Not a Typical Recovery Story
You've probably read stories about how people cured anxiety. Those stories surely made you feel hopeful about recovery in general. But at the end of the day, when anxiety returned, all of those stories went down the drain.
Why does that happen?
The reason is simple. What most of those stories don't talk about is the exact step-by-step guide on how they cured their anxiety. They don't talk about what stages of recovery they went through. What mistakes they made that prevented their recovery. What changes helped them progress in recovery. And last but not least, how to know if anxiety is cured or not?
But don't worry because today I'm going to share with you the exact step-by-step/stage-by-stage guide on how I cured my anxiety disorder for good and did naturally without use of medications. Not only that, but by the end of this article you will have a proven plan of action that you can implement immediately.
Before, I start though, I'd like to make two things clear:
1) by 'cure' I mean recovery
2) when I say 'cure anxiety' I refer to anxiety disorder, not to normal anxiety which is common human experience
Now, let's get started!
Stage 1: Misery
One of my high anxiety days
My first panic attack happened out of blue on the full train right in the middle of Brooklyn Bridge. My heart started beating out of my chest and my head felt like it was about to explode. It was a finish line, I thought. Fortunately, I was wrong.
I rushed out of the train at the next station and took a cab back home. It sounds ridiculous now but I didn’t go to the hospital right away because I didn’t want to hear that I have cancer or heart disease. I thought it was best to go home and whatever happens, happens.
The moment I got home, I locked myself in and lay in my bed waiting for something terrible to happen until I eventually fell asleep.
I woke up a few hours later with a heavy cloud of fear in my head, something I never had before. I finally decided to face reality and go to the hospital.
Full medical checkup showed that I was healthy physically and that I have anxiety disorder. The fact that it wasn’t something serious gave me a huge relief and even some Hope.
I didn’t know it back then but it was the first step towards my recovery.
Misery (approximate anxiety level between 80 to 100%) - first stage is associated with mental and/or physical discomfort caused by increased level of anxiety. This is when you have your first panic attack, feel unusual physical discomfort and have scary intrusive thoughts. This is the initial stage of anxiety disorder and the fact that you have no idea what’s going on with you is what makes your anxiety be at a very high level.
1) doing a full medical examination for physical discomfort and getting an official diagnosis for anxiety disorder
2) accepting that you have anxiety disorder and are determined to start working on recovery
1) refusing or fearing a medical examination
2) holding everything to yourself without seeking professional help
3) relying on self-medication to get by
Stage 2: Hope
My first recovery attempts - friend's wedding
After the medical checkup I got back home, and started searching online to learn how to cure anxiety. I consumed tremendous amount of information about anxiety disorder. My deep search inspired by my intense fear, led to withdrawal from social life as my agoraphobia and panic attacks got stronger.
Every single trip outside was followed by a panic attack or a series of them (at some point I averaged 5 panic attacks a day).
My list of symptoms got a lot more extensive as well: palpitations, dizziness, derealization, difficulty swallowing, racing mind, intrusive thoughts to name just a few. But my main concern was my heart. Symptoms like pounding heartbeat, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, even physical weakness were an instant trigger to my panic.
But I kept searching, and as I learned more about anxiety, I started trying different approaches and techniques: hypnosis, meditation, prayer, dieting, fasting, exercising, eating healthy, you name it. I started studying psychology, philosophy and spirituality to understand the reason behind my suffering.
I had to work with whatever I had and started practicing different approaches. Failing was part of my everyday life and at the lowest point in my journey I even contemplated suicide, but somewhere deep inside I knew that I WILL find a way out of this.
Hope - (approximate anxiety level between 60 to 100%) - second stage is associated with learning about anxiety disorder through different sources and trying coping techniques to deal with it. At this stage, people tend to rely heavily on external support of friends, family, anxiety forums etc. as a source of hope. As a result, limited level of comfort is acquired. Anxiety level drops slightly but tends to go high quite often.
