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The Anxiety Playbook: How to Handle Safety Behaviors

By: Shawne Poplar, MA LPC-S Licensed Professional Counselor


Anxiety "safety behaviors" are actions that we take to try to reduce our anxiety or to avoid situations that make us feel anxious. These behaviors may seem helpful in the short term, as they can provide a sense of relief or comfort. However, in the long term, they can actually perpetuate and even increase our anxiety.

Examples of anxiety safety behaviors may include avoiding certain situations or people, seeking reassurance from others, or constantly checking for potential threats. While these behaviors may provide temporary relief, they can also reinforce our belief that we are in danger and that we need to take these precautions to stay safe. This can create a cycle of anxiety, where we become increasingly reliant on these behaviors to cope.

Safety behaviors can also prevent us from facing and learning to cope with our anxiety-provoking situations. By avoiding certain situations or seeking reassurance, we may never have the opportunity to learn that we can cope with our anxiety and that the situation is not as dangerous as we may have thought.

To break this cycle of anxiety and safety behaviors, it can be helpful to engage in exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing ourselves to the situations that make us anxious and learning to cope with the anxiety that arises. It can also be helpful to work with a therapist to identify and challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that may be driving our anxiety and safety behaviors.

By learning to manage our anxiety and to cope with anxiety-provoking situations without relying on safety behaviors, we can build resilience and confidence in our ability to handle difficult situations.

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