Instead of Fighting or Fleeing, Face Your Anxiety

Our innate response to danger is fight or flight.  Anxiety makes us feel as though certain things are dangerous, when in reality they aren’t.  Therefore we are inclined to treat the things that make us anxious just as we would treat danger- with the fight or flight response. However, this response reinforces that whatever is provoking the anxiety is dangerous. .

We flee situations that make us anxious by avoiding them or running away from them.  We fight our anxiety by attempting to rationalize with ourselves that our anxiety is not valid because we know the things we are avoiding are not dangerous. Anxiety is very real though, and so this does not work.

Here are some examples of the natural response that people with various anxiety disorders and anxiety triggers may have:

OCD- Avoiding public restrooms due to obsessive thoughts about getting an STI from using a public toilet.  They may try to fight it by telling themselves this isn’t rational but that won’t help.

Social Anxiety- Avoiding social situations, e.g. hanging out with friends, going to a party, going on a date.  They may try to fight this anxiety and tell themselves they shouldn’t feel anxious while hanging out with friends, but this won’t help. 

Agoraphobia- Having a panic attack is the worst feeling ever!  You have all the physical symptoms that come with an adrenaline rush, but there’s actual danger or reason for you to feel that way, so instead you feel like you’re going to die, or lose your mind, so you begin to avoid the places and situations that have triggered panic in the past.

Specific Phobias- Afraid of elevators, so they avoid them and take the stairs instead, or they just avoid tall buildings.

Instead of FIGHTING or FLEEING anxiety, we need to FACE it.  By facing our anxiety triggers, we rewire our brains to stop seeing them as dangerous. .

This isn’t easy, and it will cause discomfort and anxiety- but a therapist who specializes in exposure and response prevention can help.

Leila Jelvani