In my last blog, I discussed the fear of failure, which commonly fuels anxiety. But there is another fear that is commonly at the core of anxiety, and that is the fear of anxiety itself.
As I’ve alluded to before, the actual experience of anxiety itself can range from mildly uncomfortable to absolutely excruciating. Sometimes, the feeling of anxiety is so strong and intense that we feel as though we are completely losing controls of ourselves. Because the feeling of anxiety if so deterring, people often become afraid of the experience itself. Thus, we again feel compelled to take the “Avoidance is the Best Policy” approach. If I avoid all situations that cause anxiety, then I will I’ll never have to feel anxiety.
The problem is, this approach simply does not work. It may work in the short-term, but in the long term, this actually amplifies and prolongs anxiety. For example, let’s say that you struggle with social anxiety. Skipping that party may initially give you relief and encourage you to continue skipping parties. But let’s say a time comes when you need to attend a party for a really important reason (e.g., your boss is requiring you to attend a work party or your friend expresses that he/she needs your support at a party). You cannot avoid parties forever and, when you get in a pattern of avoiding parties, your anxiety about parties will become stronger.
This can be applied to any source of anxiety. It is sort of like… When you haven’t worked out in a while, your muscles become weaker… When you haven’t worked with your hands in a while, your hands become softer… When you haven’t exposed yourself to germs in a while, your immune system becomes weaker… This is exactly how anxiety works. When you haven’t allowed yourself to feel anxiety in a while, you become more sensitive to it, and it becomes more challenging to manage.
Also, when we get sucked into a pattern of avoiding anxiety, we tend to feel worse about ourselves. We feel like a failure, we feel insecure, we feel under-confident, we feel unworthy, we feel flawed… Do not give credence to these unhealthy, untrue thoughts by avoiding.
But wait- there’s more! When we fall into the pattern of chronic avoidance, we also wind up prioritizing our fear of anxiety over our values. And I’m willing to bet that your values are more important to you than your fear of anxiety. For example, maybe you value your work, but your anxiety about getting work done prompts you to procrastinate. Maybe you value yourself and your message, but your anxiety about rejection or displeasing others prompts you to hide and hold yourself back. Maybe your anxiety about being a good parent prompts you to worry and question yourself to the point of disengaging with your kids.
When the fear of anxiety stands in the way of your values and goals, choose your values and goals over avoidance. Feeling anxiety is only uncomfortable and it is never the worst outcome. Anxiety is just a feeling and nothing more. You will get through it, and you will become stronger and more courageous.
Avoid anxiety, and you will stay the same. Embrace anxiety, and you will grow.
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.