If you’re using avoidance behavior to stop anxious feelings, then think again. This type of action can actually make anxiety worse in the long run.
I will have to say that I think of myself as the queen of avoidance behavior. I even pride myself on avoiding social situations at all costs in favor of hiding away and spending time alone. My home, which is my sanctuary, is also like my fortress that keeps people out. To some, this behavior may seem strange, but to others, I bet they can relate to my actions.
Why avoidance behavior isn’t really healthy
While my avoidance behavior does keep me in my comfort zone, it keeps me in my comfort zone and away from “possibilities”. What I mean is that by avoiding everyone and everything, I also avoid healing my anxieties as well. I know that my anxiety is not helped by the way I act, but I just can’t seem to break out of this pattern.
Let’s take a look at why avoidance behavior is not a solution for anxiety.
While avoidance behavior acts as a wall of protection, it also prevents us from learning new things about life. Although I cower in my corner with my best friend, avoidance, I know that what I do is wrong. When it comes to social anxiety, avoidance behavior keeps us stuck in a place where we cannot easily make new friends or attend really cool events. I must admit, I have missed many concerts, plays, and festivals that may have been highly enjoyable if I had tried a little harder to peel away the negative feelings.
But let’s face it. Removing the protective layer of avoidance is not an easy task. It’s so much easier to make excuses as to why we can’t attend a party or why we just can’t make it to our friend’s wedding. Without that push we need, we will stay in a place that offers us consistency and predictability.
Your anxiety can only improve if you are willing to take that first step in leaving your comfort zone. Yes, I said it, avoidance behavior is toxic. And yes, I perform this behavior really well most of the time. I can spend weeks at a time barely leaving my home, and even feel pretty good about that too.
Unfortunately, the lack of human stimulation and conversation changes the way we see the world around us. Our brains become accustomed to the small world of our home. As we stay away from other people, we learn to thrive in solitude. When people do come around, we are much easily overwhelmed.
On the other hand, if we are surrounded by people on a regular basis, it’s much easier to meet new friends and welcome new acquaintances. We have learned to accept the flow of people in and out of our lives, and then back again. Our anxiety prevents us from living a consistent life among other human beings.
How can we stop avoidance behavior?
No matter how bad your anxiety may be or how long you’ve been practicing avoidance behavior, you can change. The truth is, you have to want to change, just like with any other undesirable trait you may have. Here are a few ways to step out of your comfort zone and into the world.
1. Don’t do it alone
The first time you push yourself to be more social, don’t try it alone. A friend can go to a party with you and help you build the courage to stay for a while. Even though you might hide away in the bathroom a bit, your friend can coax you out and help you blend in. No, it won’t be easy, but a good friend will be with you every step of the way.
2. Practice smiling
When you decide to do something that requires social interaction, try this practice. Smile at everyone, no matter how much you don’t want to. Yes, it will feel and look a bit fake at first, but over time, your smile will help elevate your feelings and relieve a portion of your anxiety.
Smile at everyone, but don’t stare for long periods. Remember, the objective is to feel like a normal person in a normal situation.
3. Try rehearsing and role-playing
Before you decide to push yourself away from avoidance, practice talking in front of a mirror. How do you feel? How is your appearance? The key here is to be a confident person.
If you can build up your confidence by rehearsing, you can use this confidence when you go to an event. Try role-playing scenarios with your therapist or loved one. This helps you understand how to respond if things do go wrong.
4. Set time limits on your social interaction
If you use avoidance behavior obsessively, then it’s clear that you will avoid almost every form of social interaction. So, when you decide to come out of your shell, you will only be able to stay out for a little while at first.
If you are going to a dinner party, make sure you tell the host when you need to leave, so that your departure isn’t seen as abnormal. This allows you to make your exit and return to where you feel more comfortable. Always set time limits when learning how to fearlessly socialize.
Leaving our bubble of protection
It’s time to face the truth. It’s time to leave your bubble of protection and step out into the world. This may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but I promise it will be a healthy choice. The reason why we need to leave our comfort zones is that if we don’t, we may miss some of the most precious moments with other people.
So I encourage you today to be brave. Don’t try to change everything overnight, just take one courageous step at a time.
Today, just make the decision to try harder.