Dr. Stacy Grossman, Psy.D. – Director of Center for Brain Recovery
Many of our learned behaviors to cope with anxiety tend to feel right at the moment, but they are often not beneficial in the long term.
One of the most common coping techniques people use is avoidance. Avoiding the things that make us anxious often result in an immediate decrease in our present anxiety. Still, it does nothing to enhance our ability to deal and cope with the stimuli that are causing stress. Instead, we end up ignoring the issue, such as refusing to have a conversation with a loved one that we know might be difficult.
Sometimes we feel insecure in our ability to communicate effectively, unable to answer questions appropriately, or afraid that we will be judged or mocked for being emotionally vulnerable. But never engaging in the conversation can lead to anxiety about our abilities, eventually growing into something that feels insurmountable.
And the fact that we get out of the distressing situation reinforces our desire to continue to avoid hard things, which puts us in a cycle of ANXIETY ⇒ AVOID ⇒ RELIEF. This cycle begins to impede on our ability to function effectively.
We might ask ourselves: “What other situations might make me a little anxious that I can also avoid because I learned avoidance made me feel so much better when I didn’t have that difficult conversation? Let me see if that approach works here, too.”
Avoidance can look like so many things, some of them seemingly innocuous, like asking someone else to do it for you or not responding to that text message. But sometimes avoidance can be much more problematic, like using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the anxiety or self-harming to turn the emotional pain into physical pain. By never addressing the underlying issues, we are inevitably making things worse.
So, what do we do?
Take baby steps by asking a friend to offer support while you engage (or prepare to participate) in the task that is provoking anxiety. However, don’t allow them to do it for you.
Expose yourself little by little to things that are making you anxious and show yourself some evidence that bad things aren’t going to happen to you if you do it yourself. Get some friends to role play that scary conversation with you so you can figure out the best way to say the things you need to say. Take notes if you need to do so.
Finally, offer yourself a small reward for completing your task to reinforce the feeling of success, rather than the feeling of avoidance. Go to therapy. Talk it out. Figure out what the underlying root cause is and then focus just as much on your healthy recovery as you would the anxiety.
Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting recovery.
For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.