Words from the therapy room:
“Why does it take me so long to recover?”
“I used to be happy and carefree. What if I will never be like that again?”
“My anxiety doesn’t go away completely. It’s not here now, but there is always this constant fear of “What if it’s here tomorrow?”
Usually when we struggle with anxiety, depression, or a burnout, we can’t wait to get out of this situation, feel better and be free of mental health worries and challenges. Makes sense. However, there is a difference between “can’t wait” and “push.” The second is quite a common trap for many of us. We keep track of our progress, we count days, we compare, we push, we push more, we push harder:
“I should have been feeling better by now”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Why are others recovering faster than me?”
This kind of pushing brings the opposite result, though: more anxiety, more disappointment, more hopelessness. That is, all the emotions that we are trying to get rid of. Oops. We are stuck in a loop.
There are some myths out there about healing and recovery from mental health issues. For example, that “once you heal, you’ll never struggle again.” Or that “if you’re still triggered, it means you’re doing it wrong.”
Three things you should avoid doing while struggling with anxietyInstead of blindly believing these myths about healing and recovery, here are three things that we should avoid doing when we are struggling with anxiety:
1. Don’t compare yourself to othersIt’s an unfair comparison to measure where you are now against where someone else is. Why? Because each person is different, and the person you are looking at who seems happy and stress-free NOW was maybe struggling with depression last year or will be struggling with burnout in a couple of months. This is not a competition, and every person goes through their own struggles (that maybe they don’t even show) – but we ALL struggle at some point in our life.
Instead: Focus on your own recovery and accept that this is where you are right now and that you are not doing anything wrong.
2. Avoid “all or nothing” thinkingLike “I have negative thoughts again. Nothing has changed. Back to square one.” Or “once I feel better and I recover, I should never struggle again.” Realistically speaking, this is not possible. Our life is full of challenges, unexpected events, pain – you name it. Expecting that you will never struggle again, is like expecting you’ll become Superman / Superwoman.
Instead: Accept the fact that pain, stress and adversity is part of human life, and we will always be in a constant ebb and flow, alternating between positive and negative emotions and experiences. We just need to learn the tools so that we don’t suffer during these moments.
3. Don’t wait for others to change in order for you to recoverIt makes sense that oftentimes we are influenced by other people. Especially when there are people in our environment that trigger us, don’t respect our boundaries, overwhelm or stress us out even more. However, waiting for them to change in order for us to find our inner peace and balance can be a wild goose chase. Maybe they will never change, or maybe they will. Who knows? Your recovery cannot depend on them, and you definitely don’t want to postpone life because of them.
Instead: Remove people that don’t respect your boundaries from your life. Or at least, stop investing in those relationships to the degree you used to. Learn how to set proper boundaries. Focus on self-care now, today, not “when…” or “if…”
What matters mostWhat matters most is:
Being kind to yourself when you are going through a tough period in your life. This is the only antidote we need to recover from a mental health struggle. The ability to forgive ourselves, to make room for our feelings, to become aware of our thoughts, to listen to our needs and to be accepting of what is right now. Healing takes time. And there is a metaphor I use for that: If you run for a minute, then you will need a couple of seconds in order to catch up with your breath. If you run for half an hour, you’ll probably need a couple of minutes. If you run a marathon, then you’ll need a good few hours in order for you to recover. Now, if you notice that recovering from a mental health challenge or healing from trauma takes more time than you had expected, then you’ve probably run a “marathon.”
Take your time.