The human brain is fascinating. We like to think of ourselves as logical – believing that our thoughts and emotions are based only on our knowledge and experiences.
That is anything but true.
One amazing example of this is with what are known as “avoidance behaviors,” which play a big role in CBT and anxiety therapy. To understand the effects of avoidance behaviors, let’s use a common fear that many of us have: a fear of spiders.
An Irrational Fear
Most spiders are not dangerous. They rarely bite, they’re afraid of humans, and their toxins are not powerful enough to cause any real damage. The most common spiders in NYC, like the house spider, do not even have teeth that can break skin.
Even the black widow spider bites are never fatal to anyone over the age of 5 and under the age of 65, and rarely fatal to those age groups, and there are essentially no black widow spiders in all of Brooklyn or New York City for this to be an issue.
Yet, many of us still fear spiders. We can discuss the origins of this fear at another time (irrational fears are another reason the human brain is so fascinating) but in this case, let’s talk about what happens when we have this fear:
We see a spider and we run away.
We avoid places that have spiders.
We ask other people in the house without a fear of spiders to get rid of it for us.
These are examples of avoidance behaviors. They are very common for those that have anxiety. As anxiety therapists in NYC, many – if not most – of our patients will show some type of avoidance behavior when they come to us with an anxiety issue.
Now, you would think that avoiding spiders is a natural reaction to fear. You would also think that avoiding spiders is an emotionally-neutral reaction. Meaning, that avoiding something you fear isn’t going to make you fear it any more or any less. But study after study has shown that this is not the case.
In fact, what studies show is that when we avoid something, we *reinforce the fear*. Avoiding something tells the fear part of our brains that it is correct to fear the subject, and the result is that you are *more* likely to fear it in the future.
Why this occur is not entirely clear, but it is called “negative reinforcement.” Taking away or avoiding a bad thing reinforces an idea, thought, or emotion that we have. It’s why logic alone often isn’t enough to get rid of a fear. You might know that spiders are not dangerous, for example, but the more you avoid them, the more your brain thinks that they are.
Anxiety Therapy with CBT in NYC
Flourish Psychology, a Brooklyn-based private practice, works with many patients that are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Identifying avoidance behaviors is part of the process for treating anxiety, and one of the many core components of CBT. If you struggle with anxiety, contact Flourish Psychology, today.
We are only a few days from the new year, and while we hope that 2022 was one of the best years in your life, we also know that, for many of us, there are things that we want to work on and ways that we want to personally improve.
That is why, so often, we take January 1st of a new year as an opportunity for resolutions – new changes that we’ve set out for ourselves that we plan to continue through 2023 and beyond.
Making Resolutions is Easy
Making resolutions is very easy. It’s keeping the resolutions that is the problem. Anyone can make a resolution. But keeping the resolution is the most important part of the resolution.
On that front, most of us fail. Even the most noble of goals tends to be easily forgotten or put off after January or February. We promise to exercise more, eat healthier, or engage in some type of activity, and then life catches up with us and we get back into our own habits.
No one can force you to keep your resolutions. But there are strategies and techniques that can help you make resolutions that last. This year, consider the following:
Choose Genuine Resolutions – Yes, you may want to exercise more. Yes, you may want to eat healthier. These are things you may want to do. But how badly do you really want to do them? Do you want to do it because you think you should, or is it a genuine interest? Choose only resolutions that you have a very strong interest in, so that you are passionate about pursuing them.
Be Specific – Do you really want to “exercise more” or is there something specific you want to do? Maybe you want to go hiking more, or train for a marathon, or lose exactly 15 lbs. The more specific you are, the easier it is to make progress towards those goals. The more generic the goal, the harder it is to feel focused or accomplished.
Create Sub-Goals and a Plan – Once you have resolutions in mind, turn them into smaller goals and make sure they’re scheduled into your calendar. For example, if you plan to eat healthier, set a goal of cooking dinner 5x a week, make a list of healthy foods, and plan them on your calendar in advance so you know what to do and when.
Create Habits – Let’s say you plan to floss every day. Saying “I’m going to floss” doesn’t always work. Instead, you need to turn it into a habit – a regular part of your routine. You can do this by tying it to another habit (for example, brushing teeth at night), making sure you do it before you brush your teeth, keeping floss visible at all times so you never forget, and setting alarm reminders. You can do this with many other resolutions that you’re considering.
Find a Buddy – Accountability plays a strong role in the ability to keep resolutions. You are far more likely to continue with one if you know that someone is waiting on you or depending on you. For example, don’t join a gym alone, but go with a friend, and make a plan to schedule it in together. Instead of meals for yourself, share meals with a friend, where you both take turns eating them together.
Above all else, make sure that you’re also addressing any issues in your life that may be keeping you from achieving your goals. Stress, anxiety, relationship issues – these are all things that can create challenges that affect your ability to keep your resolutions and make the changes that you’re looking for in your life. If you haven’t yet, let self-care and therapy be a resolution that you strongly consider keeping this year. Learn more by contacting Flourish Psychology today.