After I had my first panic attack and life with anxiety disorder became a daily struggle for me. I started applying some of the things I learned and they seemed to produce results. I changed my diet, started exercising and tried different breathing techniques. Life was good for about a month but eventually, motivation turned into a routine and eventually, anxiety was back with vengeance.
Each time it was back, it made me feel even more hopeless because the moment I thought I found a solution, it proved me wrong.
Looking back at my journey I clearly see that the mistake that I made was relying on what is called Natural Exposure. Natural Exposure is basically relying on luck when it comes to recovery. I didn’t follow any structure or tried to track my progress. I just went out and did what I heard was good to reduce stress and anxiety. The effect I received was the release of happiness hormones, which quickly gave me new hope, which in turn dominated my attention for some period of time, temporarily replacing anxiety. Unfortunately, motivation eventually died out, routine kicked in and things got back to where they last stopped.
Each attempt made it feel like a roller coaster ride but the problem was – I didn’t want to be on that roller coaster ride anymore.
There is a quote I came across back then that stuck in my mind and made me rethink the way I dealt with anxiety. The quote was:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So I decided to change my approach.
I started going out and challenging my fears. Not only that, but I would plan my trip a day before going out and try to predict all possible outcomes and ways to address them. This is how I started practicing Structured Exposure, which is a systematic approach to recovery and consists of planning, executing and journaling your progress.
Adopting a Structured approach made me feel a lot worse at first. I had to endure all the discomfort without trying to escape and avoid it. It was truly scary to start, as I had plenty of no-go zones that anxiety made me develop. But I felt like it was the right decision because, at that point, I thought that I had already exhausted all the alternatives. And going back to the ups and downs of living with anxiety was the last thing I wanted to do.
After the day was over, I would journal my day. Be it good or back, I tried to learn from it regardless. Daily trips in combination with planning and journaling eventually taught me a lot about myself and my anxiety. Most importantly, I started noticing that even though I had anxiety, it wasn’t like it used to be before. I no longer limited my life around it. I no longer had to make decisions based on anxiety.
I noticed that my coping abilities started gradually outweighing my anxiety fears. It took me time and a lot of practicing before anxiety no longer was controlling my life. But I started having control over my recovery only when I made it structured.
So if you’re in place where anxiety keeps coming back over and over and you’re not sure what to do about it. Then you’re most likely following Natural Exposure and relying on luck, rather than structure to deal with anxiety. The problem with luck is that you have no control over it and you don’t learn about anxiety because you don’t attribute the progress to yourself but to a set of random circumstances. If you want to stop anxiety from surprising you with unexpected return, then you need to adopt a Structured Exposure approach.