One of Anxiety’s common tricks is to convince you that things must be “just right” before you expose yourself to what you are afraid of in order to get better.
- You need to have had a full 8 hours of sleep before you fly on the airplane.
- You must be feeling totally healthy before you go into the crowded store.
- You must eat “properly” before you stand up to your boss.
- You should be in a good mood before you do your OCD exposure therapy homework.
- You should face your panic-provoking situations only when you are feeling particularly brave.
- You can only tackle your panic if you structure your life in a simple, predictable manner.
- You should only ask the person on a date if you are having a great hair day.
The list is endless.
Here is the problem: These are all safety behaviors.
If the stars must be properly aligned in order for you to face your fears (a) you’re less likely to ever do it and (b) even if you do face your fears, the belief may remain that it is dangerous to do so unless you take very special (and arbitrary) precautions. The danger belief, therefore, may not be sufficiently challenged.
The goal of exposure with response prevention therapy (ERP) is to learn that venturing onto the airplane or the crowded store, etc., is not likely to result in catastrophe. To feel less afraid of something we need to learn that the feared consequence does not occur, or at least is far less unpleasant than previously believed.
Often the best time to face a fear is at a time when we really don’t feel like it—doing something you don’t want to do at a time when you don’t want to do it. Try shaking things up by facing your fear at (what feels like) the wrong time. If you can defeat Anxiety at the worst of times, think how well you’ll do the rest of the time!