The secret to Overcoming Fear is to Challenge Your Anxious Avoidance

I am a Santa Rosa fear doctor or psychologist trained to help relieve your anxiety through a special type of therapy or psychotherapy.  The most important step in overcoming your anxiety is to learn to confront your tendencies to avoid the feared situation.

When You initially confront an anxiety or fear provoking situation your fear response kicks in and generates intense anxiety. Nature has helped guarantee your survival by jolting your nervous system with “juice” in the form of adrenaline, to get out of the “dangerous situation”. But if the situation is not really dangerous (or just slightly) and you have the same response as if it were dangerous, there is still a strong tendency to want to leave. However, if you stay in the situation longer or repeat it more often (known as an “Exposure”) as illustrated in the curve below, the anxiety starts to decrease! You “get over the hump” of the initial anxiety and learn there is no danger. Eventually your fear goes away!  The technical term for the process of fear desensitization is Habituation. Obviously, if you do not Expose yourself to the anxiety provoking situation there is no hope of Habituating. So one of the keys to overcoming fears is to learn not to avoid. Learning about the many ways that you avoid is essential in getting over your Anxiety.

Habituation CurveThe Role of Avoidance
Avoidance is at the heart of the problem for Anxiety Disorders. When you avoid you cannot habituate. If you do not habituate, your brain will continue to falsely identify non-threatening situations as dangerous. There are three additional problems with avoidance:

  • It reinforces what can become a vicious cycle of increasing incapacity. The anxious person “learns” that the way to feel better is to avoid, which in turn leads to more avoidance. “I started to get panicky while I was driving, turned around and went home. I felt relief I was not driving anymore… I think I will have my husband drive next time. Driving is not for me!” instead of “I tolerated the anxiety when I was driving, drove all the way to work… now I don’t have to rely on my husband to drive me places!” Or a Socially Anxious person never goes to social functions to avoid anxiety and concludes, “Social events aren’t for me. I look stupid and awkward” instead of “I can actually talk coherently. Even when anxious I can talk to others.”
  • It inhibits learning needed Skills. A person never develops good social skills because they deny themselves through avoidance any opportunities to develop these skills. Or a person never learns to challenge their anxiety, worry, or panic by practicing anxiety coping skills because they avoid situations that make them anxious so much that they do not practice the Skills frequently enough to learn them!
  • It prevents “testing the evidence” in order to overcome distorted and disabling beliefs. You must challenge them by confronting the “imagined” threat to see that it is not real. “I won’t be able to drive on freeways anymore” becomes truth because you don’t allow yourself to drive while anxious when in fact you really can still drive. Or the belief “I will stumble over my words and make a fool of myself” is never challenged because the person completely avoids social gatherings. He never discovers that he can talk without stumbling and that people will still accept him even if he does stumble.

Avoidance is on a continuum from obvious to subtle:

  • Obvious avoidance: When you overtly avoid anxiety producing situations you are engaging in obvious avoidance. This is the equivalent of simply not facing fears. For example, if you have Panic Disorder or a Phobia you may simply avoid driving, going over bridges, going to places where there isn’t an easy way out, and many other situations. If you have Social Anxiety Disorder you may avoid going to parties, large gatherings, greeting others, or any type of situation involving conflict.
  • Subtle avoidance: When you do not directly avoid a situation but fail to enter it fully you may be using subtle avoidance strategies. For example, if you have problems with Panic and Phobias you may feel like carrying a cell phone, a bottle of tranquilizers, or other items that make you feel safer in order to enter the feared situation. If you have Social Anxiety you may subtly avoid by not making eye contact with people, drinking alcohol in social situations, only talking to people at a party that you know very well, and other safety behaviors that make you feel less anxious.
  • Avoidance and Medication: Just about anything can become linked into Avoidance. Medications are no exceptions. Certain types of medications are even more linked. Such drugs as Ativan, Xanax, Clonopin, Valium, and others known as Benzodiazepines can undermine Exposure. It is important to evaluate whether you believe any of these medications have become linked into the Fear and Avoidance Cycle described in the next section. You should talk to your prescriber about the risks and benefits associated with your continued use of the medication.

Confronting fears can be really scary but with a little help you can gain your life back!  Please do yourself a favor and do not put off recovery from panic, fear, and other anxiety disorders.  Treatment by a professional really works!  Reach out today!!

Click here to find out if  you have an anxiety problem–free test!

Take a look at these other common anxiety problems to learn more:

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

What is Trauma or PTSD and How is it Treated?

What is a Phobia?

What is Agoraphobia?

What is Panic Disorder?

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?




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