Anxiety is an emotional and physiological response to a certain stimuli. This initial stimuli can be a real event/situation or an imagined one.
When I was young, I was very “shy”. Knowing what I know now, I would label my behaviour as a type of social anxiety. Although, this anxiety would pop up in other domains of my life, it was most problematic in my dealing with situations involving people. I would cry when people provided direct eye contact and the idea that I might be doing something “wrong” was overwhelming and often prevented any action. Of course, I also had a fear of spiders, but their excessive legs and eyes are unusual and difficult to process…
Our tendency when we experience anxiety, is to avoid the anxiety provoking situation. This provides relief, afterall, and isn’t that what we’re aiming for? This strategy has the tendency to create anxiety in other situations; ones that are similar to the original stimulus. It is counter-intuitive, but the best way to overcome anxiety is to step outside of the comfort zone and to be exposed to those situations that create anxiety.
With the best intentions in mind, parents want to protect their children and often do so by helping them avoid those anxiety provoking situations. I have two children who have developed anxieties and fears just like everyone else. The first one that presented itself was the fear of monsters. My son expressed fear with going upstairs on his own, or even going to the bathroom on his own. We talked about what fear is and how he can talk himself into doing something (I can do this, I am brave), instead of talking himself out of it (I can’t do this, it’s too scary). Then we slowly took steps to make this a bit easier (singing songs while he goes upstairs). We encouraged him to go places on his own and cheered on his successes. We also minimized Halloween shows and talk of ghosts and monsters as much as we could. Some anxieties are bigger than others and require more effort, patience and tools in order to overcome them. This is especially true if negative events have created this anxiety. My son is sometimes still hesitant to go these places on his own, but I can hear him singing or reminding himself that he can do it as he does so with no protesting.
My parents continually encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone when I was younger. I still confront my social anxiety on a regular basis, but I know that I can take steps to ease the anxiety and I am capable of doing those challenging tasks. I also celebrate my successes whenever I can. If I’m disappointed with an outcome, I will remind myself of other opportunities to succeed and I will search for what did go okay in this situation.
Next time you experience anxiety, take some breaths, encourage yourself to take a little step forward and reward yourself for the step that you took, no matter how small. If anxiety has a good hold on your life and is preventing you from doing the things you want to do, you may want to enlist the help of a professional in your area. It can be helpful to get numerous tools to quiet the anxiety and to have someone else to encourage you along the way. You can do it!
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