1) learning basics of anxiety disorder
2) gaining hope after initial scare of anxiety disorder
1) relying heavily on support of people who don’t know how to end anxiety disorder
2) getting information from a lot of different sources that may trap you into “analysis-paralysis” and prevent you from taking action
3) visiting anxiety websites and forums filled with hopelessness and complaints about symptoms e.g. “I had it for X amount of years, tried everything and nothing has helped me”
4) obsessively checking symptoms - blood pressure with BP machine, measuring heart rate, control breathing etc.
5) incessantly talk about anxiety to everyone
Stage 3: Determination
"Going against the wind" seems to work
It took me a year of trial and error in approaches to gain better understanding of what worked and what didn’t. Anxiety was still there together with symptoms but my panic attacks happened less often.
The only thing I did differently was I started facing my fears. What I mean by facing my fears is that I tried to go places and do things that made me extremely anxious.
It sounds like a dangerous thing to do but I realized that I couldn’t hide anymore. I had to go outside despite the discomfort and fear to cure anxiety.
I did have panic attacks most of the times. At times I would even run away feeling a panic approaching. But I knew that I was going in the right direction, because I stopped limiting my life around anxiety.
I did it the hard way, I didn’t have anyone to tell me if I was doing something right or wrong, I just did it and it seemed to work.
Even though I was determined to recover, I still felt like I lacked the courage most of the time. Thankfully, I was about to face a challenge that would give me the courage that I needed.
Determination - (approximate anxiety level between 40 to 60%) - as you learn more about anxiety, you start understanding that methods based on avoidance, suppression and distraction can only provide temporary comfort. As a result, you start having a better idea about what it truly takes to recover. If you were on medications, this is when you start considering gradual withdrawal. If you relied on others to help you go through anxiety - this is when you start gradually relying on yourself. In other words, you start taking full responsibility over your recovery.
1) choosing one concrete reason why you must recover (has to be very specific and MUST not be about ending anxiety disorder)
2) choosing one therapist, program, course, workshop etc. that teaches how to reach full recovery and dedicate 100% of your focus on following it through (the teaching must be based on facing your anxiety)
3) asking questions and receiving guidance from only one specialist or source you fully trust
4) fully accepting that recovery is a gradual process that takes determination and persistence to attain
1) trying different recovery approaches at the same time
2) relying ONLY on physical exercises or diets to end anxiety
3) misunderstanding or practicing ineffective methods based on avoidance and suppression of anxiety
4) doing assigned practices with an expectation of immediate results
Stage 4: Courage
With my dad after anxious 18 hour long flight
The moment I thought I had anxiety under control, I was given a challenge that made me sweat bullets the moment I heard it. I had to take an 18 hour long flight to visit my family in Tajikistan (my homecountry). To make things worse, it was a flight with one stop.
My anxiety went over the roof. All the relative peace that I thought I found was gone in seconds. But I knew I had to do it and so I did.
I ended up having a couple of panic attack on the flight and my anxiety was extremely high. But this decision ended up being the most important one on my journey to recovery because it gave me the courage of not limiting my life around anxiety. It made me fully realize that panic attacks and anxiety symptoms cannot kill me!
Unfortunately, finding the courage and fully realizing harmlessness of anxiety disorder didn’t magically cure anxiety right there.
But that full realization gave me confidence in what I already did, which was facing my fears. And I started doing it with increased intensity.
I spent the next year going out and facing my fears on a daily basis – trains, bridges, movies theaters, malls, interviews and auditions. It felt like I became a predator instead of a prey, which was a very liberating feeling.
I was hunting down my fears one by one and tearing them apart with my newly found confidence and courage. I stopped expecting recovery and just did what I enjoyed, which is not allowing anxiety to control my life.
One day, I woke up and for the first time in the last few years, I noticed something different – there was no heavy cloud of anxiety in my head. It was an amazing feeling to be liberated from the tyranny of anxiety disorder.
