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Overcoming Fears

We all have things we are afraid of and things we avoid. Things that set off our brain's threat system. For evolutionary reasons it makes sense that we have a threat system to tell us to escape from danger. But it can get hijacked by everyday things that actually aren't dangerous but can make us feel unsafe or threatened.

We tend then to avoid these things - of course we do! - it makes sense to avoid things that make us afraid or feel threatened. But unfortunately avoidance makes the fear worse. And fear and avoidance can stop us from doing the things we want to do.

Chris and Ginger’s three challenges this week were:

In the first challenge I asked them to identify the things that make them feel afraid, anxious, or threatened? Then I asked them to figure out in what way they were avoiding them?

Sometimes it's obvious like “I have social anxiety so I avoid socialising”.

Sometimes it's less obvious: “I'm anxious about money to I *avoid* thinking about it and push it out of my mind.”

What is it for you?


Remember avoidance is the cause of fears so it’s helpful to figure out the things you are avoiding. When we avoid things that make us anxious we feel a strong surge of relief. Our brain learns over time that avoidance feels good. Unfortunately this means that the thing we have been avoiding becomes more and more anxiety provoking.


The second challenge was to take one small step to start exposing to one of their fears. It should be a tiny step at first - it doesn't matter what it is.


Remember - exposure is the cure for fears. It can feel overwhelming at first. That’s why we start very small and work our way up. This is called “Graded Exposure”. The idea is that your brain and body slowly re-learns that the thing you have been fearing can’t actually harm you.


The third challenge was to notice something they are fearful of. And then to activate the opposing brain system. What does this mean? The soothing or affiliative system counteracts the threat system. This means that if you turn up the volume of that system the volume on the fear or threat system turns down. So, for example if you are feeling tense or threatened (by stress at work, by a colleague, by social situations) try different ways to activate the soothing system. You can do this on your own by practising doing whatever feels soothing - for instance relaxation or mindfulness, drawing, taking a bath, getting a massage, baking. Or you can do it with someone else - phoning a friend who makes you feel calm or loved, by hugging someone close to you, or by doing an act of kindness for someone else.


Remember: activating an opposing brain system can turn down the volume on the fear response. Try this by engaging in soothing behaviour or close connection with someone who makes you feel good.


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