I’ve dealt with anxiety off and on since I was a teenager. My first panic attack was when I was about 17 years old and resulted in several trips to the ER because I thought I was on the verge of a heart attack.
This bout with anxiety lasted for some time but I eventually got over it after being reassured that there was nothing wrong with me medically.
Anxiety didn’t really affect my life too much all through my 20’s except for a period of flying anxiety that I eventually worked through by having no choice but to fly constantly due to my job.
It wasn’t until 2014 that everything changed. I was driving on the third day of a cross country trip and I had a panic attack on the highway.
I just felt that sudden rush of adrenaline for whatever reason and had the immediate desire to get off the highway.
Luckily I was already close to my final destination and made it safely. However, this episode changed everything for me.
I tried to push through it and get back on the highway but I just couldn’t do it.
My wife had to drive us all the way back on the three day drive home and I felt extremely guilty. I had panic attacks even as a passenger while she was driving. It was devastating.
For some reason, I just couldn’t shake these feelings and it manifested into generalized anxiety (obsessive thoughts) all day and eventually anxiety induced insomnia.
I couldn’t stop obsessing about driving and sleep and constantly went through the “Why’s” and “What if’s.” “Why is this happening?” “I’ll never be able to drive normal again.” “My career will be ruined if I can’t sleep and drive.” How will I ever be able to drive my family anywhere?” And the list goes on.
Driving to and from work became a task as I was constantly battling sensations of panic – from tingling feet to blurred vision, to shortness of breath – anxiety was pulling out all the stops.
I started making excuses to get out of business trips where I knew I had to drive or I’d have an excuse to make sure someone else could drive. Sleeping was a thing of the past.
It started with the obsessive thoughts about driving keeping me up at night but then I put so much pressure on myself about sleeping that I couldn’t get any and that became another problem.
Sleeping became its own obsession and I was caught deeper in the anxiety web. Every night was a constant battle and I was lucky to get 2-3 hours of sleep.
I actually hated the sight of my own bed because I identified it with the anxiety struggle I was having every night. This was a bad time.
Looking For Answers
I got in with a therapist and tried CBT therapy and EMR, and it helped some, but I was still stuck in the cycle because I was still scared of the sensations and thoughts I was experiencing with driving and at night.
Through therapy, I learned how to try and relax more but not how to face anxiety head on. It was hard to relax when my mind was going a mile a minute.
I found that the therapy focused more on managing anxiety symptoms rather than removing the fear of them.
I was prescribed benzos as a quick fix in times of major anxiety but I just couldn’t bring myself to use them every day because I was scared of potential dependency.
I would only take them as a last resort at night when I was just extremely exhausted or when I had an early morning the next day.
I was offered anti-depressants by my doctor but I never took them. In my mind, no matter how much of a difficult time I was having I wanted to overcome this myself.
If my mind got me in this predicament in the first place, certainly it can get me out, right?
Panic Away and Regaining My Life Back
So, this cycle of anxiety went on for weeks and eventually months, seemingly getting worse and worse.
Then, one sleepless night at about 2:30 am, as I was scouring the Internet for solutions to my problems, I came across Barry McDonagh’s Panic Away program.
I immediately downloaded it and began reading. I didn’t sleep at all that night as I read the book cover to cover even though I had to work the next day.
I was exhausted but encouraged. I immediately began applying the techniques in the program and began seeing instant results.
I began challenging myself with drives further than I had been in a long time. I began allowing the sensations at night (instead of fighting them) and I started getting more and more hours of sleep.
Over time, the daily obsessive thoughts were gone. The anxiety induced insomnia was gone, and I was well on my way to being comfortable on the highway again.
Fast forward one year of essentially being anxiety free and I was loving my life again.
Then, after an accumulation of personal family issues and returning from a trip to Asia that gave me severe jet lag, I had a resurgence of driving and night time anxiety.
I was suddenly panicking on the highway again and not getting much sleep. I felt hopeless, frustrated and extremely disappointed.
“I made it through all of the difficult days and nights and I’m back here?” I was finally on the good side of recovery for almost a year and now I was back in the anxiety cycle.
This was the dreaded setback! As anxiety tends to do, it makes us forget about what works and tricks us into thinking there’s no solution.
About two weeks into my set back, I found Barry’s new book, DARE (again scouring the internet for answers late at night).
Again, I stayed up all night and read through most of it. It was easy to read and follow and got straight to the point.
Applying the DARE techniques in the book and reminding myself about the liar that anxiety is, I began my way back to recovery again.
Slowly but surely, sleep got back to normal and I was working through the driving everyday – pushing farther and farther.
The best part about it was it took a lot less time to get out of this setback than the original anxiety I had. A LOT less time.
Within about a month I was back out of it and feeling “normal” again.
DARE is a Game Changer
DARE was the difference to getting back on track. Once I got the sleep back in order, I focused all my attention on driving.
Even when I was scared out of my mind some days, I stopped taking an alternate way to work.
I kept going on the “big scary” highways, by applying the DARE response, and I started to realize that no matter how I feel on the road, I always get to where I’m going and nothing bad ever happens.
