you feel paralyzed by worry, uncertainty and/or insecurity? Well, therapy tells us that the best treatment is to confront whatever it is that makes you anxious, but that's WAY easier said than done. And yet...it's a way out of the hell that anxiety boxes us into.
Years ago, I had a phobia of driving. I'd been in a few accidents in my teens and early twenties, and would not get behind the wheel of a car. I was certain that if I did, I would crash and hurt myself or someone else. I was afraid of the other drives, because I couldn't control what they did. Getting behind the wheel of the car provoked panic attacks: I felt like I couldn't breathe, I sweated and shook, and felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest.
Now, my ex-husband (another long story) got tired of having to drive everywhere, and he encouraged me (ok - told me flat out) that I had to get behind the wheel of the car. This was, to be honest, terrifying. At first, I opened the door, and just sat in the driver's seat. I couldn't even turn on the engine. I just sat there, and kept on sitting there until I could do it without the panic attack, and that took a few weeks. Next, I turned on the car. I didn't have to go anywhere, but I turned on the car. By this time, it wasn't taking as long to get comfortable, and by the end of the week, I was okay. Next came backing out and driving VERY slowly around the parking lots of our apartment complex. Again, this took time and I was completely panicked the first time I drove. I was out all of about 5 minutes because I couldn't stand it. Eventually, though, I was able to drive around the complex, and from there to easy, simple places. All in all, this took about 3-4 months.
The point I want to make with this story is that first, anxiety and phobias can be overcome. You have to be motivated and willing to do what it takes -which means confronting the fear. I never underestimate how hard this is to do. In fact, it can be terrifying. In therapy, we make up what we call a "hierarchy of fears" where you list the things that cause you panic from least panicky to completely and overwhelmingly terrifying. We start from the easy stuff and gradually work our way up to the tough stuff - just like I did with driving.
Second, it's important to know that you're not alone in dealing with these. People all over the planet - therapists included - have dealt with these fears and anxieties. Anxiety, worry, and fear can be overwhelming - for anyone. I can't tell you this often enough: You are not alone. I'll say it again: You are NOT alone in this. Please remember this - when it feels darkest and it doesn't feel like there is a way out of the anxiety, you really aren't alone and there is a way.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, or are thinking about hurting yourself, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org