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What are safety behaviours?
We all engage in safety behaviours to differing degrees. A safety behaviour is something we do to provide us relief from anxiety. The problem with safety behaviours is that they only work temporarily and our attempts to self soothe end up becoming a repetitive pattern. The safety behaviour inadvertently ends up prolonging the anxiety.
For example: For someone who finds being in social situations anxiety provoking, they might avoid a social situation altogether. This helps them avoid the anxiety but doesn’t deal with the underlying fear. The threat of social situations stays unchallenged. So the avoidance is the safety behaviour but the anxiety will always be there when faced with a social situation. The anxiety of social situations will remain.
Another example of a safety behaviour: Someone who is insecure in a relationship might constantly check up on their partner by texting and phoning their partner. Initially, once they have checked on their partner, they might feel better…but only until the next thing triggers their anxiety and they need to check again. The need to check will not go away and in this way the anxiety is maintained.
The idea is to reduce safety behaviours, ‘sit’ with the anxiety and realise you can cope without the safety behaviour. This is the correct way to reduce non-productive safety behaviours.
Learning to challenge the threat with using a safety behaviours allows us to learn how to cope with the anxiety. Do what you fear – that’s the basic premise.
Be aware of what you do to reduce your anxiety…do you check your phone constantly? Do you avoid situations you fear? Work at approaching your fears and learning to deal with them. This will improve confidence and help you to be more resilient.