Avoidance Feels Natural
Life teaches us that when we have a bad experience, the best thing to do is avoid putting ourselves in that situation again. It makes sense. We learn very early on that hot things can burn you and sharp things cut and those things hurt. If you get food poisoning from a piece of fish, you’ll want to avoid fish for a good while and I am sure most of us can remember discovering the consequences of drinking too much alcohol. Avoidance is a natural response.
If you suffer from anxiety, you probably know the sense of relief you get when you avoid something that has been making you feel stressed and worried. It feels good; at least for a while.
You really don’t want to go for that job interview. It’s making you feel anxious. True, the last one didn’t go so well. OK, so just cancel it. Tell them you’ve changed your mind. You’re fine in the job you’re in at the moment. OK, so the pay is rubbish and you’re mind-numbingly bored most days, but at least you don’t have to go for that interview anymore. Result! However, you have probably worked out that where anxiety is concerned, the relief is only short-lived. By avoiding that situation, you have just made it harder to attempt the next one. You have done a great job at convincing yourself that the outside world is a scary place and all stress should be avoided. You are probably also feeling a bit of a failure inside, too. You know that new job would have been great for you and you are definitely qualified for it. Think about what you could have done with the extra money you’d have been earning. So, you start to beat yourself up and get frustrated at yourself. This sense of failure and frustration can even lead to depression.
Let’s look at some other examples.
You hate motorway driving. You can do it but it makes you feel a little nervous. So, you begin to plan routes that avoid all motorways. You take much longer to get anywhere and, in your mind, those motorways get busier and scarier. The less you drive on them, the more you convince yourself that you can’t handle them. What was once just something that made you slightly nervous has the potential to bring on a full-blown panic attack and can become a phobia.
You don’t really enjoy parties. So, when you are invited to the next one you make an excuse and decide to stay at home on your own. You are rewarded with a sense of relief and you cosy up in your PJ’s and spend the night eating ice cream and binge-watching the latest Netflix series. Great! Then another party comes up. You start to feel anxious as it’s been a while since you went anywhere with a lot of people. You feel even worse than you did about the last one. So, you duck out and spend another evening alone. It gets to the point where you dread even being invited to a party. Then, the fear spreads to other social events. You don’t even want to meet friends at the pub anymore or go out for a meal to a busy restaurant. Eventually friends stop inviting you and you start to feel isolated but the thought of going out just feels completely overwhelming.
Avoidance Doesn't Work
In fact, it just snowballs.
Avoidance doesn’t just mean the avoidance of people, places and events. It can also be the actual feelings you are avoiding. How many of us have tried to bury sadness or stress with a chocolate cake or a tube of Pringles?
It Causes More Problems...
OCD is often started by avoidance of uncomfortable feelings such as stress, worry, anxiety or a fear of being out of control. We can’t bear the feeling of uncertainty, so we have to check things over and over. Did I lock the door? I’ll just check again. Are my hands really clean? I’ll wash them again just to be sure. Are there spelling mistakes in that email? I’ve looked twice, but I’ll just check a couple more times. The avoidance behaviour becomes so comforting, it is almost addictive.
In some cases, the avoidance behaviour can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People with a fear of abandonment wonder why they always end up alone. They are so scared of loneliness that they completely smother their children or keep checking on their partner and asking over and over again if they still love them. Every time they are reassured it reduces the anxiety for a while and they can avoid that feeling. It always comes back, though, and they have to ask more and more often. Eventually, the loved ones can’t take the pressure anymore and the person with the fear of abandonment gets exactly what they had always feared.
It Comes From Within
Avoidance is very common but what we have to recognise is that none of these outside factors are the cause of the anxiety. It is all coming from inside. As soon as you avoid one situation or try to take control of your anxiety with a certain type of behaviour, another situation will take its place.
I have experienced this myself and found that nothing I did (or didn’t do) reduced the anxiety for very long. The only way you can truly tackle it is to get some help for what is happening inside. It is also important to know that it is natural to be anxious and stressed at certain times and that is OK. Becoming comfortable with anxiety and the sense of uncertainty takes away its power and can in itself reduce the feelings.
So, what have you been avoiding? Every time you notice yourself turning down an invitation, taking a different route, checking and re-checking something, asking for reassurance or missing out on opportunities you could have taken, just make a note of it. Really look at what it is you are scared of and what you are avoiding. Is it an uncomfortable feeling of anxiety or stress? Did the avoidance help you or have you just exacerbated the problem? Can you start to overcome the anxiety by gradually exposing yourself to those situations or just being OK with the unknown for a while? This blog post might help you to create a hierarchy of those anxiety-inducing situations so you can start working through them.
Take a look at the thoughts going through your mind. Are you falling into any of these traps? What is the critical voice in your head telling you? Is the anxiety really coming from outside or is it all inside you?
If you would like some help, please make an appointment and come and have a chat. We can begin to tackle the situations that you associate with anxiety. Using a technique called systematic desensitisation, we can rewire your brain to feel much calmer and more relaxed when thinking about specific events and situations. Whilst hypnotherapy works on those deeper, subconscious processes, I can also teach you techniques that work on a more conscious level, too. We’ll look at your thought processes and really start to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the things you are thinking about and telling yourself.
Please contact me to book a free and completely confidential 15-minute consultation.