The worst that happens is I feel uncomfortable for a while, but why is that so bad? I kept applying DARE and eventually built up enough evidence to myself that I could actually do this.
I started to really understand that I was fine out there on the roads. It took me a long while to gain the confidence to venture further out of the busy city, but I eventually did it.
Allowing the sensations to come with me on every drive and just letting them be there was the key. Once I stopped fearing the sensations, they lost their power and left me alone.
And even when they showed up again, I knew they would do me no harm.
All steps of DARE helped me recover but the two most critical for me to grasp were the Defuse and Allow steps.
When my mind was going a million miles a minute with the intrusive and irrational thoughts, it was difficult at first to say, “so what?” (Defuse).
This is because the thoughts seemed so true in the moment and tricked me into believing them. It took practice and a lot of sleepless nights but eventually, I started believing myself and the “so what?”
Allowing was another difficult step for me at first. I wanted so badly for the sensations to go away that I could not bring myself to allow them in.
I would get frustrated with the sensations which I learned basically validated its existence. But again, the more I worked at it, the easier it became.
With all of this work to recover, patience is the key. Sometimes we’re so hard on ourselves about anxiety and setbacks, but my mentality is that every day is another chance to try again.
I used to spiral downward when I’d have a bad drive, but now I just say, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” And I will.
I used to think one sleepless night meant I was back to the insomnia days, but now I just say, “so what? I’ve gone a year on no sleep before; surely one night won’t hurt me.”
And sleep always eventually returns because there’s no fight to be had anymore. It takes anxiety’s power away.
If anyone out there is doubting themselves, feels too scared to venture out of their comfort zone, feels stuck, or thinks that anxiety is a life sentence; please know that you CAN do it on your own.
Trust me, I was as hopeless and scared as the next person looking for any possible quick solution.
I literally thought that there was no way out except for relying on medication which brought its own issues.
But as I mentioned, patience is the key. Barry tells you in the book up front that it’s not going to be easy.
You will doubt yourself and believe the anxiety again, but just acknowledge this and start again. The one thing I never did, and never will, is give up. And you can’t either.
DARE really works. In my experience with trying other approaches to overcoming anxiety, it is the only true way to succeed because it teaches you to stop fearing the fear.
There is no greater feeling than getting your life back after you begin to practice this method daily.
Keep pushing yourself further every day. Even if it’s one mile driven down the street, one step outside the house, one short flight to a nearby city – it’s still further than you went the day before.
Don’t take the alternate route. Don’t call in to work because you didn’t sleep. Don’t miss out on the trip of a lifetime.
Time will keep passing and you’ll keep getting opportunities. The worst that will happen is that you panic or feel uncomfortable.
And, so what? You’ve panicked and felt uncomfortable before and you’re still here. By using the DARE principles, I’ve overcome exercise anxiety (didn’t address in this blog), insomnia, obsessive thoughts, and driving.
Setbacks are a part of the game and can be even scarier than the initial anxiety we experienced. Trust me, they will come and they will be discouraging.
But it’s okay to get discouraged, feel a little down, and have a bad day, or two, or even three. But eventually you need to dust yourself off and work at it again.
Read the DARE book again to remind yourself of the techniques. Write down accomplishments and how you worked through them so you have reminders to look back on.
The book talks about gratitude in the section titled, “Give up seeing this as a Curse” and I think this may be one of the more overlooked steps to overcoming anxiety.
Once you make a conscious decision to stop running away and start running towards your fears, it’s time to start realizing what you are grateful for – especially that damn anxiety that’s been bothering you this whole time.
Even when I was at my roughest points; up for days with no sleep, driving to work with constant fear, etc. I still found things to be grateful for.
I would always write in my notes on my phone how my day went. I’d write about the feelings and sensations I had and maybe even how disappointed I was, but then I’d always end it with what I was grateful for.
As I kept doing this I would find more and more things to be grateful for and the disappointments became less and less.
If I only got one hour of sleep, then I was grateful for that one hour…At least I got some sleep. If I didn’t get any sleep, I was grateful that I made it through the day on no sleep…Hell of an accomplishment.
If I had to take a different route to work because I didn’t want to drive on the highway, then I was grateful I got as far as I did… grateful to have another opportunity to try again tomorrow.
Find what you are grateful for and really feel it. Write it down, tell somebody about it; hell, talk it to yourself about it.
The more and more you become grateful for your accomplishments, the more and more those accomplishments will come.
And as difficult as it can be, be grateful that you’re dealing with this time in your life right now. It’s only going to make you stronger and give you more tools to deal with adversity once you overcome this.
Don’t question why it’s happening, just be grateful that it is because you’re strong enough to deal with it. Once anxiety starts noticing that you’re actually grateful for it, it will start losing its power over you.
I can’t thank Barry and his team enough for this book and all of the other great resources that they provide.
DARE is a game changer and I believe it can work for anyone as long as they fully commit to the process.
Wishing everyone the best of luck.
Here is a picture of what I do to run towards and engage. I take long meditative runs on this beautiful path and it works every time!