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?
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.
THAT’S WHY I’M HARD AT IT DEVELOPING A PROGRAM TO HELP YOU!
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!