Today I am going to cover the subject of avoidance with anxiety.
Avoidance in dealing with anxiety can take many forms; some people may avoid things like social situations, driving, the supermarket, answering the phone. Some may turn down invites to meet with friends, avoid going for the job they want, or postponing that evening class they so want to go to.
The person who falls into avoidance behaviour restricts their own life due to becoming a prisoner to how they are thinking and feeling. They may find doing things too much effort or not want to face triggering the anxiety that’s within them, and so they find it easier to stay on the path of avoidance.
The above was me, and at the time I thought that all I had to do was work out the magic formula and then I would feel normal and have my life back. The problem was that I did not know how to feel normal again. I had tried everything, read every book, tried every technique given to me and yet nothing had worked. So I was stuck in this continual pattern of avoidance to deal with how I was feeling.
I now understood that the outside was not going to change for me; it would keep spinning the same while I shied away from it. That there was no single piece of knowledge out there that was going to make everything OK. No day would arrive where I could just step outside and carry on with my life as before without feeling uncomfortable.
I realised by hiding away I was only strengthening the problem. I was continuing to send the message to my subconscious mind that there was danger in the outside world and certain situations. The only way out was to start conveying it a different message, one that taught it that everything was OK out there.
I concluded that the best way to break out of these old avoidance patterns was to ‘Do everything I did before I had anxiety’ this meant allowing myself to feel uncomfortable until I no longer did.
Listen to wisdom and not the voice of anxiety
Even though I was putting myself out there more, it was like there was a little voice in my head that would try and keep me safe by telling me not to go here or there and not to put myself in certain situations.
This voice was my sub-conscious mind talking to me and trying to keep me safe, acting on the previous information it had received. But the information it received from me previously was faulty, all based on my actions of avoidance of things that were utterly harmless; In truth, I had no reason to avoid the outside.
So if this voice was only based on my past actions, then it had no truth to it, and so I just needed to ignore it and do it anyway. In doing this, I would eventually silence that voice.
If you avoid certain places, then your mind registers this and files it under dangerous and will kindly let you know the next time you are in that situation. What a great operating system! Well, it is until we send it the wrong messages.
Understanding your inner voice
Someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety may have been fine with dogs, until one day they get bitten.
If this person then goes straight back out there and doesn’t start avoiding places where they may encounter dogs, then they may initially feel a small reaction of anxiety but one that doesn’t create much of a problem.
If on the other hand, this person then goes on to avoid dogs and any place where they may encounter them, then the mind would then pick up on this threat and register it as a severe one due to your behaviour of avoidance.
The inner voice would then be overprotective, fearful and guide you to make sure you never encounter another one, and if you did, then you would most likely feel an intense reaction of fear. On seeing the dog, the mind has gone into its internal filing system, picked up on the threat and is now keeping you safe by telling you to get the hell out of there.
Do you now see how the mind picks up and reacts to the information we are sending it? It is not a reaction to the actual situation, only what you have made of it. It is picking up on the information it receives from you as to how high its reaction needs to be to keep you safe.
This understanding is what freed me of my avoidance, as I now understood why I felt the way I did and why I had such a reaction to the harmless situations I had previously avoided. I now understood that these reactions were not merited and I was just being tricked by my mind’s response and not the reality of the situation I found myself in.
My wisdom had finally shone through, and I now realised that there was no actual danger in these situations and eventually through my action of non-avoidance my mind would get this message too and so turn down its overbearing fear response.
Learning to reprogram the brain
So as you can see it is us that has created this false programming in our mind through our past actions, which is great news as now we can be the ones to reprogram it by changing how we behave.
The old subconscious programming in our mind will still have a certain pull to it and will try and keep us in these old patterns. This is because our mind still has our best interests at heart and believes by keeping us in old habits it is doing us a favour.
Even with this understanding, it is at this point where many people may fall back into old patterns of behaviour that are not serving them. They do so because trying to come out of old behaviours feels uncomfortable and so it is easier to stay on the old path.
But all that is happening is that your rational mind has got this understanding, but your subconscious hasn’t and so you feel uncomfortable when you try and step out of these old behaviours.
If you understand what is happening, then you are more able to allow yourself to feel uncomfortable and see that this is part of the process of reprogramming your mind. All you have to do is see it as growth and that you can’t create any true inner change without some discomfort.
Many people say to me ‘I got this last week and started to change and go out more, but now I’ve fallen back into my old habits of avoidance.’
I tell them the same thing that the subconscious mind takes a lot longer to get it than the rational mind and so it will try and pull you back into old ways of doing things, just acknowledge that pull but do it anyway. In time the subconscious mind will get it, and the pull will leave you.
There is no big secret to changing this; it is all about understanding what is going on., I finally understand that it was me that had created this problem and only a change in my behaviour was going to solve it.
I just stopped listening to this inner voice and so from now if the phone went off, I answered it every time, anxious or not.
If I got invited out to any social gathering, then I would go, even if my inner voice tried to warn me about what would go wrong.
If a neighbour approached, then I would no longer follow my inner voice or emotions and rush to get back inside, I would walk right up and chat.
That inner voice and my emotions continued to try and keep me safe and set off the fear reaction for a while longer, but I just thanked them for doing their job and told them through my actions that I was perfectly fine, knowing they would get the message soon.
In time this inner voice and the emotional reactions left me. I slowly, but surely reprogrammed my subconscious mind and emptied it of all its old fears and beliefs and was now free to go anywhere with no problems whatsoever.
The journey was quite exciting, seeing my life come back slowly, but surely. I even got a thrill out of testing myself and seeing how fearless I could be while watching the progress I was making.
I will finish with a famous quote by Vincent van Gogh
If you hear a voice within you, say ‘you cannot paint’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced
How very true!
If you would like to read my personal story of how I overcame anxiety, then you will find this and much more in my best selling book ‘At last a life’. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and is recommended by many therapists and is now on prescription at many doctors surgeries.