The Problem of Avoidance

Fear makes us run away. Which is a good thing.

Anxiety also makes us run away, and is largely not a good thing … but why?

Anxiety is Fear - The Problem of Avoidence Increases Our Anxiety Levels

As I’ve said before anxiety is fear, in the absence of an actual threat (see: What is Anxiety).  Now generally all emotions motivate behaviour, it’s what they do.  The problem with anxiety is not just that it makes us run away from things that aren’t a threat, but that in doing so we’re training ourselves to be increasingly frightened of the world.

To explain this fully we need a little theory from behavioural science.  It’s called operant conditioning.  Everyone knows to get a dog to “sit” we wait until it sits and then give it a treat.  And in doing so we increase the likelihood that the behaviour will happen again when we say “sit”.  That’s training.  Training can also happen when we reward the trainee by removing an unpleasant, or aversive stimuli.  Just as powerful, the “reward” is things get better.


So how does this work with anxiety?

Well when someone is in a state of anxiety and either actually avoids the anxiety provoking situation (say going out to dinner with friends) leaves the situation (gets up from the table and leaves) or even just makes the internal decision to avoid (say no to the invite to dinner) anxiety decreases or in some cases disappears for a while.  Very rewarding.

You can quickly see how this spirals out of control.

It’s possible for people with really severe anxiety to retreat completely from the world, we call this “agorophobia”.  And this operant conditioning happens at a really base level.  It’s been shown in experiments you can even train people who have no ability to form conscious memories.  That’s why even though you might know you’re being “silly” the training still happens and still perseveres.

So how do we re-train ourselves?

The only way to is through experience.  Thinking won’t cut it on it’s own.  And the golden rule is if it isn’t a valid threat to your safety (anxiety, not fear) APPROACH DON’T AVOID.

Easy to say, hard to do.


I’ve been at it a few years now and it is fast approaching launch date.

It’s going to include step by step instructions and coaching about how to approach and re-train yourself to decrease your anxiety and get control over your life again.

I’m going to  show you how to approach in your behaviour, how to approach in your mind and body through using mindfulness techniques to experience and approach internal experiences of anxiety (see: Fear of fear) and how to approach in your relationships.

Trust me, it will be rewarding. It’s not too long until I have it finished, and don’t worry, I’m going to let you know when it’s ready for you to check out!


Kyle MacDonald

  • Well, I may not be 17 anymore, but I do know what it’s like to have stesrs, depression and anxiety hit you all at once, and I do know how hard it can be. I also do not want any medication.All these things run in my family and sadly enough, most of them have become dependent on the medication. I have promised myself that I would never let that happen to me.Sometimes I break out into these horrible moods one minute, the next I’m crying my eyes out, and the next I just want to be left alone. That is no way for any person to live. You need support from loved ones to help out a little. We all need some help sometimes and the first step at helping depression in wanting to get better. I have chosen away to help myself, but I also ask others around me to be patient with me, it is a long process. I have been dealing with this in my life for years now, but slowly it is getting better.I realize this is a long answer, but I know a lot about this topic, and it saddens me to know that too many people suffer from this illness. In some cases, people need medication due to the chemical imbalance. Some just need learn that they have the power to overcome this. That is what I’m choosing to do, and so far I’m getting there.You are 17 years old and life can get better or much much worse. Always think to yourself, you are much greater then the stesrs, the pain, and the worries that you deal with everyday. School can be tough on people, but always know you can only do so much to please people. Try pleasing yourself, worry about yourself.Take one day at a time and just know that the horrible day will not last forever, and try not to bring your worries to the next days, that is the past and there is nothing you can do to change that.

    • Sorry to hear of your and your families struggle. Stay in touch with us and I hope the programme we are developing will help.

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