(Kitty is working on overcoming agoraphobia and writes from time to time about her process. Here’s some sound advice about setbacks.)
How regress can be progress
I had some setbacks recently, lots of very high anxiety days and a lot of panic attacks. It’s easy to get disheartened by stuff like this. It’s easy to wonder why you should bother. But you must not think that way. Setbacks and relapses happen to everyone recovering from something. They are always temporary and much easier to bounce back from than the original problem. If you’re climbing a tree to get away from a bear and you fall back one branch, do you jump down from the tree and let the bear eat you? No. You keep climbing. It was just one branch and you’re still farther from the bear than you were when you started. So if you fall in your recovery, keep climbing.
In my experience, when you have a relapse it’s best not to dwell on thoughts like, “But I was doing so well.” You’re still doing well. It’s not your fault the anxiety is stronger this week. You didn’t do anything wrong in your exposure. Keep doing your exposure during a relapse too. It’s harder but it will prevent the agoraphobia from becoming more malignant again. The best thing to do is ride it out. It will end – probably in a week or two. In my experience, relapses never last longer than that. Just keep reminding yourself that it’s temporary. Maybe do twice the meditation and/or mindfulness exercises that you usually do.
When your anxiety gets unusually high, it might not be best to jump to the benzo bottle as quickly as you normally would during a bad streak, because you would end up using it too often. One of the best ways to get rid of anxiety is to forget you’re having it. There are several ways that I go about doing this. As I mentioned in my intro post, sometimes I call a family member or a friend who I have really good conversations with and they will get me so involved in talking about another subject that I forget I’m anxious and it goes away.
Then there’s mindless television. I never pick a show I’m gonna connect with or have emotions about for this. I pick things like Bigfoot documentaries or World’s Wildest Police Chases. Reading is a good one, because that engages all of your brain. There’s no part left over to be anxious with. I’m partial to Sherlock Holmes stories.
The important thing to remember is that setbacks will happen, but they never have to mean a return to square one.