Things we do that make anxiety worse

When we feel anxious about something, the most natural human response is to avoid it. We know that if we stay away, we’ll feel safe, for now. But avoidance not only maintains anxiety, it makes it worse over time.

Your brain learns like a scientist. Each time it has an experience, positive or negative, it clocks that as evidence for its beliefs. If you avoid the thing you fear, you never give yourself the chance to build up evidence in your mind that you can get through it and survive. Just telling your brain that something is safe is not enough. You must experience it.

When we learn to face the things that make us feel afraid, we get stronger. When we do that day after day, over time we develop a sense of growth. Imagine if, over the next five years, you made your decisions based on the life you want to have, instead of fear.

Here is a list of some common safety behaviours that ease anxiety in the moment, but keep us stuck in the long term:

1. Escape

Whether it be in a social situation, the supermarket or a confined space, when anxiety hits we have the urge to get out of there as quickly as possible.

2. Anxious avoidance

The moment you say no to that invitation to avoid the social situation or opt for food deliveries to avoid the anxious feeling you get in the supermarket, you are rewarded with instant relief. “Phew. I don’t have to face that feeling today”.

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But the longer you stay away from something, the more the fear seems to grow. Then the day comes that you need to face it once again and it now feels overwhelming.

3. Compensatory strategies

This can happen after experiencing a high anxiety state. For example, someone with a fear of contamination or sickness may wash excessively after being in a hospital setting.