We naturally want to avoid the things or situations that make us anxious and/or uncomfortable. However, “the big problem with avoidance is that it keeps anxiety alive and well” (Roberts, Sylvia, & Reilly-Harrington, 2014).
I never avoid things/situations that make me anxious because I know if I do, I will sink more into the avoidance and it will become even harder to get over my fears. I try to expose myself to anxiety provoking situations as much as possible so that eventually it will become easier to handle the situations.
One of the best things you could do to help your anxiety is to gradually stop avoiding the things that make you anxious and fearful. Eventually, your brain will figure out that the thing/situation that is causing the anxiety is not a threat and that there’s nothing to be scared of.
It is best expose yourself to these things/situations step by step instead of jumping right in.
Christina is 22 years old and has a fear of going out in public by herself. It’s starting to get in the way of a lot of things in her life. She does not have a job and misses a lot of school due to her anxiety. She decides that she’s ready to get over her fear since she really wants to gain control of her own life. She meets with a counsellor and they create an exposure plan together:
1. Go outside and walk around the block by myself
2. Go to the park with a friend and have her stand some distance away from me
3. Go to the park alone and sit on the bench for 10 minutes
4. Have someone drive me to the mall
5. Have someone go inside a mall with me and go inside a store by myself
6. Go into another store for a longer amount of time by myself and buy something
7. Have someone drop me off at the mall and come back for me in a half hour
8. Take a five minute bus ride on the city bus by myself and have a friend meet me by the bus stop
9. Go inside a fast food restaurant and order food, while friend is outside waiting for me
10. Go for a walk to the corner store that is 10 minutes away and walk back by myself
It is definitely not easy to expose yourself to a situation that makes you uncomfortable. It does take lots of courage and hard work. But you should not keep avoiding these things/situations, especially if it’s effecting you life. “If you would like to live a more fulfilling life, it is your job to stop avoiding anxiety-provoking situations and instead expose yourself to these situations. This is not easy work. It feels uncomfortable and unpleasant (which is why you have avoided it!), so it takes a particular commitment and self-discipline” (Roberts, Sylvia, & Reilly-Harrington, 2014).
Roberts, S., Sylvia, L., Reilly-Harrington, N. (2014). The Bipolar II Disorder Workbook: Managing Recurring Depression, Hypomania, and Anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications