Do you worry about others judging your work as inadequate and put off completing projects? Or do you avoid new social situations? Stay away from public speaking, heights or intimate relationships?
Fear and anxiety can cause significant life problems and leave us cut off from some of the most rewarding life experiences.
As I discussed in my recent blog titled “Dialectical Behavior Therapy Emotion Regulation Skills: What do Emotions do for You?” emotions serve a purpose. They both communicate to others and motivate action. Each emotion has a specific action that goes with it. Fear and anxiety prompt us to run or avoid the feared or anxiety-producing situation.
Unfortunately, we sometimes experience an emotion like fear or anxiety, when there is not, in fact, any real need to run or avoid. But emotions are powerful things and often, even when the emotion is not justified, we avoid the situation. When we avoid, we don’t learn that the situation is not dangerous, so we continue to feel afraid or anxious. The only way to change how we feel is to learn that the situation is not dangerous by doing the opposite of what we feel like doing. In the case of anxiety, this means we must approach the situation we’re afraid of.
Take the circumstance I mentioned above involving avoiding new social situations out of anxiety. Most people who feel anxious in new social situations are worried that they will be judged negatively. The reality is that most of the other people in the situation will be focused on themselves. Those who do notice an anxious person, are more likely to be kind to the person than judgmental. In this case, the fear is not justified.
Sometimes in order to change how we feel we have to act opposite to how our emotions are telling us to act. With anxiety, instead of running from the feared circumstance, we need to approach and engage in it.
Acting opposite to how you’re feeling only works when:
- The fear is not justified. Fear is justified when a situation is a threat to your life, health, or well being.
- You do opposite action all the way. Not just by acting opposite to how you’re feeling, but also by thinking opposite to how you’re feeling.
PROCESS OF OPPOSITE ACTION
- Figure out your emotion
- Figure out what action goes with that emotion.
- Ask yourself ‘do I want to reduce this emotion?’
- Figure out what the opposite action is.
- Do the opposite action all the way.
Try it out and see if you begin to experience less fear and anxiety. Make sure your fear isn’t justified and then approach the situation with both your actions and your thoughts.
Linehan M. M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press.