As human beings, we are encoded to survive by avoiding things that are likely to cause us pain, which we have learnt in the past to induce pain or which is stressful or unpleasant: be it that giant spider sitting on the clothing line, that shoulder pain that has been ongoing for a while, or an article that you have promised to write for your upcoming practice newsletter.
In the initial phases, avoidance can work very well. By just using the part of the clothes line that the spider has not occupied, by not thinking about the article I need to write or by working around my sore shoulder, I can pretend that everything is ok and continue on my merry way. We work around it. The problem is that things very seldom remain the same. My resident clothesline spider decides to expand his territory and take up more and more of my clothesline, my shoulder pain worsens to a point that I cannot reach up beyond my shoulder and my practice manager starts sending me “reminder emails” that I cannot avoid anymore. Whilst some avoidance can be a very successful strategy to keep us safe from stressful situations, unpleasant experiences or threats, it can also become counter productive
So what have I learnt about avoidance?
1. Avoidance can be helpful when threats are real. If that spider on the clothesline turns out to really be that gastly dangerous “it’ll kill a grown man within an hour” species that Australia seems prone to having, avoiding it is probably a good idea. We can never totally avoid all the things that we want to avoid. It is seldom that avoidance makes things go away. The spider is still on the line, my shoulder still hurts and the looming newsletter article deadline is still there.
2. Avoidance feeds fear and is an all consuming voracious creature. The more we avoid the greater the problem often becomes. This is particularly so with anxiety. The more anxious I feel, the more I avoid. The more I avoid, the more anxiety I feel. As time goes by, our world becomes smaller and smaller and we feel more and more trapped.
3. Avoidance prevents us from learning that something different can happen or that what we were so fearful of is not as bad as we expected it to be. It prevents us from really experimenting and checking it out, to determine if something is really a threat or not.
What have I learnt to do about it?
1. Acknowledge the problem. We cannot do anything about a problem until we acknowledge it. For me, it was acknowledging that I had a problem in my shoulder (and in all likelihood had torn a ligament), that I was frightened of that spider and that the thought of having to sit down and write an article brought back traumatic memories of writing my thesis.
2. Start small. Be it writing notes on what you’d like to include in the article, finding out about physiotherapists or reading up about whether your resident spider is indeed as dangerous as you imagined it to be. Keep pushing yourself to be at the edge of your comfort zone. Don’t try to aim for the big wins. Small sustainable goals are more likely to get you there. Remember the tortoise and the hare.
3. Get support and help. Having someone to walk you through the journey can be invaluable. It helps give you perspective, keeps you accountable and gives you someone to whine to at the end of the day. This is particularly so if you have been avoiding a situation because of traumatic experiences. Until you stop avoiding, it will continue to intrude in your life and limit you. It might be uncomfortable but keep practicing and trying. Eventually it becomes the new normal.
To quote loosely from Vivian Greene, perhaps life is not about trying to avoid the storms but learning how to dance in the rain. Now excuse me whilst I get a broom to try to relocate my eight-legged friend for the fifth time before I head out for my physiotherapy appointment.
Written by By Dr Cate Hearn
Shy or Self-Conscious
Compared to other children their own age, socially anxious children appear shyer and more self-conscious. They may:
- Find it hard to talk to other children
- Find it hard to make new friends
- Feel left out or awkward, or worry they’ll embarrass themselves
- Have less well developed social skills than children their own age
- Dislike being the centre of attention
- Worry a lot about their appearance
- Worry that their friends don’t really like them
- Be quiet in large social situations
- Speak softly to those they don’t know well
Socially anxious children fear and avoid a range of social situations. They may:
- Avoid new social situations
- Make excuses not to go, by saying, “I’m just a homebody”, “I don’t feel like going”, “I don’t like parties”
- Dread sports days or swimming carnivals
- Dislike giving orals or talks in class
- Be too anxious to raise their hand/answer questions in class
- Play alone often
Tummy pains, headaches
Anxiety and worry can manifest in physical symptoms, and socially anxious children may:
- Report pains in the stomach, headaches, nausea or sore/aching arms/legs especially before school or social events
- Become withdrawn or irritable before social events or before school
Won't they just grow out of it?
Research shows that a great many children with social anxiety do not just ‘grow out’ of it.
Left untreated, social anxiety can persist and cause significant interference in children’s lives. Child friendly cognitive behaviour therapy for social anxiety can help children overcome social anxiety.
