We all have things we avoid. And there are many things that are completely reasonable, and entirely possible, to avoid (sunburn, dark alleys, and head cheese come to mind). But occasionally we may find ourselves avoiding things that are more intrinsic parts of life, things that we actually need to tolerate in order to be successful. When this happens, our avoidance can have some pretty negative consequences for our lives. Here is a list of some of the things your anxiety might be telling you to avoid, but which are actually unavoidable parts of life…
- Talking in public
- Not knowing for certain what someone else is thinking about you
- Having someone be upset with you / getting reprimanded / getting in trouble
- Things not being perfectly fair
- Not liking something about your appearance
- Feeling anxious and scared
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling sad
- Feeling annoyed and angry
- Feeling bored
- Having an intrusive thought you don’t like
- Experiencing an unpleasant and/or embarrassing memory
- Experiencing a change in your routine
- Not having control over everything in life
- Not knowing if, and when, something bad will happen
- Getting sick / throwing up
- Making a mistake / messing up
- Not being perfect
- Being uncertain
- Taking a risk
- Answering a question without knowing the perfect answer
- Making a decision without knowing what the perfect option will be
- Not knowing what the future holds
Did you find yourself feeling a little uneasy when reading this list? Has your anxiety been telling you that you can’t handle some of the things on this list? It might be time to cut back on some of that avoiding, and find out the truth. Here are some tips on how to get started…
Notice what you’ve been avoiding: We often avoid things without even thinking about them. Sometimes all it takes is “noticing” what you’ve been avoiding, deciding it’s not that big a deal, and starting to change your avoidance habits. If that’s all it takes for you, awesome! Nice work “noticing.” Now, of course, this is usually just the start. Even when you notice something, your body is often not ready to let go. That’s where these next tips come in handy.
Think about your feared situation with just the facts: Describe your feared situation but leave out all of your unsubstantiated assumptions and emotional-charged language. Instead of thinking “I’m going to go to the prom and everyone is going to think I look ugly and that I look like an idiot when I dance,” try this: “I’m putting on a dress and attending the prom with my classmates.” Period. Resist the urge to add all of the other junk. This won’t be easy and it won’t make all of your anxiety go away, but it may take the edge off just enough for you to attend the Prom and make it through the night. And your anxiety just might go down as the night progresses. And it will definitely go down if you keep attending more social events. Things will get easier with practice.
Pay less attention to your thoughts that get triggered: Many of our thoughts are just our brain having hasty and imaginative responses to the world. They are not automatically worthy of our attention. The next time a situation triggers an uncomfortable thought, ask yourself “What is this thought doing for me now?” and “What’s the point of focusing on it?.” Decide if the thought is in any way helpful to you. If not, let the thought sit in your head if it wants to, but don’t give it your attention if it doesn’t deserve it.
Make room for uncomfortable emotions: When you’re in your feared situation, don’t fight your anxiety. Don’t try and suppress your emotions. Loosen up those muscles in your back and shoulders. Relax your arms, your face, and your jaw. And make room for the emotion in your life. Allow your body to feel the feeling. Often, it’s not as uncomfortable as you thought, once you stop fighting.
Try Exposure Therapy: If you’re in a more serious situation that requires the support of a therapist, make sure you find someone who offers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a focus on doing ‘exposures.’ Having the support and structure provided by a therapist will allow you to gradually face your fears and surprise yourself with what you can do.
Give these tips a try and you just might find that you had nothing to fear all along.