My new life without the discomfort of symptoms felt like I reached spiritual enlightenment. I cherished every moment of every day for about a month. But when life returned back to normal routine, I notice that I started doubting if anxiety returns.
Courage - (approximate anxiety level between 20 to 40%) - as you start consistently implementing practices from the method of your choice or simply go out to face your fears, you gain deeper understanding of anxiety, which leads you to recovery. Your confidence slowly expands as panic attacks are entirely gone and only slight signs of discomfort occasionally surface. However, you still fear that anxiety will somehow return and that deep sense of doubt is what prevents you from enjoying your freedom from anxiety to the fullest.
1) stop expecting recovery, focus on not allowing anxiety to control your life
2) recognizing and accepting that you still have doubt about anxiety disorder returning
3) continue doing assigned practices on a consistent basis until doubt is completely gone
1) stop practices and self-development after discomfort is gone
2) holding a false belief that you can’t completely end anxiety disorder
3) falling back into old anxiety-inducing habits
Stage 5: Freedom
Enjoying the sunset in Prague with my sister and cousin
Having a huge experience with anxiety disorder, I knew that “what if” is another word for anxiety. So I could not afford to have “What if anxiety disorder returns” scenario in my life.
I started digging deeper into my habits and routines to see what exactly caused me to have inner tension and what made me anxious daily.
Through mediation and mindfulness, I found out that I had a lot of inner tension coming from different relationships in my life. But most importantly, I noticed that I still had a lot of negative self-talk.
I got angry a lot, got easily offended, felt guilty for minor things, got ashamed for something I did wrong that were out of my control, had a lot of envy in me and still felt anxious over little things outside of my control. All of those emotions were adding to my inner tension and stealing joy and peace from my life while keeping my anxiety level high. So I started addressing the most damaging neurotic emotions and dysfunctional beliefs about myself and the world.
One thing I realized is that anxiety cures when you no longer fear exploring yourself. The true freedom from anxiety is not achieved through removing it from your brain, which is impossible for all human beings. You can only remove anxiety disorder. The true freedom is rather when you stop fearing anxiety - this is when you truly cure yourself from it.
Today, I no longer have doubt about anxiety disorder returning. Anxiety has no power over me, so I am anxiety free.
Freedom (approximate anxiety level is at a healthy 0 to 20%) - final stage is when you no longer fear anxiety disorder returning. At this point, self-development becomes part of your identity as you go deeper into the core of your anxiety. You develop emotional intelligence that is way beyond that of your past self. Confident in your ability to handle any amount of anxiety and stress that comes your way grows higher, because you know exactly how anxiety works from start to finish. You read anxiety like a book and it can no longer surprise you.
Skipping this stage means living with inner tension that led you to anxiety disorder in the first place. Chances of anxiety disorder returning are minimal if you’ve successfully completed Stage 4 but emotional hardship caused by unresolved inner tension is very possible, which if goes out of hand, could possibly lead to return of anxiety.
1) fixing neurotic emotions - anger, grievance, guilt, shame, envy and anxiety*
2) fixing dysfunctional life strategies, rules and beliefs that cause inner tension*
3) developing strong and mature personality
*Numbers 1 and 2 are achieved either with the help of a CBT therapist, through self-education or through mindfulness and meditation or a combination of some or all of them. I personally practice self-education and meditaiton.
1) failing to understand how anxiety works and keep fearing it
2) keep having negative image of yourself and holding on to destructive negative emotions
Happy Dance Time!
If you've come this far, it's time for the happy dance!You now know the entire process of my recovery with all the mistakes to avoid and all the steps you can try on your journey. This is everything I wish I knew when I was going through my dark days of high anxiety.
Thank you for reading this article. You can learn more about anxiety in our CBT Course for Anxiety absolutely free of charge. If you want to support us, you can visit our store for sustainable mental health awareness clothing. Part of our profits go to support mental health charities and non-profits.