Codependency Recovery and Managing Anxiety, Part I: Information and Exercise

An older man helps his wife ride a bikeIf you read my article, What Is Codependency? An Introduction, then you have an understanding of what codependency is, where it comes from, and how it affects you. Now, it’s time to heal and recover. So where do you start? The healing process can feel so overwhelming that you may feel paralyzed. Remember, you don’t have to do it perfectly.

I recommend that you start by finding a therapist who understands codependency. If you or an immediate family member works for an employer that has an employee assistance program (EAP), that is an ideal place to start. It won’t cost you anything, at least for the first few sessions. If you don’t have access to an EAP and you have medical insurance, you can begin with a therapist who is on your panel. If, like many Americans, you don’t have medical insurance, but don’t qualify for Medicaid, you can search for a therapist who offers counseling on a sliding scale.

Advantages of Working with a Therapist

There are many advantages to working with a therapist. Your therapist will provide emotional support, objectivity, information, and proper diagnosis. Some people with codependency have an underlying mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress.  Many people become so accustomed to feeling sad and angry that it becomes normal to feel bad all the time.

Support is absolutely necessary to be successful in your recovery. Some people who you interact with are not going to like it when you begin to set boundaries and proceed to maintain them. They know what buttons to push to make you uncomfortable enough to withdraw these boundaries. As a matter of fact, whenever you work on changing any codependent behaviors, you may experience anxiety. Therefore, any recovery program involves learning how to manage anxiety. To do this, we need to understand the biology behind anxiety.

Learning about Anxiety

As you learn about anxiety, remember that there is a frightened child inside of you who thinks you can’t survive without codependent behaviors. The truth is, not only will you survive without codependent behaviors, you will thrive.

All humans have a stress response as a biological imperative to enable us to survive. When faced with a crisis, we experience a chemical change in our bodies. It begins in our hypothalamus, increases our heart rate, speeds up our breathing, and slows down our digestion. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline, and we become stronger, faster, and super alert. The crisis our ancestors suffered involved encounters with wild animals and other life-threatening situations. We had to either fight or run, hence the term fight or flight.

The everyday crises we experience rarely involve fight or flight to cope. An annoying coworker, an argument with a loved one, in-law trouble, or worry about finances; none of these require adrenaline. Nevertheless, our stress response is triggered and we are deluged with adrenaline. The excess adrenaline makes us feel agitated and uncomfortable. If we do not do something physical to burn it off over time, we can become anxious. Therefore, it is logical that the best way of all to manage anxiety is some type of aerobic exercise.

Manage Anxiety with Exercise

Aerobic exercise means elevating your heart rate for a sustained period. A minimum of 20 minutes 3 times per week will make your heart healthier and help reduce your anxiety. More often is even better. How high should your heart rate be?  Take 220 minus your age, and you want to be between 60% to 85% of that number. For example, if you are 40 years old, 220 – 40 = 180.  And 60% to 85% of 180 is between 108 and 153 beats per minute. You don’t have to run a marathon; a brisk walk is more than enough.

There are other ways to manage anxiety, including relaxation training and changing your thinking. I will talk about these other methods in future posts.

© Copyright 2010 by Joyce Henley, MSW, LCSW, CEAP, SAP, therapist in O Fallon, Missouri. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ellen


    October 20th, 2010 at 4:40 AM

    I know that there are some haters out there, even here as writers on this site, but for me Al Anon really saved my life. They were a true lifeline for me when it came to getting support for my personal situation in my family and without them I don’t know what I would have done. That was a group and still is that taught me how to stand on my own two feet without feeling obligated to anyone else. they taught me how to love without getting hurt. And they taught me about freedom from co dependency and how to become a better me.

  • A.Paul


    October 20th, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    I am generally a calm person but difficult situations make me very anxious.All this may sound normal but what is not normal is that once I get anxious the feeling lasts for a good 2-3 days and refuses to leave.This in turn has an effect on anything I do in those 2-3 days and it is really frustrating and in turn brings in some more problems like irritation and more anxiety.

  • Joyce McLeod Henley

    Joyce McLeod Henley

    October 27th, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    Thanks to Ellen and A. Paul for your comments. Ellen, I am so delighted that you shared your healing and personal growth through your working the Al-Anon program. You must feel a sense of frredom. A. Paul, I am sorry that you struggle with anxiety at times. I understand how miserable it is. I hope that my subsequent posts help you to manage it somewhat. A good therapist with experiene in anxiety can help you to be more comfortable.

  • Carol Cann, MA, LCPC, CADC

    Carol Cann, MA, LCPC, CADC

    January 4th, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    I have enjoyed reading your posts on Co-dependency. What I would like to add is that Al-Anon is WONDERFUL for anyone who has or has had a relationship with an addict — alcohol is not the necessary “drug of choice.” People cannot believe how supporting and accepting Al-Anon is until they have tried it.

  • Linda


    January 4th, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    I am currently in a 12 step program called Celebrate Recovery that is helping me in the area of codependency . This is a spiritual 12 step program that is available through churches in a lot of cities and is helping people to recovery from all different types of issues.

  • Yvonne


    May 20th, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    My 15 year-old daughter is in a residential treatment program for troubled teens. She has been there for 9 months, and appeared to be doing better, but has regressed. Her therapist requested for me to not call her for the next 30 days. This is going to be difficult since I am the only person she talks to, and I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I am concerned that she will have another set back if they cut off our contact. They say I am co-dependent, and that she manipulates me, which is impacting her recovery. Any thoughts?

  • Jenniepher


    May 26th, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    It will be hard because you lover her so much… But my question is to you, how is this effecting you? What are you doing for yourself to get through the 30 days? You are not being selfish or neglectful thinking like this… You must be strong and show your daughter it’s now her responsibility and her life now… And the only way to do that is to take responsibility for yourself, no matter how difficult or how hard, and we are human, we do make mistakes, but it’s how we bounce back that shows who we really are.

  • R@r3


    December 21st, 2015 at 7:42 PM

    Does anybody have any idea about someone who has both of OCD & Codependency.. Is it unusual Disorder or does have a spesific name..?

  • Frances


    September 12th, 2016 at 5:29 PM

    I would like to read more of Good therapy

  • Nancy


    August 5th, 2017 at 11:09 PM

    Need to stop be so co dependent but it is hurting me so bad not to see my daughtet.we had a big fight and havent dpoken in 8 days i am afraid if i call i eill be right back where i started doing everything for her. She is almost 50 ans and still depends on me for everything now i dont know how she is getting by without me.i want to call her so bad.but afraid we will bavk were we started.what should i do.

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