If you have an anxiety disorder like agoraphobia or experience panic attacks, then you have a uniquely gifted personality.
That’s right. Although some self-help psychology books might have you to believe that your personality characteristics are causing your anxiety disorder, they can be a source of tremendous potential to achieve great things.
Many people who suffer from anxiety and panic have extraordinary imaginations.
They are usually highly creative, emotionally sensitive, analytical people. They often possess high ideals along with the driving motivation to achieve them.
These personality characteristics are powerful tools if you use them right. Many famous and talented people have suffered from anxiety disorders.
Consider Charles Darwin, the famous scientist whose theory of natural selection is central to modern evolutionary theory.
His panic attacks were so frequent and severe that he thought he suffered from a life-threatening illness.
On his Beagle voyage of 1831, he records in his notebooks having all of the symptoms we know to be panic such as blurry vision, tingling sensations in his hands and feet, feeling faint, chest pain, and a sense of impending doom.
Oscar-award winning actress, Kim Basinger, not only suffered from panic disorder, but was housebound with agoraphobia for a time.
In Panic, an HBO American Undercover documentary, she describes her agoraphobia saying “I stayed in my house and literally cried every day. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know how to define it.”
After retiring from the NFL, football Hall-of-Famer, Earl Campbell, had a panic attack one day while waiting at a stoplight. He didn’t know what it was and was afraid to tell anyone. That same night, another panic attack awoke him from his sleep and he was rushed to the hospital. After hiding in his bedroom for a month, he was diagnosed with panic disorder.
Other high-achieving people who suffered from anxiety or panic include scientist Sir Isaac Newton; painter Edvard Munch; psychologist Sigmund Freud; philosopher John Stuart Mill; poet W.B. Yeats; author John Steinbeck; singers Aretha Franklin, Sheryl Crow, and Barbara Streisand; model Naomi Campbell; actors Sir Lawrence Oliver, James Garner, John Candy, Winona Ryder, and Sally Field; and “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schultz. The list goes on and on.
All of these people suffered from problems with anxiety a panic, and all of these people had a lot going for them.
The reason so many talented people suffer from anxiety and panic is that the anxious personality is just the shadowy underside of some powerful personality traits.
There are two sides to every coin. Most strengths have a corresponding weakness. A blessing can come in the disguise of a curse.
Recovering from an anxiety disorder like agoraphobia is not about changing who you are or correcting a dysfunctional personality.
Instead, it is teaching you how powerful your personality really is, and how to use that power to create positive results in your life instead of frightening yourself into having panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms.
Each personality trait that is commonly shared by anxiety sufferers can be used one of two ways. It can either be used against you to contribute to anxiety and panic or be used to work to your advantage.
You might think of the anxious personality like a pack of dynamite. Dynamite can be a dangerous weapon or a powerful tool, depending on how it is used. It can be a dangerous explosive if you use it to blow up your house.
However, dynamite becomes a powerful tool when used to blow through mountains, rocks, and other obstacles to make new roads possible. Such is the personality behind anxiety and panic.
The same personality traits that stimulate panic attacks can also help you achieve great things.
The secret to recovering from an anxiety disorder like agoraphobia is to quit using your dynamite personality to blow yourself up, and, instead, use it to blow away obstacles from your path in life.
If you do this, you will not only recover from your agoraphobia, but will become a more powerful, and more effective person than ever before.
Using Your Imagination’s Creative Power
Most of us with anxiety and agoraphobia have vivid imaginations and high levels of creativity. Our minds can conjure up such dreadful images and visualize them so graphically and so powerfully that we feel anxiety symptoms as a result.
Sometimes anxiety and panic attacks are just the results of our mind picturing a negative scenario so clearly that it almost seems real. What you see in your mind has a powerful effect on your thoughts and behaviour.
That’s because your mind’s eye does not always distinguish between what is imagined and what is real. For better of for worse, when you imagine something, your mind often responds as if it has really happened.
When I had panic disorder and agoraphobia, I could have a panic attack just from trying to picture myself sitting in a class at school.
When I so much as thought about being trapped sitting at a desk in a room full of people I could imagine it so clearly that I would start to hyperventilate and my heart would speed up. That’s how powerful the imagination can be.
My mind really went wild creating scary images when I tried to sleep. The images my mind created are so horrible that it is hard to even share them.
