October 27, 2018
Lara Ipekian, B.A., Psychology Intern
Your friends invite you out for dinner with a couple of other people you have never met before. They promise you it is going to be really fun and that the food there tastes like nothing you have ever had. For some of us, agreeing to attend an event so enticing seems obvious. For others, the urge to say no is far stronger than the urge to indulge in that delicious meal. What differentiates these two types of people? In some instances, it might be the fact that they have more important affairs to take care of, but for others the issue stems from their fear of exploring things outside of their comfort zone. It is the will to pass on an appealing experience, to dodge the awkwardness of a first impression.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
People have several reasons why they wont step out of their comfort zones, but the main reason is simply the following: why would I put myself in an uneasy or awkward situation when it’s far safer not to do so? We have all encountered this thought process at least once in our lives. What we fail to acknowledge in that moment is that by saying no and avoiding this feeling of pressure, we are stumping our growth. While time passes by, your physical body is maturing and the universe is offering you a tremendous amount of opportunities. When you are in a state of resistance to try new things that may initially make you nervous, you are missing out on those openings.
AVOIDANCE: A Short Term Solution becomes a Long Term Problem
How are you tolerating your daily stress and conflict? You may cope proactively, where you will deal with your problems head on. You may cope emotionally, where you will change your emotional reaction to a specific stressor. And last but not least, you may completely evade the problem at hand and ignore any emotions associated to facing the situation that causes you distress. In the context of anxiety, avoidance coping seems like the most favourable solution as it maximizes short term gains. We ask ourselves, “Why would I deal with this situation if it is causing me to have anxiety?”Well today is the day you are going to face the facts. Avoiding the situation is only causing you more stress, more anxiety and damage to your self-confidence in the long run.
“Face your Fears”
Unfortunately, the famous “face your fears”pep line is extremely underrated, perhaps due to its well-established cliché status. While this sentence has been regurgitated by so many people for as long as I can remember, it seems as though the message has not come across clearly enough. When you confront situations that make you shake, sweat and make your heart feel like it’s beating at a 120 pumps per minute, you are proving to yourself that you are strong. An action that scares you is an action that, once tackled, makes you feel more alive than you have ever felt before. Do not avoid these situations; accept the way they make you feel and continue battling them. This is the key to regaining your confidence and to asserting control over your life. So once again, face your fears to boost your resilience and enjoy the feeling of pride instead of prolonging your suffering.
Identify Avoidant Behaviour
Ironically, in order to grow strong, you must learn how to avoid engaging in avoidant behaviour. Firstly, it is important to be able to identify the situations you are running from. There are a wide range of possible contexts where you may feel the need to take cover and hide. It can be as simple as saying hello to an individual you find attractive, to as stressful as going in to the interview for the job of your dreams. Regardless of the specifics, you may avoid situations that may bring up bad memories, that may make people angry at you, that make you feel uncomfortable or awkward, that have too many steps to reach the end goal and finally that make you feel inept compared to other people. Due to these adverse possibilities, you are not voicing your opinions, you are not completing important tasks, you are bottling up your emotions, you are not learning new skills and you are only hurting yourself. Having this awareness is the first step towards becoming a less avoidant, more proactive individual.
Be Okay with Awkward
To get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable will open many windows that you did not even know existed. If you live in a world where the only places that exist are the ones that seem familiar and protected, your world becomes very small. Fortunately, we live in a world where the possibilities are endless and the opportunities never stop. A world full of different colours, people and experiences… Our world is very large and provides us with enough space to grow emotionally, as we grow physically. Explore this world! Persist in completing the tasks that give you the urge to run away, to expand your horizons. Remind yourself that it is normal to feel uneasy and that you are proud of yourself for trying. After all, every single experience, regardless of the outcome, has something worth teaching us.
I Am Number One!
You are the most important person in your life and it is time for you to act like it. While making decisions about what you do or don’t do, evaluate the exact reason of your choice. All your negative decisions derive from the base emotion of fear and all your positive ones derive from a source of love. If you decide you don’t want to attend the dinner with your friends because you are tired and need to get some rest, you are basing your decision from a place of self-love. On the other hand, if you do not want to join your friends because you think you will be awkward, you are making a decision from a place of fear. Making decisions based on fear will increase your avoidance, your anxiety and your sadness, while making decisions based on love will only help you grow and achieve optimal psychological health.
“All you need is love!”
Now that you understand why avoidant behavior can be detrimental in the long run, peep out of your turtle shell and put yourself out there, face those fears and be proud of yourself every step of the way. You possess the key to all the doors you want to open. All you need is love; fear is the absence of love, do not let it rule your life! Think of it this way: a turtle is 90% shell, but it wouldn’t get too far if it kept hiding inside forever.