Don't Try Harder, Try Different!

Simple strategies for handling anxiety and stress.

Three Things That Maintain Anxiety

Avoidance, Reassurance, and Distraction. Three makers of Anxiety.

How many times have you had the same conversation with someone over and over again, and then became frustrated again and again because they did not follow your advice? I hear about this happening all of the time actually. I hear about it from therapists that I train who tell me how frustrating it is to work with anxious patients.

Now, I will agree that it can be frustrating to work with some anxious patients, but it does not have to be. In fact, some of the best therapy in the world was designed to treat anxiety disorders. So, treating stressed and anxious people is not all that difficult if you know what you are doing.

So, I am going to let you all in on a little secret—I am going to tell you what to do to overcome your stress and anxiety. It is just a few simple steps and you will be able to make great strides in helping yourself to overcome your fears. And, if you need any extra help from a therapist, that is fine too, as I will also tell you where to find good help.

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Instead of talking about what is stressful or what is leading you to feel anxious, you would be better off stopping these three behaviors:

1.       Avoidance: If you avoid what it is you fear, you will teach yourself that the only way to be safe is to avoid what you fear. This is a recipe for disaster, because you will just avoid more and more things over time instead of learning how to handle what it is that bothers you.

2.       Reassurance Seeking: If all you do is ask everyone you know if everything will be OK, you will never learn how to handle things on your own. This is also a tricky scheme, because if someone tells you that everything will be OK, and then it turns out not to be, you can blame them for it not turning out well because they lied to you and told you that everything will be OK.

3.       Distraction: If you do have to face whatever it is you fear and you distract yourself from it, then you never actually learn how to handle it and you maintain your fear and convince yourself that the only reason you are safe is because of the distraction that you did.

These three things are actually called safety seeking behaviors, and they are all performed in order to feel good right now instead of feeling good later on. That may sound like a good thing, but it really is a very poor way of coping because people soon become so reliant on these coping strategies that they live only to feel good in the moment and do not do what they need to do to be well in the long run. In future posts we will break the safety seeking behaviors down more in depth and talk about how to overcome them.

If you are in need of help with stress, or are seeing someone and do not feel that you are making progress, I suggest looking at the "Find A Therapist" sections of these websites for some assistance:

www.adaa.org

www.ocfoundation.org

www.abct.org

 

Patrick McGrath, Ph.D., is the Director of the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital's Center for Anxiety and OCD Program and president of Anxiety Centers of Illinois. more...

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