It’s amazing how, over 6 years, I’ve been through so many methods and ways in which to ‘beat’ anxiety or stand tall as it’s trying to kick the living daylights out of me. Be it CBT, ACT, MFI, DIY, B&Q or some other acronym that no one fully understands, I’ve put them all to the test throughout my anxiety journey, and no one thing has actually helped massively. Instead, I find it’s a mixture of a few things that have brought me to where I am now, living day-to-day with a limited amount of anxiety, and I thought I’d share that with you.
I first started with CBT. This was the ‘breakthrough’ treatment for me and really did get me out of the house. At one point I was so worried I’d pass out even just on the driveway simply washing my car, so I would have to park it as close to my house as possible and leave all of the doors open so I could leg it into the house should I all of a sudden hit the deck.
It’s a complex method but the gist is you challenge what your mind and anxiety is telling you, and do it anyway to retrain your brain into thinking differently. It’s scary, intense, seems impossible… and works. Well, it did for me at least. I’d finally gotten out of the house, going to events and beginning to kind of explore life again.
What it didn’t teach me was how to live with anxiety. I always saw it as ‘the cure’ to anxiety, however some things didn’t seem to be any different for me. I’d go, challenge anxiety, and be in exactly the same position each and every time. I couldn’t understand! With that, my anxiety began to shift and manifest in different ways and I honestly thought I was going backwards. I spent every day fighting against this thing, and it just kept coming bloody back! Why?!
I decided to seek help and sought therapy privately from a psychotherapist who taught me about ACT, otherwise known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a fancy way of saying ‘you’ve got anxiety, you’ll probably always have it, you now need to learn to accept it and live with it’. To me, this seemed pointless. I don’t want to just think “oh well I’ve got it” and spend a lifetime of misery, but I was very, very wrong. Through 6 weeks of therapy (and a bucket load of dosh) I began to learn different ways of seeing anxiety. The main theory is that basically, you have anxiety. It’s in your brain, it’s part of how you function, its part of who you are. You can spend your whole life fighting anxiety and pushing back, or you can say ‘OK, this scenario is giving me anxiety, so I’ll just do my best’.
This got me thinking, and kind of helped me to merge both therapies together; CBT was getting me out of the house but wasn’t helping me actually come to terms with anxiety, and thats where ACT comes in to say ‘ok you’re here, you’re doing it and anxiety is with you, and that’s OK’.
It was then that I came up with my ‘Last minute’ rule.
This rule is just for me, and plays on repeat like a stuck CD in the back of my mind whenever I’m faced with something challenging. I’ll explain…
I’m quite an independent and stubborn person. I’m very much a ‘if I don’t want to do it, I don’t do it’ kind of person, which can be both a blessing and a curse to be honest. When it comes to anxiety, it’s more of a blessing because I won’t be forced into a situation. Take networking for example; As a new business, I have to go networking. This was something I hated doing in my previous role – I’d have sleepless nights and pure dread for days on end so would refuse to go because ‘it’s not me, I’m not that guy’. Being self employed, networking is important, so I knew I had to, and because I wanted to do it for me, it means I remain in control and do things because I want to. I don’t go to networking because I’m forced like my old job, I go because I want to and I now enjoy it.
So how does the rule fit? Well I still get anxious in situations like networking. Sometimes so anxious my body is trembling and my speech is wobbly. What the rule does is allow me to have the confidence to say ‘OK, I’m going to go to this. I am allowed to leave at any point if I get too anxious, however I will stay to the absolute last minute before I can’t take anymore’.
And do you know what? It actually works for me. My CBT training allows me to push myself to go out, my ACT training allows me to accept that anxiety will be coming along for the ride, and my own personal approach allows me to stay in the situation for as long as physically and mentally possible before I decide “I absolutely cannot take this anymore”.
“How does this work?”, I hear you cry! Well, what it does is subconsciously push me to the absolute limit, while also helping us to realise we’re stronger than we think we are. This challenges my anxiety and gives me a CBT focus, while. It also allows me to accept the anxiety for what it is, and I remain in control at all times. When I get to a point where I’m uncomfortable I say to myself “this is hard, but it isn’t impossible” and I stay…and stay…and stay. It helps me realise I can cope. It isn’t easy, it isn’t comfortable, but I can cope. If I shake, it’s OK because I’m not at my limit yet, if I feel ill then that’s OK because I can still stick it out, if I cry then that’s fine, just keep going until I reach my limit.
Surprisingly, a lot of things don’t happen, because I’m in control, I’m staying focused and I carry on doing what I’m doing. This method has pushed be forward to today, and if you’re looking for a way to move yourself forward through anxiety, give it a try.