Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 aims to raise awareness around mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. This year, Mental Health Awareness Week theme is “Anxiety”. What are the ways that fuel our anxiety and the common mistakes that we make?
When we experience anxiety, our instinct is to avoid the source of our fear. This may provide temporary relief and a sense of safety, but in reality, avoidance only perpetuates and intensifies anxiety.
Your brain is constantly gathering data, whether it be positive or negative experiences, to solidify its beliefs. When you avoid a fear-inducing situation, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to challenge those beliefs and accumulate evidence that you can overcome it. Simply convincing yourself that something is safe is not enough; you must face it head-on.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Your brain may resist this change, so it is important to consistently repeat the desired behaviour. The things you do most often become your comfort zone, so regularly confronting your fears will expand that zone and ultimately diminish anxiety.
By regularly confronting our fears, we gain strength and develop a sense of personal growth over time. Imagine how much more fulfilling our lives could be if we based our decisions on our desires instead of our fears.
Unfortunately, we often resort to safety behaviours to avoid the discomfort of fear. For instance, if we feel anxious about social events, we may not attend or drink excessively before going. While these behaviours may alleviate anxiety in the moment, they don’t offer any long-term solutions. In fact, they feed the anxiety, creating a dependence on safety behaviours that only make life more difficult.
Things that make anxiety worse:
There are a number of things that we do, often unintentionally, that can make anxiety worse. Here are some of the most common:
- Avoidance: When we’re anxious, we may be tempted to avoid situations or activities that trigger our anxiety. However, avoidance can actually reinforce our anxiety by making us more fearful and less confident in our ability to cope with the situation.
- Rumination: This refers to the tendency to dwell on our anxious thoughts and feelings. Rumination can lead to a vicious cycle of worry and negative thinking, which can exacerbate our anxiety.
- Checking: This involves repeatedly checking that things are okay or safe. For example, someone with health anxiety may constantly check their body for signs of illness.
- Reassurance seeking: This involves seeking reassurance from others that everything is okay or that the person is doing the right thing. For example, someone with relationship anxiety may constantly ask their partner if they love them.
- Catastrophising: This is the tendency to assume the worst-case scenario in any given situation. Catastrophizing can fuel our anxiety and make us feel helpless and out of control.
- Social isolation: Lack of social support can make it harder to cope with anxiety and can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. Anxious people then avoid social situations.
- Negative self-talk: This refers to the inner dialogue we have with ourselves, and can include self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-blame. Negative self-talk can contribute to feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.
- Unhealthy life style choices: Using drugs or alcohol tor eating a poor diet o cope with anxiety can provide temporary relief but can lead to dependence and worsen anxiety over time.
- Safety objects: These are objects that provide a sense of security or comfort, such as a favourite blanket or stuffed animal. While these objects can be helpful in the short-term, they can reinforce the idea that the world is dangerous or unpredictable.
- Distraction: This involves engaging in activities or behaviours to take one’s mind off anxiety-provoking thoughts or situations. While distraction can be helpful in the short-term, it does not address the underlying anxiety and can lead to avoidance behaviours.
The above behaviours may provide temporary relief from anxiety, but they do not address the underlying fears and can ultimately keep a person stuck in their anxiety over the long-term.
Do any of the above patterns resonate with you?
The following blogs look at ways of coping with anxiety