At Benchmark Psychology, we have a number of therapists who can provide child friendly therapy to socially anxious children. Ask for Dr Cate Hearn (who’s PhD thesis was in child and adolescent social anxiety), Dr Alison Bocquee, Dr Kylee Forrest, Dr Jasmine Pang or Dr Leona Chun.
Written By Dr Tania McMahon
It’s 9pm. You’re exhausted. You’ve just finished dinner, maybe putting the kids to bed, tidying up around the house and vaguely thinking about what you have on tomorrow, and you have approximately one hour before you drag yourself, bleary-eyed, into bed to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow. It’s time for some ‘you’ time! What about checking social media for a few minutes before figuring out what you could do to relax?
It’s 10:15pm, you realise with a start, as you peel your eyes up from Instagram and check the clock. “A few minutes” has turned into over an hour, and any time that could have been spent tinkering on that craft project, strumming on the guitar, or pulling a new book off the shelf has now been sucked up by the black hole of your digital device. While you have a vague sense of being mildly entertained over the past hour, you can’t remember exactly what it was you were looking at, and your brain is in a strange state between buzzing with alertness and feeling strangely fatigued. As you scramble to get ready for bed, you can’t help but notice a strange feeling of discomfort, a low-level frustration that something hasn’t been tended to, or you didn’t finish something; a feeling of being left unsatisfied.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Our devices embody an almost perfect solution to temporary boredom: brief, instant entertainment, on demand. Yet when we find ourselves turning to them at every idle moment, day after day, night after night, we start to realise that they are taking us away from all those things we’d “love to be doing more of”, but that take a little more time and effort to get into. And when we do less and less of those activities we value, we fall more and more into the same trap of turning to our digital devices whenever we have a moment of boredom.
So, how do we hack our way out of this digital ditch? Here are five quick tips to get you started:
1. Categorise screen time into ‘work’ and ‘leisure’.
We all know that some screen time is unavoidable – emails, online banking, checking the bus schedule, and so on. However, this ‘necessary’ screen time need not get mixed in with checking social media, playing games, and browsing the web. By mentally categorising each function, app and activity on your device as ‘work’ or ‘leisure’, you can start to build awareness of your use, and then start to make decisions about how much ‘leisure’ time you really want to spend on it.
2. Track your use
Devices have a funny habit of ‘warping’ time while we’re on them, making it seem like only 10 minutes has passed, when it’s actually been much longer than that. It follows, then, that all of us are rather poor judges of how much time we’re spending on them. By downloading an app that tracks your use (popular options include ‘Quality Time’ for Androids and ‘Moment’ for iPhones), you’ll be able to analyse your use over days, weeks and months, as well as look at patterns of use across the different apps on your device. By knowing when, were and how you use your device the most, you’ll be able to set your own personalised goals for what you’d prefer your use to be like.
3. Set regular screen-free times
While everyone’s screen time rules are ultimately going to be different, a good general rule for everyone to apply is to set at least one regular screen-free time. Some choose a screen-free breakfast, so they can connect meaningfully with their family first thing in the morning; some choose the train or bus trip to work, so they can use it as ‘thinking time’; many choose the hour before bed, because of the strong evidence linking screen use before bed to sleep difficulties. The options are numerous!
4. Change your notification settings
Notifications are designed to catch our attention – a red badge here, a blinking light there. The more we see, the more we feel the compulsion to check them, irrelevant of how important or urgent they actually are (and let’s face it, how many times have those notifications been utter time-wasting distractions??). A simple solution to this is to change your Notification settings so that you only receive Push notifications for things you feel are absolutely necessary. Or, be daring and change them all to Manual!
5. Make your leisure screen time as goal-directed as possible
Get into the habit of asking yourself ‘what am I wanting to achieve by looking at my device right now?’ and ‘is this my preferred use of my time right now’? More often than not, you may find that mindlessly scrolling through social media is not your preferred use of your time. Sure, the answers might be ‘I want some quick entertainment’ and ‘yes, as long as I start making dinner in 10 minutes’, but at least it means that you are consciously making that choice, and that you have defined a meaningful limit to your use. That way, if more than 10 minutes go by and you realise you haven’t started making dinner, you know it's no longer a good use of your time.
Dr Tania McMahon is a clinical psychologist with a particular passion for helping people manage their screen usage. Tania often treats internet and gaming addictions at Benchmark Psychology.