For example, I imagined that I was a murderer and that I crept through my neighbourhood at night and stabbed a little girl in her sleep.
The image of this was so real in my mind that I felt a sick guilty, feeling in my stomach for a while, almost as if I had really committed this horrible act.
If you have an anxiety disorder like, for instance, agoraphobia, you have a powerful mind. I know that because it takes a powerful mind to create the thoughts and images that cause anxiety and panic.
However, once you are aware of this power, it is up to you how to use it. You can use your imaginative and creative powers to work for you or against you.
You can choose to picture things that scare you or things that bring you a sense of peace. What you decide to see in your mind will make a lot of difference in the emotions that you feel.
To get over agoraphobia, it’s important to learn to use your imagination and creativity in a new way.
You can relax yourself by picturing yourself in a peaceful, stress-free environment, like at the beach or in a secluded forest in the woods.
You can recondition your mind by imagining yourself returning to the places in which you’ve had panic attacks with a sense of calm. You can inspire yourself by confidently achieving goals that have caused you anxiety in the past.
You have the power to imagine new solutions to problems, invent new ways of doing things, and forge new paths in your life.
The creative powers of your imagination are a force to be reckoned with. Their current will either flow in a positive direction and contribute to peace of mind, or flow in a negative direction and contribute to anxiety and fear.
Harnessing this flow of creative energy and using it to work in your favour can change your life.
When your flow of mental creativity goes in a positive direction instead of a negative one, you can use it as a powerful tool to achieve your life’s goals instead of using it to feed your anxiety and fear.
The Positive Side of Perfectionism
Many people with agoraphobia and nearly all highly anxious people are perfectionists.
In one way or another, we set unrealistic expectations and try to live up to them. Since we can never be perfect, we get down on ourselves if we don’t achieve our unrealistic ideals. In some cases, if we don’t think we can be perfect at something we get so nervous about the possibility of failing that we don’t even try.
I was already a perfectionist when I played basketball in junior high. Though I was good enough to make the starting team at a large school, I was never good enough for myself. I played as if I expected myself to never miss a shot. I played like a superstar in the first few minutes of many games, often scoring the first two or three baskets for my team.
However, missing just one shot caused so much anxiety that I would freeze up and quit trying to score altogether. I just couldn’t tolerate the anxiety that came from not being perfect.
I felt like when I missed a shot I was letting my team down, letting my coach down, letting my parents, down, and letting myself down. Inevitably, I would miss a shot early in the game and quit shooting. It would usually be the third or fourth quarter when I dared to shoot and risk imperfection again.
Many people with anxiety disorders like agoraphobia live life the same way I played basketball. We expect ourselves to be absolutely perfect. Then if we aren’t perfect at something we get anxious, freeze up, and quit trying. We avoid imperfection at all costs.
All of us are not perfectionists about the same things. Some of us might need everything to go perfectly according to schedule. Some of us may need to have the perfect diet.
Some of us may need everything to go as planned at our job. Some of us may need our house to be perfectly clean. Some of us may need the perfect spouse. Whatever the object of perfection is, we obsess over something.
To recover from perfectionism we must get comfortable with the fact that nobody is perfect in life. Everyone is going to miss some shots, so to speak. Part of reducing our anxiety levels comes with giving ourselves room to mess up and becoming more patient with ourselves.
However, this doesn’t have to mean lowering our standards. The positive side of perfectionism is that perfectionists hold high standards and expect positive things to happen.
These are good characteristics shared by most successful people. In the absence of perfectionism, high standards and positive expectations can be strong motivating factors in your life and don’t have to cause anxiety.
To recover from an anxiety disorder like agoraphobia, it’s important to learn the difference between having positive expectations and being a perfectionist: Perfectionists let their emotions ride on the outcomes of their efforts. People who just have positive expectations find satisfaction in the process.
The harmful mistake that perfectionists make is investing their emotions in something they can’t control.
Since we can never exert absolute control over the outcome of a situation, letting our emotions ride too heavily on outcomes is the recipe for worry and anxiety.
People with positive expectations find satisfaction in the process of trying to achieve their goals, regardless of the outcome.
Their emotions are invested in something they can control, their own effort. They are more likely to be at peace. Whether they succeed or fail at something, they are satisfied with knowing they gave their best.
When we learn to hold positive expectations instead of being perfectionists, our high ideals become a powerful motivational force, rather than an anxiety-producing trap.