How do you get rid of the pain?
The quickest way to get away from something you don’t want (e.g., anxiety) is to avoid or escape from it.
After all, this is what your cat or dog does whenever it is afraid or scared.
Avoiding things seems to work — you feel instant relief and your anxiety lessens.
But if it works, why does the anxiety persist?
When people feel anxiety they just want to get rid of it — they do not like how they think and feel.
- People who feel panic coming on (usually in the form of physiological symptoms such as heart sensations and sweaty palms) begin to fight back against the fear.
- People who have experienced trauma in the past may try to actively avoid experiencing reminders such as flashbacks, dreams, images or thoughts.
- People who feel uncomfortable in social situations or are afraid of being evaluated may avoid such situations or the feelings and thoughts that go with them.
- People who experience phobias may avoid any verbal, physical or other reminders of the things they fear so that they do not feel the fear.
- People who struggle with unwanted thoughts and rituals feel they must act in some way to reduce the thoughts or feelings that they so fear.
You can see that people who feel anxious will try to do things to reduce or control any anxious thoughts and feelings.
They will want to avoid any experience of anxious thoughts and feelings. They will do things that help them limit the probability, intensity or duration of experiencing anxiety.
But wherever they go, the anxiety goes with them. People simply cannot escape from their psychological experiences — their thoughts and feelings.
Because of their thoughts and feelings, the outcome is:
- People who fight the fear in panic may panic more.
- People who avoid experiencing scary thoughts, feelings and images may become more anxious.
- People who avoid spiders or open spaces still keep their anxious thoughts and feelings inside them.
So, anxiety will persist.
What you can do:
- Recognise that purposeful ‘control’ cannot reduce the anxiety (in the long term).
- Focus on what you can control, and change (your behaviour) and accept what you can’t change.