Safety Behaviours

Adults with anxiety will often change their behaviour to feel safer and try to reduce or prevent future anxiety. Examples include:

  • Carrying items such as medication, water or a cell phone that the individual believes will ensure their safety 
  • Having a companion (e.g. a family member or friend) accompany them places
  • Avoiding physical activities (e.g. exercising, sex) that might trigger panic-like feelings and bring on a panic attack
  • Avoiding certain foods (e.g. spicy dishes) or beverages (e.g. caffeine, alcohol) because they might trigger panic-like symptoms
  • Seeking reassurance from others that they are “okay or normal,” “healthy,” or, “safe.”
  • Sitting near exits or bathrooms
  • Using distraction to avoid feeling anxious or thinking about anxiety (e.g. always keeping busy or eliminating free-time)
  • Modifying their body in a certain way to hide discomfort (e.g. wearing hair down and to the side to cover blushing cheeks, or wearing a hat to hide hair loss)
  • Engaging in excessive research prior to taking a trip, starting a new job, buying something, all to ensure nothing will go wrong

At first appearance this may make good sense to the anxious individual. After all, anxiety feels unpleasant and can prevent the individual from engaging in routine activites when they are distracted by, or afraid of, their anxious thoughts and sensations, so trying to prevent anxiety makes sense. However, engaging in a safety behaviour/s becomes a problem when the individual learns that anxiety will go away on its own and that in fact trying to avoid feeling anxious will only serve to maintain the anxiety. As a result, individuals can follow the Facing Your Fears: Exposure tool to learn how to gradually drop and eliminate their safety behaviours one at a time, for good.