When you Google anxiety you will see it defined as:
- A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
- A desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease.
- A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.
What I am going to focus on in this blog is how these states of anxiety are reinforced through avoidance. At a very basic level, anxiety is about having an irrational, emotional reaction to a certain event or situation, despite your brain recognizing the irrationality of your thoughts. What ends up happening though, is you feel compelled to get rid of that feeling of unease and distress by giving into your anxious reactions, which often involve avoidance.
Let’s look at one of many possible examples; Dan was in a car accident and since then has had trouble driving. Every time he gets behind a wheel to start driving he panics, tenses up and then leaves the car. By leaving, Dan learns the way to get rid of anxiety is to not get into the car but to avoid it. What makes this problematic is each time Dan starts to feel anxious in regards to driving he learns to avoid the car, and the anxiety will go away. Additionally, Dan’s brain is being tricked into believing that he kept himself safe by his actions of avoiding the car. Essentially this is extremely effective but not helpful. Dan needs to learn that he can sit in the car, drive the car, and experience safely returning home. The more he can push through his anxiety and witness these outcomes the less distress it will cause him each time he drives.
Another example to illustrate this concept is any sort of checking behaviors. For instance, making sure the stove is switched off, your straightening iron is unplugged or that you have closed the garage door. Anxiety kicks in, making you feel uneasy, and unsure. You learn the way you get rid of the uncomfortable feeling is to avoid the unknown, so you go back and check, of course only to find out that you were worried about nothing. This can even happen multiple times in quick succession. Here you are learning that by going back to check these things, you have kept everything and all of your belongings safe. Again, a fantastic outcome, but an overwhelmingly problematic and time-consuming behavior. The way in which you can stop reinforcing this behavior is to learn to sit with the anxiety of the unknown. You will learn to regain confidence in yourself, and more importantly to trust yourself.
We are so accustomed to finding a quick easy fix, which ultimately lets us down. Anxiety is extremely difficult to overcome, but with support, skills training and practice, you can learn to react less to your worries and fears. I work with so many of my clients at a pace they are comfortable with to help set goals of overcoming their anxiety. Using mindfulness and thought challenging techniques, I have seen clients make incredible strides to overcome their anxiety.
If you are wondering how this idea of anxiety being reinforced relates to you, I encourage you to get in touch with me here.