Spiders. Snakes. Embarrassment. The judgment of others. Death. Illness. Bridges. Other people. When it comes to fears, nothing is off limits.
Everyone has fears, but not every person will respond to fear in the same way. Some people succumb to the power and pressure of their fears while others take steps to overcome anxiety to achieve the lifestyle they seek.
Even though the process may be uncomfortable, facing your fears is often the best way to diminish the impact of anxiety on your life. With thoughtful, intentional efforts to overcome your concerns, you can continue to grow beyond the restrictions of fear.
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How Avoidance Increases Anxiety
Fear and avoidance pair together to create a problematic cycle. If someone is afraid, it only makes sense for them to avoid the frightening person, place or thing.
In some ways, avoidance is a great strategy. For people who are afraid of sharks, alligators and skydiving, avoidance is the answer.
Problems arise when people try to use the avoidance strategy for more common fears and anxieties in life. A person who is afraid of speaking to others, leaving their home, balloons, tripping on the street or driving over bridges will struggle. Some of these are unavoidable, and trying to avoid them will create a very limited life.
Consider the example of someone who feels intensely anxious about leaving the house. At first, they may feel like their plan is going well because they remain in the home and no longer feel the high stress linked to leaving. Before long, though, an appointment will force them to leave the house, and when they do, they will surely feel stressed after being in the house exclusively.
Staying inside caused their comfort zone to shrink rapidly, and any situation that is different or unusual will spark an anxious response. Just as the sunshine seems brighter after being in a dark room, anxiety is higher without exposure to the stressor.
To break the cycle of anxiety and avoidance, a person must face their fears by experiencing the discomfort of the situation. Only then will the anxiety fade.
Tips for Facing Your Fears
If you’re wondering how to face your fears, you are not alone. Each day, people seek out new ways to reduce their anxiety and put their worries behind them. There are specific steps to facing your fears:
- Evaluate Risk Level: Be honest with yourself. How bad could the fear really be? What might really happen if you leave the house, meet a new person or drive over a bridge? Of course, your anxiety will tell you that disaster is assured, but how likely is this? Remind yourself that you are safe and strong. The worst will not usually happen.
- Create an Action Plan: An anxiety action plan is equal parts of what to do when anxiety is high, and what to do to challenge anxiety to lessen it. Each person’s plan will be unique, but if you fear leaving the house, create a multistep process with a daily challenge that helps you conquer your fear.
- Practice Visualization Exercises: Visualizations and guided imageries are relaxation techniques that work to displace your fearful thoughts with more positive notions. You can start by imagining yourself leaving home, crossing the bridge or touching the spider. Practicing in the safety of your imagination can increase your abilities in real life.
- Focus on Breathing: You’ve been breathing since you were born, but stress and anxiety force people into quick, shallow breathing. These bad breathing habits can be unlearned over time with increased attention and mindfulness. Work to slow your breathing and inhale and exhale longer to move the air. Try placing one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest to focus on keeping your chest still as your stomach moves in and out. Breathing exercises for anxiety can lower stress and make fears less scary.
- Seek Professional Help: You wouldn’t try to treat a broken bone or an ear infection at home, so don’t try to treat serious anxiety disorders alone. Mental health professionals can use their education and experience to erase your fears with anxiety treatment. Therapeutic techniques like exposure therapy and systematic desensitization are effective ways to lower anxiety by facing fears.
Don’t Be a Victim of Fear Itself
Anxiety tricks people into thinking that avoidance can keep them safe from fears, but it usually only increases concerns and makes life more challenging. You deserve a life free from the weight of anxiety.
Though the process may seem anxiety provoking, confronting your anxiety through exposure and systematic desensitization can work.
In systematic desensitization, a therapist works with the person to identify the targeted fear and build a list of scary challenges. For a fear of spiders, items on the list can include thinking about a spider, seeing a spider and touching a spider.
With plenty of relaxation techniques in place, the therapist exposes the person to items on the list that trigger low stress, so the person can become comfortable (desensitized) with the fear before moving on to the next item. Over time, the person will become desensitized to the entire fear.
The benefit of facing your fears is seeing them fade right before your eyes. In some cases, the process may be much quicker and smoother than you could imagine.
The Recovery Village offers effective, professional treatments for people with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Because anxiety and substance use often form together, The Recovery Village could be a resource to reduce fears while treating to your addictions. Call The Recovery Village today to learn more about comprehensive treatment plans.
Boyes, Alice. “Why Avoidance Coping is the Most Important Factor in Anxiety.” Psychology Today, March 5, 2013. Accessed September 12, 2019. Ankrom, Sheryl. “Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety.” VerwellMind, September 19, 2019. Accessed September 23, 2019.
Boyes, Alice. “Why Avoidance Coping is the Most Important Factor in Anxiety.” Psychology Today, March 5, 2013. Accessed September 12, 2019.
Ankrom, Sheryl. “Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety.” VerwellMind, September 19, 2019. Accessed September 23, 2019.