Avoidance or escapist behavior (doing a different behavior, or not doing something so we can avoid the feelings of fear, sadness, anger, shame) is a common reaction to a worry or stress. It serves as a protective function, the brain’s way of averting danger or threat. An example is deciding to watch a show on Netflix instead of working on a presentation. Not that a leisure activity is bad, it’s not. It’s the timing that matters.

According to Jennifer Abel, Ph.D., when we do these behaviors as a way of coping with the anxiety, we are negatively reinforcing the worry. Avoidance behavior gives temporary relief, but “fuels the fire,” increasing the anxiety and limiting our problem-solving skills. The worry comes back and grows even more, producing stress hormones that interfere with the part of our brain that can figure things out logically and rationally. We may feel powerless, hopeless, stuck- too exhausted and afraid to change our behavior, to problem solve and regain control.

It’s important for us to remember that as human beings we have the amazing capacity to handle things well. We underestimate our strength and the lessons learned from many past experiences. We either have the access to resources that can helps us or can find them with a bit of effort.

Here is a movement exercise that you can do to begin the process of getting a handle on that worry.

Set aside 10 minutes each day for one week to tackle the worry.

1) Go to a private place where you will not be interrupted.

2) Set a timer for 10 minutes

3) Focus on your body, where it is sitting, lying or standing

4) Allow a worrisome thought to come to mind and see where it is present in your body

5) Focus on that area of your body and allow a movement to come forth, noticing the muscle tension and energy of that worrisome thought.

6) Repeat the movement 5 times

7) Now take that movement and slow it down, and soften it, moving with the least amount of tension in your body as it will allow.

8) Repeat the softened, slower movement.

9) Come to stillness. Jot down a few thoughts about the experience.

It is when we are in a more relaxed state that we can problem solve our worry and figure out ways to handle the issue. It may include changing our mindset, exploring avenues of support, or making a plan of action. See what solutions can develop after a week of gently moving into your strife. You may be surprised at the result.

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