The Problem: Avoidance is the natural response to anxiety. This worked great when running away from saber-tooth tigers; not so much for modern day challenges and stressors.
The Science: Approaching things we’re afraid of trains our brains that this scary thing is actually OK to approach, thus reducing our anxiety about it and giving us the opportunity to build mastery in a feared domain.
The Solution: Challenge yourself to live your life more fully by facing your fears. Use the strategy list below to help you out.
Reducing Avoidance Strategy List
- Anxiety sensations are normal physical reactions and not harmful. Learn how to make stress your friend. You want anxiety to be activated, as it is a sign you are stretching out of your comfort zone and moving through the anxiety instead of dodging it.
- Focus on what is really happening to you and around you, not on what you fear might happen or on your self-critical/judging/doubting thoughts.
- Worry is not a predictor of outcome. Each practice situation is an opportunity to test out your worry predictions.
- Develop an encouraging statement to help you stay focused on the task at hand. Ground yourself in the importance of your overarching goal.
- Take a few deep breaths and practice breathing from your belly.
- Choose to tackle goals that are within a 40-60 SUDS (subjective units of distress) range. If your goal is higher than 60 or 70, break it up into multiple goals or work towards it with related goals.
- You are more likely to approach a goal if it is SMART:
- Specific (defined and concrete)
- Measurable (at the end of the day, can you answer Yes/No on whether you did it?)
- Action-oriented (instead of thinking about doing something, it’s a concrete action)
- Realistic (small and doable)
- Time-stamped (you’ve carved out a specific time in the next week to do it, e.g. Tuesday at 5pm)
- Track your progress. Write down your daily SMART goals and be honest about whether you achieved them or not.
- Tell a friend about your goal to help with accountability, or enlist others to engage in the goal with you.
- Progress is gradual. Be patient and kind to yourself.
- Embrace failures, setbacks, rejection—they’re a sign you are stretching outside your comfort zone.
- Reward yourself and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. They will add up.