During a recent Facebook Live video, as part of the Anxiety Toolkit series, we were talking about support and relying too heavily on other Anxiety sufferers for reassurance and symptom management. It’s something I’ve had to consider a lot during past relapses so I wanted to talk about it in a little more depth today.
Given the nature of this blog, and my experience in online peer support, questioning whether someone is seeking support too often sounds pretty strange I admit. I should clarify that seeking help and support for any mental health issue, whether that be from professionals, family & friends or fellow sufferers, is incredibly important. In fact, it’s vital to recovery, in my opinion. However, is it possible for there to be a situation where you’re seeking reassurance too often, and the act of asking for that help is actually damaging to your recovery?
Just over a year ago I experienced a relapse of my Anxiety symptoms and, of course, I reached out to my fellow advocacy friends because it’s comforting to know that you’re speaking to people who have truly been there and really understand what you’re going through. They were amazing and continued to offer me lots of support and advice during the few weeks when the Anxiety was at its worst. I was mostly reaching out via a private Facebook group we part of and it soon began to dawn on me that I was posting every single day, sometimes several times a day, and asking essentially the same questions and sharing the same frustrations. Of course, they were then offering me the same response and support. I was seeking endless reassurance.
Finally, one of my lovely friends in the group gently asked if my constant seeking of reassurance was actually helping me or if, in fact, they were inadvertently stunting my recovery by giving me the reassurances I requested without allowing me to find those answers within instead. This really hit home to me. Every day I was waking up with the same symptoms and the same fears and seeking the same reassurances from the same people. It had turned into a destructive pattern. Support from my friends had actually become one of my compulsions, one of my crutches, and as long as I kept taking this same action I would stay in the awful anxiety loop.
Around the same time I had a similarly frank discussion with one of my closest ‘real life’ friends who I had also been leaning on heavily. She responded to one of my texts with wonderful tough love and said “Laura, you already know the answer to this. You know what to do and not do. You know how to claw your way out of this – I can’t give you anything you can’t find inside with a bit more effort.” It was completely and utterly true, and left me feeling oddly empowered.
Finding strength within
One of the most difficult things about Anxiety is the feeling of being out of control. It can feel like Anxiety is completely running the show and you are just a helpless victim to its physical and emotional onslaught. But, in reality, this simply isn’t true. By questioning my motives, my friends had handed me the key to unlock myself from the Anxiety cage I found myself trapped in.
This is especially true during relapses. During the early days of an anxiety disorder, you really do need all the help and reassurance you can get – in particular from professionals and peers who can teach you the techniques you need to beat your illness. But during a relapse you already have these techniques in your possession. They have just become buried under fear or frustration, or they have been forgotten about during a difficult external event. A gentle push from someone who understands can help you to stop seeking reassurance externally and, instead, revive and practice the techniques you already possess. Thus breaking the codependency cycle and leaving you feeling stronger and less vulnerable.
I’ve listed a few things that may help you if you’re struggling with a relapse and wondering if you’ve become too dependant on someone or something:
- Dig out any old materials from your first recovery – notes you’ve made, books and videos, techniques that helped you etc
- Use mantras or affirmations to reassure yourself, rather than seeking that reassurance externally. If you don’t feel able to write your own Anxiety affirmations – this post and free printable might help.
- Imagine their side of the conversation. After the tough love from my friend, when I next found myself reaching out to contact her I instead wrote out the text and then imagined what her response would have been / responded from my own knowledge bank. You’ll often find that if this isn’t your first experience of managing Anxiety you’ll already know the answer or action you should take deep down, beneath the surface of symptoms.
Dos & Don’ts
- Do seek help from professionals should you need it
- Do increase self-care time
- Do reach out to help from friends in the form of love, comfort, time together and practical assistance
- Do practice patience, gratitude and positive thinking
- Don’t ask for the same reassurances over and over again
- Don’t assume your experience will be identical to someone else’s, in particular recovery time
- Don’t expect someone else to cure you; you can lead yourself into recovery I promise.
I hope what I’m saying makes sense to everyone. Peer support is a wonderful, powerful resource and I encourage everyone to seek it out where they can, but if you find yourself asking the same questions and seeking the same reassurances day in day out then try to pause, take a deep breath, and explore whether you already know the answer.