Are Your False Safety Behaviors Making Your Anxiety Worse?

False-Safety behaviors are behaviors, or sometimes objects or thoughts, that we use to control our anxiety when we face situations we fear. They’re “false” because they don’t actually protect us from any danger they just make us feel safer. – The Anti-Anxiety Workbook

One of my biggest steps in recovery from an anxiety disorder was taking my Ativan out of my purse. Leaving my bottle of chill pills behind on an outing for me was like being asked to step outside the jeep on an African safari and have the jeep drive away. The idea of not having them “just in case” was awful. The day I chose to take them out of my purse was a BIG step for me. In that moment I was choosing to trust myself and my ability to handle the anxiety. It was also a test to trust God that He would be with me in whatever I faced. It was a letting go of this false security that I needed the medication with me at all times in order to feel safe, even if I never took them.

Getting stronger for me, meant letting go of the habits and security blankets I thought I needed.

It wasn’t easy….

but I did it….

Do you carry around false security?

This example is all in relation to my anxiety disorder but what about you? You may not struggle with anxiety like I did but most of us carry around false-safety behaviors without even knowing we do. Perhaps we drive the same route to work every morning. Or couldn’t bear the thought of leaving our phone at home ” just in case” something bad happened. Maybe we check on our kids more than we should. Or obsessively triple check that everything is unplugged before locking up the house. Maybe we drive our spouse crazy because going on a trip means we have to know every detail and pre-plan everything. Maybe we pray safety over everyone intensely all day long, thinking that if we miss a person something bad might happen.  Maybe you scrub your house from top to bottom to avoid you or your kids getting sick. These are all examples of safety behaviors that many of us create to avoid or ease our anxiety.

Things you do to prevent and ease your anxiety may actually be making it  worse.

The problem with false safety behaviors is that they can actually feed the fear and increase your anxiety. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with double checking things, or wanting to pre-plan a vacation, or keep a spotless house.  However,  if your main motivation is to control your anxiety, then maybe it’s time to evaluate your safety habits.

When I felt that I needed my anxiety medication with me at all times, it meant that I was always living in a state of  “what-if”. What if we get lost? What if we run out of gas? What if the kids get sick? What if the house starts on fire? What if I have another panic attack?

Ask Yourself: If for some reason you never had a chance to maintain your safety habits would you be in distress? If the answer is yes, then it is an unhealthy habit and it’s time to think about letting them go.

Your safety behaviors could be hindering your relationships, your independence and ultimately your freedom from anxiety.

Here are 10 Gentle steps to letting go.

  1. Evaluate what your safety behaviors are. Ask a friend or a spouse if they notice any, ask God to show you. Recognizing a false safety habit is the first step.
  2. Tackle one at a time. Don’t try to rip off the bandage, be kind to yourself.
  3. Start with the small and work to the big. For example, if you have a major fear of your home catching fire and you triple check everything, force yourself to check only once.
  4. Anxiety will happen when you remove your habits, so know that will happen and expect it.
  5. Accept the anxiety that comes and just allow it to be there, its okay to feel anxious.
  6. Guard your anxious thoughts and be careful not to replace the old habits with a new one.
  7. Seek counselling if needed to address the root of the fear or if it’s an intense phobia.
  8. Focus on trusting. Trusting yourself, trusting God, trusting others.
  9. Live in your moment and do your best to focus on what is happening rather than what may happen.
  10. Do it again the next day and the next.

All these disciplines to overcome anxiety can seem so overwhelming and difficult at times, but the amazing thing is, once you learn these things and they become second nature to you, you become stronger and the anxiety learns to take its proper place.

Being fearless should include living safely, but never let your “safety” keep you from living.

Are Your False Safety Behaviors Making Your Anxiety Worse? Click To Tweet

You’ve totally got this!

Sarah B


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6 thoughts on “Are Your False Safety Behaviors Making Your Anxiety Worse?”

  1. Marie says:

    Hi Sarah, I’ve been browsing your blog on/off for about a month now. Your story and the testimony of God’s healing and deliverance has really inspired me. My anxiety hit just a few months ago and it’s been sometimes good (“Woohoo! I can do this!”), but the past few days have been very discouraging. It’s like a cycle of feeling hopeless, freaking out over feeling hopeless and I guess, something like your Harm OCD.

    When it all started, I tried meds and realized VERY early on that they weren’t for me. Please pray for me as I go through this rough spot. It is hard for me to see how my family is also affected by this. I know God is always with me even when the darkness feels so strong.. God still works in the darkness and nothing is too dark for Him. Blessings.

    1. Sarah E Ball says:

      Hi Marie, I am glad you found me and have found some hope here. I just want to encourage you to find some good therapy, even cognitive behavioural therapy and make sure you’re getting lots of exercise in. Please stay connected with new blog posts and know that I will be praying for you. This will pass, your good days will get longer soon!

      1. Marie says:

        Thanks, Sarah. I actually just voluntarily went to the hospital yesterday (thankfully have counsellors at my workplace and a nurse friend who was off and willing to drive me!) to get assessed and will be seeing a psychiatrist next Thursday to look at the medication route again.. so please pray for that appointment. This is a scary time for me and I’m honestly scared of medications still. Thank you so much.

        1. Sarah E Ball says:

          Hi Marie,

          I am glad you have found help. You’re in good hands, here and above. Medication can be a life saver, even if it’s just for a season. I’m praying for you.

          1. Marie says:

            Hi Sarah, it’s me again.

            Just really in need of prayers still. I only started medication two days ago and they have made things weird and worse for me at the moment (increase in suicidal thoughts). I don’t have a psychiatrist, but I do have counsellors and my GP. The GP isn’t the most encouraging and comfortable to talk to, so it’s been hard to navigate this from that end.. I questioned before why I wasn’t given meds after my hospital visit in October. Now I’m questioning if it was good to even try this route again.. really in need of prayers and God’s guidance.

          2. Sarah E Ball says:

            Dear Marie, Meds take time and you may have to try a few different ones before you find the right one. Don’t get discouraged and don’t do it alone, so stay connected to your therapist and doctor. If you are able to ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health specialist then that would be ideal. Praying for you. Stay close to your support.

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