Face your fears
If you're experiencing some anxiety around certain situations it can help to build up some small challenges to test how realistic your fears are. This involves working to change any negative thinking and challenging any safety behaviours which may be making you more anxious.
If certain situations or activities increase your feelings of anxiety it can seem natural to want to avoid them as a way of coping.
Declining a party invitation, calling in sick to avoid a presentation or not taking an exam may give immediate relief from unpleasant feelings. Avoiding difficult situations, however, will only make your anxiety grow in the long-term and can affect your self-confidence and self-esteem.
If you had gone to the party, given the presentation or taken the exam – the chances are it wouldn't have been as bad as you feared and you would have coped better than you expected.
Facing your fears, in this way, can help reduce the anxiety which is feeding the Vicious cycle. The 'Five steps to facing your fears' sheet can help you face situations which cause you to feel anxious.
Give yourself challenges to try to test out how realistic your worries actually are. Try sitting at the front in a meeting - or practise your presentation first to a group of friends to get used to talking to an audience. Gradually build up these challenges step-by-step to boost your confidence.
Challenging safety behaviours
It's very common as well to use 'safety behaviours' to help cope with challenging situations and events.
These can include:
- Sitting at the back of the room to avoid attention.
- Lowering your eyes to avoid being noticed.
- Listening to music on public transport to avoid contact with strangers.
- Wearing a high necked jumper (because of fear of going red and blushing).
- Carrying a water bottle around due to a dry throat.
- Reading from slides in a presentation instead of looking at the audience.
- Staying in the kitchen at a party.
- Drinking alcohol to feel less anxious.
- Constantly checking your mobile phone for missed calls due to worrying about someone.
- Talking fast in a meeting to finish speaking more quickly or avoiding speaking altogether.
People use safety behaviours as 'props' to try to prevent the thing they fear from happening. Unfortunately, using a safety behaviour tells the brain that the current situation you are in is highly dangerous and that the threat is real. This can then trigger the ''Flight or fight' response.
Download the 'Flight or fight sheet' for a visual diagram of the changes the body goes through during the response.
It can feel like safety behaviours give some relief - this relief is very short-term (like avoidance), however, and can actually increase anxiety and help to feed the Vicious cycle.
Challenging these safety behaviours and learning to face your fears without them is the best way of reducing the anxiety associated with certain situations and events.
You can use the 'Five steps to challenging safety behaviours' sheet' to help you challenge and manage these behaviours.