When you suffer the symptoms of acute Anxiety, you listen to your natural instinct to protect yourself from the uncomfortable feelings and sensations that you are experiencing.
Protecting yourself instinctively usually involves trying not to feel your feelings, this takes the form of avoidance or placing behaviour habits in place that you feel will help you to cope with the effects of anxious feelings or a Panic Attack.
Neither avoidance or applying safety behaviours will help you, in fact they will just make the problem worse. It is you that protects yourself from panic symptoms not your avoidance or behaviours. This is because fearful feelings are not at all dangerous and every anxious feeling or Panic Attack will end on its own regardless of what you do. You are trying to protect yourself from something that holds absolutely no danger at all.
The problem is that you gain a sense of false confidence from the avoidance or behaviours that you put in place and you begin to rely on them. They then become a habit and you never believe that it is you that actually gets over anxious feelings and not what you put in place to "help" you.
Can you see why you cannot seem to escape from the cycle of fear and the hold that panic and anxiety have over you?. Simply because you are locked in a cycle of applied behaviours trying over and over again to protect yourself from something that is not real or dangerous. This causes you to constantly focus on it and remain trapped, limiting your life and losing your quality of life.
The longer you continue to apply safety behaviours, the longer the cycle will continue.
The longer you believe that they are helping you, the longer you will stay stuck.
Examples of Safety behaviours are:
- Not ever leaving home without a mobile phone so that you can call for help when you need it
- Carrying a water bottle to wet your throat and ease the choking feeling you can have during panic
- Obsessive checking to avoid danger, such as checking the hand brake is on your car 20 times before you walk away
- Only travelling within a safe zone of so many miles
- Playing on your phone or taking a call to take your mind of panic
- Carrying a sedative tablet in your pocket "just in case"
- Carrying a paper bag in your pocket
- Leaving a room quickly
- Making excuses that may give you a way to leave a situation when you want to save face when with others
- Always taking your car to meetings rather than taking the train/plane, so you can just leave if you need to
Let me focus on explaining how to begin to stop using your behaviours to protect yourself from your anxious feelings.
The first step in reducing your own use of safety behaviours is to identify the ones that you are using. They can be subtle so this may take some work.
Once you have identified what you do to protect yourself, you become consciously aware of what you are doing, this is an important step because each time you feel an urge to put this behaviour in place, you will become aware that you have a choice at that point. The right decision is to not apply the behaviour, make the short term fear go up and work through it until it dies down. This will help your longer term fear to diminish and bring you closer to your end goal of removing all the unhelpful anxiety from your life, returning you to normal function.
However hard it feels do not make the wrong choice, remain focused on your end goal of removing this fear.
This will not feel good in the short term, facing fear is not easy.
This is the only way, disabling your fear at the root.