This is one of the most important articles on this blog, because you’ll learn why avoiding your fears makes your anxiety a lot worse.
Specifically, you’ll learn what to do instead that helps you heal your anxiety.
Let’s dive in right now!
My big fat mistake…
When I was 10 years old I did something that I now consider anxiety: I avoided elevators.
Just the thought of standing in an elevator with random people and not being able to escape was frightening.
I don’t know where this fear came from, maybe something happened when I was young, like being very small while being surrounded with adults, but it resulted in me avoiding elevators for years.
Oh, I spilt the tea…
Did you notice the mistake I was making? It was avoiding the thing I was scared of.
If you struggle with anxiety and you avoid what you are scared of, you essentially tell your brain that WHAT you are avoiding is indeed dangerous… whether it is driving or watching a movie at the cinema.
Now you know what the biggest mistake is that keeps you away from healing your anxiety, let’s take a look at why this is a mistake and what you should do instead!
Why avoidance makes your anxiety worse…
Back when I was at the peak of my anxiety, I couldn’t perceive my anxiety any different than an annoying, irrational sensation…
But I’ll help you out right now.
Just imagine that a little man is living inside your brain. I teach my clients to call him Mr. Anxiety. He is in the control room, pushing all the buttons and is continuously scanning your environment for possible danger.
And when Mr. Anxiety perceives danger, he pushes a button and you get a flush of adrenaline and cortisol through your body. That is anxiety.
Mr. Anxiety doesn’t do this, because he wants to make your life miserable (even though it often feels that way). He does this because he loves you so much that he wants to do anything he can to keep you safe.
So, let’s say you want to visit a shopping mall, but the last time you were there, you had anxious sensations that you didn’t expect.
The chance is that this time… you’re a little bit scared of visiting the mall again, because the last time you experienced some anxiety while visiting the mall… and now Mr. Anxiety associated the mall to danger.
He said: “Oh the last time you felt some anxiety, but there was nothing wrong with you, your body and I perceived no clear danger… it must be the fault of the mall.”
So if you visit the mall, Mr. Anxiety might start to yell at you!
“Don’t go to the mall! It’s dangerous over there! WHAT if you panic over there. What if (Fill in the blank)!?”
If you make the mistake of listening to Mr. Anxiety, and start to avoid the mall… you just confirm to him that the mall is indeed dangerous. When you keep doing this you confirm to Mr. Anxiety that he was right and the mall is indeed dangerous. And this results in being more anxious the next time.
Now you know why this is a problem, let’s show you what to do instead!
This is what you should do instead!
If you are anxious about doing something (like visiting the mall), understand that you are not broken.
There was a time when you weren’t anxious about it, so that means that being anxious about your trigger is not just who you are.
Therefore, you can certainly go back to “you” that wasn’t anxious.
But NOT if you keep avoiding whatever you are anxious off.
So… this is what you should do. Let’s take the mall again as an example:
Whenever you want to visit the mall, but feel anxiety creeping in… visit the mall anyway, despite your anxiety.
Because when you do visit the mall and stay there until your anxiety decreases, you show Mr. Anxiety that the mall is not dangerous. This is called exposure therapy. Something I explain in depth in this article.
You’re essentially grabbing Mr. Anxieties’ hand and showing him that the mall is safe… like a parent who shows his kids, there are no monsters under his bed.
And when you visit the mall: be OK with feeling anxious, accept the anxiety to rise… and know that you can cope and handle your feelings, because you can!
And every time you practice, Mr. Anxiety starts to believe that the mall is safe and the anxiety becomes less.
To wrap this up: do the thing you want to do, despite feeling anxious. And over time you’ll start to notice that your anxiety has less grip on you… and you reclaim back your freedom in life.
But for most people accepting their anxiety is the hardest part of it all. They keep fighting with it in the hope it goes away, but it makes the anxiety significantly worse. Therefore, make sure you watch my FREE Limited Time Training to free yourself from anxiety.
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