Updated: Mar 23
Fear is the primary enemy in withdrawal, and how we manage that fear can make the difference between success or failure. There’s no overnight fix. As much as we all want one, it just doesn’t exist. But there are a lot of things we can do to manage this fear and develop a more positive and stable mindset. Like many of us, you may have physical symptoms. But rarely can you do anything to directly affect them. They will come, and they will go. And often, those physical symptoms are triggered or aggravated by your mental state. Fear, stress, and anxiety play a significant role in determining the severity of withdrawal. Therefore, it just makes sense for us to spend more time and effort on managing our fear and anxiety and less on trying to figure out how to physically mitigate each symptom.
Many ‘withdrawal symptoms’ are simply due to fear of withdrawal (or even fear of that fear). People who have had bad experiences have usually been withdrawn too quickly (often by doctors!) and without any explanation of the symptoms. — Prof. Ashton, The Ashton Manual (benzo.org.uk/manual)
5 Tips for Managing Fear During Withdrawal
1) Take Responsibility
For many of us who have developed benzodiazepine dependence, this condition is an iatrogenic illness — an illness caused by a medical procedure or treatment. That was true in my case and in so many others. My doctor prescribed benzos for my ongoing stomach distress, and I took the drug for the following twelve and a half years. The first eleven of those years, I switched doctors a few times, but they each continued my prescription without voicing any concern. Was I mad about that? Of course, I was. I was furious. But when it came time to withdraw, I needed to step up and take charge.
I am responsible for my health. No one else. It’s my brain, my body, and I’m in charge. I now approach my relationships with medical professionals as that of a partnership. Sure, my doctor knows a lot more about medicine than I ever will. But she doesn’t know everything. And neither does the Internet. While it can be an excellent resource for some medical information, it’s also full of inaccuracies, hype, and biased personal accounts. Common sense is critical.
Taking responsibility means taking the lead in your recovery. You’re in charge, and that’s a good thing.
2) Find a Positive Mindset
A positive mindset is not about suppressing your feelings or glossing over them and putting on a good face. That plan of attack can lead to disaster. You still feel sad, angry, mad, and everything else at different times. But when something happens in your life, perhaps you lean a bit more on the positive side than the negative side. Focus on what is good in your life. That’s all it is. The glass is half-full.
Take a look at yourself. Identify your own filters through which you see the world. Recognize your negative thought patterns. Try and identify them as they happen and work on changing that pattern. And as your doing that, remember to enjoy life. Don’t wait until you are symptom-free to live again. It may be a long time until that happens. I’m now four years benzo-free, and if I kept waiting to enjoy life until I’m symptoms free, well, I’m not sure when that would be.
Noticing these patterns in yourself and working to change them is a significant first step towards reducing the worry and anxiety. Once you’ve identified them, you can start to change them.
3) Active Mind / Active Body
More and more studies show that keeping your mind active is key to keeping it healthy. This goes double for people with anxiety and triple for people going through benzo withdrawal. If you’re currently working, keep working. Don’t quit unless you need to. If you aren’t working, find something to keep you busy. Learn something. Take an online class. Read books. Volunteer. Learn a language. Prove the theory of cold fusion and solve world hunger. Write a book. You get the point.
And being physically active is equally as important. A 2000 research study evaluated three groups of patients who treated their major depression with medication (sertraline), exercise, or a combination of the two. Although all three groups showed similar improvement early on, when tested six months later, the results were startling. The medication-only group had a 38% relapse rate, the combination group had a 31% relapse rate, and the exercise only group had just a 9% relapse rate. [Babyak et al., “Exercise Treatment for Major Depression.”]
It all starts at home. Be kind to yourself. I learned not to judge myself so harshly. If I messed up during withdrawal, that’s okay. I’ll make mistakes, and I’ll be okay. I learned to let it go and move on. I needed to take care of myself first, especially during this time. I set boundaries and let those who love me know what they were. I found quiet time whenever I could to allow my body and mind to heal. I treated myself to small pleasures to help raise my spirits and my self-esteem. If I ever needed to be kind to myself, this was the time.
I also had to remember to be kind to those around me. Most people don’t really understand what we’re going through. How can they? So, help them. Realize that this is hard for them too. It’s frustrating when people don’t understand the scope of your illness. But how can anyone genuinely understand this who hasn’t experienced it? So, help those around you understand what it’s like for you. Realize that they will never fully understand this experience you’re going through, but accept what love and support they can provide without judgment. They may doubt your symptoms, they may question that you’re even sick, and that’s okay. Help them help you.
One of the best things that happened to me during withdrawal was when I found acceptance. I stopped struggling and fighting my symptoms and instead accepted my current condition. Acceptance can be a difficult pill to swallow for many people (no pun intended). It sounds easy, but it’s a difficult transition and it usually only comes with time.
Most people experiencing benzo withdrawal see their recovery as a struggle. A fight. A battle of epic proportions. And it can be. They want to do everything they can to make it disappear. And if they can’t make it go away, then make it as easy as possible. Find a way to have fewer symptoms. Or make it be over sooner. They want to find a shortcut. They want to find some substance or elixir that will make things all better.
I had this same attitude for most of my withdrawal. I fought it. Every time I had a new symptom, I wanted to know why. What caused this one? What can I do to make it go away? How long will it last? Why is my body doing this? Why is this happening to me? What can I do to stop it? The precious few answers seemed to vary from day to day. And while I received a lot of support, there were never any real solutions.
Over time, this pattern got old. I started to see the futility of it. My symptoms continued regardless of what I did. And eventually, my attitude towards them slowly changed. I began to find acceptance. I learned to back off and let my body do what it’s been trying to do all along.
by D E Foster
*** Based on excerpts from the book Benzo Free.
Foster, D E Benzo Free: The World of Anti-Anxiety Drugs and the Reality of Withdrawal. Erie, Colorado: Denim Mountain Press, 2018. – https://easinganxiety.com/book.
Babyak, Michael, James A. Blumenthal, Steve Herman, Parinda Khatri, Murali Doraiswamy, Kathleen Moore, Edward Craighead, Teri T. Baldewicz and K. Ranga Krishnan. “Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at 10 Months.” Psychosomatic Medicine 62(5)(October 2000):633-38. Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.hibody.co.uk/Exercise%20treatment%20for%20major%20depression.pdf.