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Avoiding Anxiety – Is that why you’re anxious?

Anxiety is a survival skill. It tells us there is danger near, kicks on our fight vs flight and gets us ready for action. It is important to have some level of anxiety, especially when there is a tiger running at you! Or more present day when you have a big presentation or are anticipating a big transition in life. Having anxiety is actually a good thing when it’s appropriate for our survival instincts to kick in. However, avoiding anxiety usually leads us to creating more anxiety.

When you’re in a dangerous situation you need your acute stress response to kick in. This is your body going into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn

  • Fight – facing any perceived threat aggressively
  • Flight – running away from threat 
  • Freeze – being unable to move or act against a threat
  • Fawn – immediately acting to try to please or avoid any conflict 

This is important for survival. 

This response would be valid if you were walking out to your car from work and you saw an aggressive tiger in the parking lot. Your anxiety would skyrocket, triggering your stress response. Rightfully so. 

Sometimes you can have a similar response to situations such as a non aggressive kitten. Maybe you have had a poor experience with a kitten in your past. Now your brain associates all kittens as a threat. When you walk out to your car and seevthis kitten you may go into panic. Or you will avoid going to your car completely until the kitten is gone. 

This survival response is important for us, but when everything in life becomes a tiger and you are having intense emotional and physical reactions in situations where you’re not actually in danger you get exhausted.

Anyone who has experienced long periods of anxiety and panic are wanting relief and want it fast. This can lead to avoiding anxiety at any cost, which eases these symptoms temporarily but ends up causing more anxiety long term. 

Avoiding Anxiety Creates more Avoidance

That kitten you are afraid of (insert your anxious fear here) could cause you to avoid going anywhere where there could be the possibility of a kitten being present. Initially, there is relief and anxiety is more managed. The next time another situation comes up where a kitten could be present, this anxiety is going to be right back where it was, and usually worse. Your anxiety could start kicking up while listening to your friend talk about their new kitten. The more you avoid the worse anxiety gets in the long run. 

Avoiding anxiety makes sense. It might feel okay in the short run but you are creating patterns in your brain to keep up the avoidance in the long run. You won’t be able to outrun your kitten forever, getting help to manage these fears is important. Exposing yourself to situations you fear at a reasonable pace and learning to tolerate anxiety can be the most beneficial for targeting your anxiety and having lasting effects. 

Exposures are one way in therapy you can start to move through your anxiety. It should be done at a pace that you can manage without full panic and in an environment that is supportive. Having the right fit of therapist across from you help you build up internal skills and soothing so you are able to face these fears and slowly teach your brain that you can handle more than you realize and not every situation will end with the kitten attacking.

Kendra Bittner, LPC
Individual Psychotherapist
Empowerment Within LLC

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