I have a strange career. I literally make people uncomfortable for a living.
As an anxiety disorder and OCD specialist, my job is to ascertain what is most uncomfortable for my clients and help them to face it directly. I make every effort to start with smaller challenges and build up slowly to the more daunting experiences, but it is never easy. My clients become anxiety warriors, charging into battle against what seems to them, at times, to be an enemy far stronger than they.
It takes courage and fierce determination, but they can and most often do emerge victorious—free from the tyranny of anxiety. That concludes the first half of treatment.
When you have an anxiety disorder or OCD, a victory does not mean game over—no more anxiety. We must not forget that anxiety is a normal human emotion and it is with us for life, at least in some situations to some degree. Victory means having the freedom to carry on with your life even though anxiety will continue to speak up at times. Victory means learning to peacefully coexist and perhaps even make friends with your anxiety (while not letting it control your life again).
At times when your life is going well, anxiety tends to be quieter and less prickly. Quieter and less prickly means you are more likely to peacefully coexist with it. On the flipside, when life is not going well, when there is stress, depression, lack of fulfillment, or you are not taking care of your body’s needs, Anxiety’s noise and prickles can increase exponentially. This will tempt you to once again run from it or hide behind the false security of safety behaviors. That is when Anxiety may once again try to capture your life.
So, the second half of anxiety treatment is to take a look at your life and make some decisions on how to have the best life you can. Living well is not only the best revenge, as they say, but it is also one of the best ways to prevent anxiety from once again hijacking your life.
Here are some strategies for living well:
- Maintain stress management practices. Learn to respectfully say “no” when possible to requests that you feel are undesirable or unreasonable. Get a good organizer or download a time management app. Practice daily relaxation exercises or mindfulness meditation. Take some time daily just for yourself and your interests. Prioritize taking care of your body’s needs, such as adequate nutrition and sleep. Unless medically restricted, move your body daily and often, whether it is formal exercise in a gym, playing a fun sport such as tennis, or simply walking, gardening, or cleaning your home.
- Take care of your mental health. If you are experiencing depression, consult your doctor or a mental health provider—take it seriously, rather than letting it go on month after month. If you are dependent on alcohol or other substances, take action towards a better future—don’t wait. If there are problems in your life that are causing you pain, problem-solve possible solutions and move in the direction that has the best long-term outcome for you.
- Assess your interests and values. What is it that is truly important to you (such as family, friendships, romance, adventure, money, spirituality, compassion, industriousness…and so on)? What choices and activities moves you in those directions—do more. What choices and activities move you away—do less. Ultimately, you are the author of your own story, at least to some degree. What is your story of a well-lived life?
You are human. Despite your absolute best intentions and efforts, life will be painful and anxiety-filled at times. Therefore, a component to the second half of anxiety treatment must include acceptance of your humanity and gentle compassion for your own struggles. When you catch yourself backtracking, seek to learn from this experience and re-direct yourself back towards living the best life you can.
Eric Goodman, Ph.D.