People often present in my office with a history of fears, phobias, and anxieties that are limiting them from fully enjoying their life. Almost always the way they deal with their fears is by avoiding the very thing/place/thought that scares them. For instance people often struggle with fears of flying, water, heights, their own anger, driving, etc.
While avoidance appears to work in the short term, it causes the anxiety to get worse over time as the Amygdala, the “reptilian brain”, files away each incidence of avoidance as if it was truly a dangerous event. The job of the Amygdala is to hold the memories of life threatening situations…..like an attacking tiger so that it can remind you to run should you come across the tiger again. The fear and avoidance of what scares us, like the fear of flying for instance sends a signal of “DANGER” to the Amygdala as if the danger were truly real.
Although uncomfortable, the way to change your brain and sooth the Amydala, is the courageous decision to face the very thing that you are afraid of in small incremental steps at levels of anxiety you can handle.
I practice exposure therapy almost every day with my clients and it continues to be the treatment of choice for anxiety disorders and has proven to be highly effective.
So, next time you see a real tiger…..run, climb a tree, shoot your gun at him….your Amydala is providing you with the strength and power to save yourself. Conversely, if you are afraid of flying, for instance, consider reaching out for help. Life is certainly way to precious to avoid living it fully.