Anxiety Triggers & Avoidance
Avoidance is often the key strategy used by individuals with anxiety disorders. Often, anxious individuals are even advised to avoid triggers that cause anxiety by their well-meaning therapists, which unfortunately only helps to maintain anxiety disorders.
Although avoidance strategies temporarily reduce anxiety and discomfort, this actually creates more difficulty in the long term. Avoiding the anxiety producing trigger tends to make the uncomfortable situation in to something bigger, something that can’t be handled and must be avoided at all cost. Avoiding the feared situation often turns a minor problem into a major issue. Avoidance strategies reduces a person’s confidence in their ability to cope and prevents new effective learning that can happen only if the anxious situation is faced and the feared outcome fails to happen, or happens without the catastrophic consequences that the individual has been imagining.
Avoidance strategies can be both obvious and subtle. For instance, a claustrophobic person who avoids elevators or a person afraid of public speaking who avoids giving presentations at work both exhibit obvious avoidance strategies. For someone with social anxiety, more subtle avoidance strategies might consist of avoiding asking questions or pretending to be busy on your phone to avoid having to speak with someone. For someone with emetophobia (fear of vomiting), a subtle avoidance strategy might be to avoid eating certain foods and sticking only to “safe foods” to reduce the chance of vomiting. An individual with panic disorder might always carry beta-blockers or Xanax “just in case” to avoid feeling physical symptoms of panic and anxiety. These subtle avoidance strategies play a crucial role in the maintenance of anxiety disorders.
A common characteristic of anxiety disorders includes thoughts that generate and exacerbate anxiety. These thoughts can cause us to overestimate threats and underestimate our own ability to cope. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help us to identify thought patterns and challenge unhelpful thoughts. This often proves helpful in overcoming anxiety. In addition to disputing thinking patterns, successful treatment for anxiety also includes understanding and identifying avoidance patterns and taking part in intentional, gradual exposure. Research has found that exposure is the active ingredient of recovery. Exposure helps individuals with anxiety disorders to move toward anxiety producing situations and willingly experience discomfort and thereby learn that one can cope with anxious feelings. Anxious individuals begin to understand that what is distressing is not dangerous and things that trigger anxiety do not need to be avoided.
At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, we offer compassionate, scientifically based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to adults, children and teenagers. We specialize in treating all anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety (GAD), specific phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
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