Safety behaviours are behaviours that you put in place to protect yourself from your Anxiety and Panic attacks Panic symptoms and keep them at bay.
When you start to suffer from Anxiety and Panic attacks, it can be such an overwhelming feeling that it terrifies you. Your focus stays on the feelings that you had to such an extent that you begin to dread having them again. When you are scared or believe that you are in danger you have a natural instinct to protect yourself, that is normal in a real dangerous situation but Anxiety is not dangerous and so instinctively protecting yourself from something that is not dangerous will work against you.
They work against you because they maintain the fear. They help you to keep living in the fear because they are keeping your focus on your fears.
Safety behaviours only help the immediate short term fear to go down, but that is not solving the issue and so every time you feel short term relief, your long term fear will have strengthen even more ultimately forcing you to limit your life more and more using more and more behaviours to keep your panic at bay. Using safety mechanisms like this creates a belief that the behaviour is keeping you safe and not yourself. It is taking away your confidence that you can deal with the symptoms, which is the confidence you need to have when developing your knowledge and actions with your Anxiety enough to encourage remission of your symptoms.
Safety behaviours maintain panic and fear, they do not stop it.
Some examples of behaviours that you may start to put in place 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
- Rumination and self monitoring of moods constantly
- Always having an escape route
Safety behaviours reduce existence and make life smaller and narrower, they force you to focus on your panic and your symptoms so that you are ready to apply them every time you get a drop in mood. This forces you into a cycle of self monitoring, and it's this self monitoring that increases your focus on you and not on the outside world and normal life. It forces you into your smaller inner shell, rather than in your outer shell, living life in the moment and normal function.
Let's ask ourselves a very important question!
When you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks for a length of time, you do actually come through each and every attack yourself. You will never ever reach the point of no return, because there is no such point. Anxiety and Panic attacks are just a feeling of overwhelming fear, nothing else and so once you are feeling that fear you are already experiencing the worse that will happen.
The truth is that every attack will end on its own whatever you do as all anxious feelings and Panic Attacks have an end.
If I were to use myself as an example.
During the twelve years that I personally suffered from Anxiety and Panic Attacks, I must have suffered literally thousands of anxious feelings and hundreds of Panic Attacks. None ever caused my worst fears to happen or took me to the place of no return, why?
The why is simple, because I didn't believe that I could deal with my own Anxiety, which would have meant my confidence to face it would have increased and my fear level and belief in the fear would have dropped. Instead I believed that the Anxiety was dangerous and would hurt me and so I (like many others) followed my natural instinct to protect myself and applied behaviours that I felt would help me and talk down my short term fear level, in doing that I ultimately believed that my behaviours had stopped my panic reaching unmanageable levels and prevented my worst fears from happening. Not that I did it myself.
You are believing in a behaviour that you feel is protecting you from something that is not dangerous, so logically how can you ever lose your fear?
You set your own parameters, telling yourself where you feel safe, everyone does whether they are anxious or not. That is why some people are scared of the dentist and some not for example. Taking a trip to the dentist is not life threatening, so whoever is scared has told themselves that they are unsafe in that environment.
Anxiety stops you doing nothing, however bad it feels, you stop you.
Using safety behaviours will maintain your cycle not stop it. Short term fear goes down but the cycle gets stronger and long term fear goes up. To really recover we want the opposite. You don't need to be saved from yourself nor can you run from who you are. You have to feel these feelings to move on from them, not continually hide or apply behaviours that don't allow you to feel them.
You cannot avoid yourself.
Using Safety behaviours, creates habits of behaviours that will cause you to remain stuck in this cycle for as long as it takes for you to realise that you need to create habits that diminish your panic in the correct way that your body understands in order to free yourself. How long that takes is entirely up to you and the choices that you make. It's a hard truth, but it is the truth.
Incidentally, the danger of Panic Attacks is not the overwhelming feeling of fear and loss of control, the real danger of Anxiety and Panic attacks, you can become so phobic that you stop doing many of the things that you used to enjoy as you just don't feel safe anymore. But it's you who is training yourself that it's not safe.
It is really really important to read the information on this page and then to sit back with a writing pad and a piece of paper and spend a while reflecting on yourself and how you are. It's important to look at yourself as a whole and identify the behaviours that you have put in place to protect yourself from your symptoms. Some are subtle so you may have to spend a good deal of reflecting time to identify your own patterns. You must do this, you need to be able to stand back and be able to see what you are doing clearly to make things worse. The knowledge you will gain will be vital in being able to move away from what is keeping you stuck and to move towards remission of your symptoms.