Face your fears

Avoidance and unhelpful beliefs are the two primary factors that maintain fear. Thus the effective treatment for anxiety requires that a) you confront those beliefs and b) face those fears. Exposure therapy is a technique which challenges both aspects.

 Safety Behaviour

Safety behaviours can be cognitive or behavioural used to a) prevent future distressing emotions or increases in anxiety or b) decrease distressing emotions in feared situation or to decrease the likelihood that feared outcomes will occur. Let’s consider different strategies you may have utilized to avoid the thing you fear.

Behavioural safety behaviours

Cognitive safety behaviours:
Avoiding eye contact

Avoiding places,

Avoiding exercise and physiological arousal,

Avoid touching things

Procrastination (to avoid scary tasks)

Distraction

Tuning out during a conversation

Reassuring self everything is OK

Worrying and rumination

Thought suppression

 

Avoidance is not a long term solution

The more you avoid the thing you fear, the harder it is to face it. Avoidance reduces anxiety in the short term and thus increases the likelihood of future avoidance, especially in combination with the unhelpful beliefs such as

  • Overestimation of the likelihood of feared outcomes in response to thoughts, objects, situations or physical sensations
  • Overestimation of the severity of feared outcomes
  • Beliefs about anxiety (e.g. what is likely to occur if you allow yourself to feel intense anxiety)
  • Beliefs about own competence (e.g. incompetent, weak, bad person)

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy aims to decrease avoidance so as to foster learning about these unhelpful thoughts. By learning to tolerate anxiety you will eventually experience a decline in anxiety. Thus by facing your fears you will have a corrective learning experience where you can discover that

  • Feared (in/external) stimuli are not actually dangerous or harmful
  • Probability of the adverse outcomes is low
  • If an adverse event does occur, it is unlikely to be catastrophic
  • Anxiety is tolerable
  • Intense anxiety is temporary
  • You are able to cope with the situation

Try it at home

This avoidance hierarchy handout here helps you to identify the things you have been avoiding. Do feel free to contact me and arrange a session if you get stuck!