By Betsy Rabyor:
Note: Anxiety is caused by an overreactive my with repeating thoughts that are fearful. Betsy, who suffered from anxiety disorder at first tried to avoid facing the true causes of her problem and chose to suppress her feelings with medication and alcohol which only made matters worse. It took her a while to realise that she was harming herself, but once she did, she took the following steps to heal herself.
Once I decided to work with it and not run away from it, I worked diligently on healing my anxiety using alternative therapies, which took six months to heal completely.
1. I stopped taking any mind-altering substances, including medical pills and recreational drugs and alcohol. All these substances dulled my awareness level and suppressed thoughts and emotions, which did not allow me to find the underlying cause. To heal the cause I had to allow my reactions to surface, so I could see them and question them.
2. I became open to grace and reception of help from a higher power for guidance and strength. I prayed every day, asked for help, and kept my eyes open looking for any clue, sign, helper, or book that could give me information to help me heal. I acted on things that came my way, trusting I was being guided and helped.
3. I meditated two or more times each day, not missing any days. Over time, I gained skills in self-observation being able to detect my thoughts and emotions and became skilled at monitoring them as they appeared. I felt this was the most important thing I did. Because I understood that to go beyond a programmed response, I must be able to see it. With meditation, my awareness gradually increased and then I could see what situations triggered strong reactions and what thoughts I had that preceded it. Then I understood that I could drop the repetitive thought-train by taking my focus out of thinking and this by itself would then stop the anxiety reaction from every manifesting.
4. Instead of running away from myself, I did an about-face and started to look within to find out Who I was. It was about getting brutally honest with myself and having the courage to see myself clearly and find out the truth about myself. In general, this is called “self-inquiry” and I did it as much as possible. I kept asking questions about reactions I saw inside myself and about how other people reacted to my self-expression. With this, I was looking for the cause of my behaviors and was gaining self-knowledge. Self-inquiry is about using our left and right brain. Both brains are needed and the more we use them as a pair the better. This is not a reactive use of the mind but rather a decision to wield it. With our left-brain we use logical analysis to review memories, experiences and things we have observed — we go through our history and memory banks. This process makes it visible and we can move these symbols around and look at things from different angles.
From this process, I gained self-knowledge that was essential to heal my programmed reactions. For example, self-inquiry started when I observed I had anxiety and asked the question: “Why am I anxious?” Then I investigated that question step-by-step with further observation and inquiry to get more answers. A finer question arose observing when I ate in a restaurant I could barely eat feeling I might choke but when I was at home with nobody around I had no anxious reaction at all. This was a dichotomy raising an essential question: “Why did I react in public but not at home?” Those kinds of questions eventually led to gaining knowledge about how this reaction was triggered and how it happened. After I had a reaction, I would review my thoughts leading up to it and get insight about how the anxiety reaction itself happened. I kept doing this, until eventually I saw how the entire thing manifested and it became clear that I was creating the anxiety. It had nothing to do with the outside world or other people or situations ‘causing it’ as I first thought, the reality was I was the cause. Once I could see that, then I had the ability to choose my next reaction.
5. I learned to feel tension and emotions in my body by doing body scans often. Instead of escaping from unpleasant emotions, I learned to feel them and took responsibility for them realizing that I created them and other people did not cause me to react in fearful, angry or anxious ways. I often scanned my body during the day for muscle tension and consciously would relax these muscles. I would keep especially close tabs when I felt a strong emotion was triggered. When emotional charge builds in the body it causes strong tension. We habitually clench and tighten certain muscles when we feel stressed. When I found those areas, I would consciously relax them. By doing this action, we take focus out of our thoughts, which is the cause of the building tension, and we can diffuse the entire reaction. Besides conscious relaxation of muscles, I would also use massage, exercise or baths to help release body tension. By doing this often, I prevented my personality from getting highly charged and reactive. I found once my personality was highly charged and I had a panic attack, then it could take many days to relax that state. A more advanced technique is to recognize anytime one is triggered with a strong emotion of any kind and then just be one with that emotion by feeling it in the body wherever it is without judging it or analyzing it in any way.
6. I quit running away from things I feared, once I became aware of one then I would face it and move through it. I found I had to confront things that triggered strong fear. Avoiding my fears only reinforced my anxiety and I ended up becoming afraid of more things. This is known as exposure therapy, learning to face what you are afraid of and learning how to go through it, stay calm inside and not react. Once I faced a big fear and got through it without having a panic attack, this empowered me and I realized I could do it and did not need to run anymore.
7. One of my key revelations was that I valued other peoples’ opinion of myself more than my own and I was hypersensitive on how others viewed me. When I walked into a room, I always felt like everyone in the room was looking at me and judging me. One of my most valued properties of my self-image was my intelligence and the thing I feared the most was people thinking I was crazy or that I was wrong. So that is why the panic attack was so threatening to me, if I were to have one in public then people would see that there was something wrong with me and think that I was crazy. I also had an extreme fear of failure and avoided taking risks.
You cannot see the daily changes so much but you will be able to see them on a weekly or monthly basis. The best part is this way will cure the problem, because you will discover the cause and realize you do have the power to go beyond your old program and drop it.
Editor’s note: This article is the third of a three-part series on Betsy’s journey of dealing with anxiety disorder. Part I talks of coming to terms with her problem, Part II discusses her insights on the problem and how one can stop a panic attack.