Summer often gets us thinking about possibilities for travel, family fun, and outdoor adventures. However, anxiety can prevent us from trying new things or even enjoying familiar everyday activities.
For some people, all it takes is one negative experience to make them begin avoiding situations that might trigger discomfort.
For example, if you felt anxious on a trip far from home, you may no longer want to travel out of state or even leave your hometown. Even if the cause of your anxiety is unclear, it’s natural to want to avoid situation that might trigger intensely uncomfortable feelings again.
But here’s what you need to understand. In most cases, anxiety is caused by uncomfortable feelings, not by true danger. Most of the time, we are not involved in a life threatening situation, but our brains are reacting as if we are.
Nevertheless, anxious feelings can be so upsetting and uncomfortable that people instinctively react as if they’re in true danger. This leads them to begin avoiding any experience or activity they associate with the onset of anxiety.
Avoiding things that make us uncomfortable may seem like a solution, but research shows that avoidance actually leads to a worsening of anxiety.
The amygdala and hippocampus, those parts of the brain that play significant roles in most anxiety disorders, can get stuck in the habit of continually looking for ways to avoid danger. Any potentially undesirable event or emotion becomes a trigger for alarm.This is no way to live, and fortunately it’s possible to break this vicious cycle.
When my clients are anxious about travel, I don’t tell them to just forget about traveling! I help them identify their specific concerns about travel, and we work together to realistically address those concerns.
I also give them specific relaxation techniques so they have tools to physically lower their anxiety. Gradually, I begin re-exposing them to anxiety-provoking situations.
With coping tools at hand, they learn that there really is nothing to fear, and that if they do experience lingering fear, they can cope with it effectively.