3 Ways to Stop Avoiding Your Life Because of Anxiety
Do you find that anxiety is causing you to avoid your life? Do you avoid people, places, situations, and events that, if it weren't for anxiety, you might actually enjoy? If so, first know that avoidance is a common and natural reaction to anxiety and is not a sign of weakness.
Anxiety takes great strength to manage, and it can be exhausting to constantly feel on-edge, worried, and/or afraid of real or imagined consequences to all things past, present, and future. In fact, those of us who live or have lived with anxiety have a set of inherent character strengths. Second, know that you don't have to forever live a life of avoidance and limitations. Here are three ways to stop avoiding your life because of anxiety and begin to live more fully and freely.
The Consequences of Avoiding Life Because of Anxiety
Avoidance is a coping mechanism that helps us manage anxiety and keep it in check. While it does make perfect sense to avoid certain people or circumstances in order to reduce anxiety symptoms and feel less overwhelmed and more in control, avoidance is not only life-limiting but can actually increase anxiety.
Avoidance is a way of reducing anxiety that, paradoxically, only makes anxiety grow bigger, stronger, and louder. Take social anxiety, for example. This type of anxiety involves excessive worry about being judged negatively and/or fear of embarrassment. The thought of going somewhere, whether it's a fun gathering, school, or work, typically causes high anxiety.
Avoiding that "somewhere" brings temporary relief. By staying away from an anxiety-provoking situation, we don't have to deal with anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms. Unfortunately, this temporary relief teaches the brain and body two incorrect and harmful lessons: Avoidance works, and situations truly are terrible, and we are justified in avoiding them. Therefore, when the next situation arises, we feel more anxious and are driven to avoid it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that is hard to break.
Avoidance is simply restrictive. It limits how we live our lives, what we do (or don't do) for enjoyment and relaxation, and who we spend time with. Avoidance keeps our anxiety high and our quality of life low.
While this seems obvious, it's worth stating because it is what ultimately helps us stop avoiding life because of anxiety: Avoidance is a behavior. It's a chosen action. It is not part of our character and does not define who we are. With patience and practice, behaviors can be changed. Try these three approaches to stopping avoidant behaviors.
3 Tips to End Avoidance and Reclaim Your Life from Anxiety
Avoidance is an action, not a character trait. Keep reminding yourself of this fact as you work on implementing these strategies regularly into your life.
- Take action to include more of what you do want. Anxiety makes us focus on the negative and fixate on what we don't want. Beat this by shifting your focus. What do you want for yourself and your life? Clearly define your goals, hopes, and dreams. You won't have to keep avoiding what you don't want when you're pursuing what you do want.
- Determine small action steps to achieve your goals and dreams. Trying to make sweeping changes or accomplish a goal in one big step can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. Instead, determine small action steps you can take every day to move toward what's important to you. With each step in this direction, you're stepping away from anxiety and avoidance.
- Do something uncomfortable every day. This is by far the most difficult of the three ways to end avoidance. It is anxiety-provoking at first, but it is incredibly empowering and effective at reducing both anxiety and avoidance. Identify small things you're prone to avoid, and challenge yourself to endure them for short amounts of time. Keeping them small prevents this from becoming overwhelming. Continuing with the example of social anxiety, if you decide to attend a large event and mingle freely, you will probably experience extreme anxiety and will be more likely to avoid future gatherings. Instead, try going to the store when it's slightly busier than usual. Engaging in and surviving these small challenges repeatedly reduces anxiety, boosts your confidence, and gives you the courage to stop avoiding other things.
You do have the ability to take your life back from anxiety. You can fully enter life on your terms and do the things you enjoy and want to do. You don't have to continue to avoid life and forever be anxiety's prisoner.
Peterson, T. (2021, March 18). 3 Ways to Stop Avoiding Your Life Because of Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2021/3/3-ways-to-stop-avoiding-your-life-because-of-anxiety