Accommodating AnxietyFeb 19 • 2019
Accommodation, also known as enabling, occurs when an anxious individual asks another person (typically a spouse or partner, or a family member, friend, or co-worker), to do, or not do, something in order to reduce their anxiety and feel better. Although the anxious individual may feel some immediate relief, they quickly become dependent on that accommodation being there for them the next time that same situation arises.
Furthermore, the anxious individual misses out on opportunities to tolerate some discomfort and learn that their feared predictions most likely do not come true, and even if they do, that they are not as bad as they expected and that they are far better at coping with the outcome than they initially believed.
Accommodation is commonplace in families of adults with anxiety, and often starts out innocently enough. For example, when you and your spouse are trying to make it to a concert on time and all that stands in your way is your answer to the simple question, “Honey, did you lock the garage door?” “Yes,” you say, and even though you feel quite certain, you agree to circle back around the block and, go home to check. Three minutes later you are on your way. No big deal. Or so you think. However, after a while, the demand for accommodation grows. Soon your spouse is asking you to return home in the middle of the day to check the doors, or to check things that really do not matter, like whether the bathroom light was left on, or the thermostat was set to 70 for the day. Suddenly you’re arriving late to appointments, or doing more than your share of the preparation for outings to avoid your spouse’s anxious calls of, “Honey, did you…” It’s often a surprise to families when they realize just how much the accommodation has grown overtime. And the anxious adult is equally surprised, and sometimes ashamed, at just how much they are asking of others.
Recognizing that accommodation is in effect is the first step. However, for the individual with anxiety, you are confronted with a dilemma: Do I try to manage my anxiety without asking for accommodation? But I can’t do that, I won’t be able to cope! you reply. Or do continue as usual, and keep asking others for accommodation? But I don’t want to do that either, it doesn’t work! Both statements are correct. For long-standing anxiety that has demanded months or even years of accommodation, suddenly cutting it off cold turkey can be very distressing for most people. But continuing to accommodate is making things worse.
Fortunately, using the Facing My Fears exposure format, you can learn how to gradually roll back your need for accommodation in a step-by-step, planned and predictable way. It can help if you imagine that your anxiety is like a bully bossing you around and growing stronger by making you ask for accommodation in one situation, only to demand more accommodation in the next situation, and the next, and so on. You and your loved ones are being held hostage by your anxiety’s need to have so much of your life accommodated. The best way to reduce your anxiety’s power is by eliminating your dependence on ongoing accommodation. For more information on this process go to the Facing My Fears exposure section to learn how to do this, or, read about the 4 phase step-by-step approach outlined in the Addressing Reassurance Seeking section, which can be readily adapted to reducing accommodation.