If you are an anxious person, you may have a go-to safety behaviour to ease your anxiety instantly.
For example, you may:
- Stay at the back of the room to avoid speaking
- Aimlessly scroll on your phone to avoid social situations
- Speak very fast when presenting or interacting with others
- Only ask people about them to avoid talking about yourself
- Hover next to an exit, always ready to leave
- Physically remove yourself from the situation
- Daydream or fidget
Whilst you may feel that these strategies give you an instant anxiety relief, they may actually be reinforcing anxiety and not helping you in building a healthy coping mechanism toolkit. ‘Safety behaviours’ have been found to prevent cognitive change long-term.
When should I address my safety behaviours?
It is important to address your anxieties around a situation when you are not anxious – because this is the time you can really reflect and see things for what they truly are.
In doing this, you will be less likely to resort to your safety behaviours.
You can do this in 4 steps:
- Acknowledge and validate your safety behaviours
First of all – it’s ok. It’s totally ok to be anxious and to resort to instant relief. That’s literally how us human folk are wired! So please be kind to yourself on this. You can manage your safety behaviours over time, there’s no pressure or rush.
- Think about the context of your triggering situation
Really think about what triggers your anxiety. What is making you anxious enough to resort to your safety behaviours? Whether it is a social setting, a workplace, a shopping centre – is there real, immediate danger to you in any of these situations? You are safe. You can handle it. Remember that.
- Challenge your thoughts and question your beliefs
This is where you dig a bit deeper than just context. Ask yourself why you are anxious. Where is this coming from? All the beliefs you have, are they yours or someone else’s? Is there any concrete evidence to support these beliefs? What would you say to a friend who had these thoughts? What would be positive and negative consequences of staying in the situation instead of removing yourself from it?
Knowing the reason for your thoughts can make it easier for you to tackle them at the core.
Be sure to link this all back to your safety behaviours, what might actually happen without them?
- Plan your strategies and give them a seal of approval.
Now we have worked out why we might need to rely on our safety behaviours in certain situations, it’s time to work on a plan to avoid them for next time! Give yourself messages and strategies from your confident self to your anxious self. Remember that because you were in a good state of mind when you came up with these strategies, they now have a seal of approval – your anxious self can trust them when the time comes! This could be a mantra, a breathing technique, positive affirmations, a grounding exercise.