Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Exposure Is Important

There are many opportunities for challenging your anxiety in everyday life. Many of you who have suffered with anxiety or OCD already know this because you see how often you encounter a trigger either at work, at school, in the store, on your phone, or on your TV screen. When anxiety rises in response, your first reaction may be to avoid the trigger. You look away from a scene, change the channel, turn the other direction, leave a store, avoid going to school, or leave work early. When you avoid, you may feel immediate relief and thus interpret that situation as something you needed to escape or avoid for your own safety. While you may feel better in the moment, you will still feel anxiety when faced with the trigger in the future. Avoidance reinforces anxiety in this way. The best way to manage anxiety when it takes hold is to work through it and not avoid it.  This means saying: “I am scared, but I am going to do it anyway. I can do something that is hard and scary.” When you challenge anxiety, you will grow and learn to respond to anxiety provoking situations in a healthier way. You will learn to delay getting that relief that comes from immediate escape to get the healthier, enduring relief of healthy management of anxiety that comes from exposing yourself to challenging situations. 

It is important to remember that anxiety is a valuable and a much-needed biological response. Before you decide to practice exposure, decide if your anxiety is giving you important information about getting to safety because you are actually in or about to be in danger (e.g., getting in the car with a drunk driver) or if you are dealing with excessive anxiety that is trying to prevent you from living in a meaningful way (e.g., calling a friend on the phone). Listen to your anxiety to keep you safe when in danger and stand up to it when it is sending you false alarms. 

Remember that a psychologist can help you in this journey.  Reaching out for help is a form of exposure too!

I hope you grow and do something that is scary!