Well I was going to talk today about intrusive thoughts, why they come and how to let them go, but the draft I wrote yesterday did not save to my computer and I lost the lot, it was a long post and will have to be re-written at a later date now.
Today I am going to cover the subject of avoidance. Some sufferers suffer from this quite a bit, some hardly at all, but I think everyone can get something out of it.
Avoiding places that trigger anxiety is totally counterproductive
Avoidance can take many forms, people may avoid social situations, the neighbour, answering the phone. They may turn down invites to meet with friends, not go for the job they want, not join that evening class.
Basically, they restrict their own life because they become a prisoner to how they are thinking and feeling. They may find doing things too much effort, have got to the point where they hate mixing or that they feel nervous or awkward in social situations.
This was me and what I thought at the time, was that I had to work out the magic formula and then I could start having my life back, that when this awful thing called anxiety went away, then my life could be normal again. The problem was that I did not know how to feel normal again, I had tried everything and nothing had worked.
Yet this is exactly what I needed to get my life back on track ‘Do nothing different than I did before anxiety’ I realised it was me that was changing my behaviour !! Hiding away and avoiding things was only telling my subconscious that there was danger here, there and everywhere, I could NEVER recover this way. The way to recover was to go against these instincts and do it anyway, to teach my subconscious mind that everything was fine.
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. Your mind actually thinks it is keeping you safe by doing this, this is a built-in system within everyone and it acts on what information it receives. 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, again the mind is innocent in all this, it is just going by your past actions.
Avoidance becomes a learnt behaviour
Someone without anxiety may have been fine with dogs, until one day they get bitten and then go out of their way to avoid them. Your mind has picked up on this avoidance and will most likely put you in a fight or flight situation when you see one. And the more you avoid, the deeper the threat goes into your subconscious mind and why the reaction comes instantly upon seeing a dog before you even think about it. This is because the subconscious mind works a lot faster than the thinking mind. The only way to stop this overbearing protection system is to start mixing with dogs again, even when these feelings of fear come, as they most likely will.
By doing this you are telling your mind that you’re fine now and you no longer need its protection, you can even thank it for doing its job and trying to keep you safe. This is the same as someone gradually doing something and getting used to it, it is your actions the mind picks up on, you can’t talk yourself better. The only language it understands is your actions, so when you no longer avoid, in time your mind realises you’re safe after all and slowly starts to turn off this protection system.
That little voice in the anxiety sufferer can go off at totally irrational moments it seems, at times when where there is no danger, no threat and it can bemuse us. Yet we have unknowingly created this reaction through our own past actions and behaviours, if we avoid talking with someone, if we avoid socialising, then we are building up a fear in our subconscious about being around people, so it is only doing its job. So yes we have created this false programming, which is great news as now we can be the ones to reprogram it too.
There is no big secret to change this, all I did was understand that it was me that created this, I was the one who decided to change my behaviour and do things differently, so of course my mind just followed and tried to keep me safe, it was me that kept telling it there was danger when there wasn’t, it just went along with what it was being told.
You don’t have to follow the voice of avoidance
The way I turned it around was simple, I just stopped listening to this little voice, if the phone went off I answered it every time, anxious or not. If I got invited out then I would go, at first it felt odd and I did feel some anxiety, but so what, I wanted my life back. If a neighbour approached I would not look down, I would walk right up and chat. That little voice that tried to keep me safe was still trying to do its job at times, but I just thanked it and told it I was fine. In time this voice and the fight or flight reactions left me, it realised there was no danger there now and there was no need to keep me safe any longer. I slowly, but surely reprogrammed myself 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 me come through and the progress I was making.
It was not always easy and the temptation to hide away was still there at times, but I never did. It was like I was looking down on myself at times and seeing the silliness of hiding away and the things I was avoiding.
This really is how I solved this part of my anxiety, I just went against every instinct and did it anyway. I had the power to change things, we all have. I changed it from being able to do everything before anxiety to avoidance, so I always had the power to change it back again.
Anxiety never stops you from doing anything, that is always your choice so don’t be a slave to it. From today if you suffer from any avoidance behaviours the only way to get through them is to just live your life like you did before anxiety and take the feelings with you.