We often talk about starting recovery by taking small steps, but did you know that those small steps can often be taken right inside your “safe zone”? It’s true! Odds are your home base – your safe zone – is chock full of hidden avoidance and anxiety inducing gems that you can uncover and use to start building the foundation of your recovery.
The object of the game in recovery is to start to find the things that make you uncomfortable and to do them in baby steps. Incrementally, Systematically. You’re trying to induce this discomfort and fear, and you’re trying to practice a new way to relate to that. You’re building skills, you’re practicing skills, and anytime we can get practice, and it’s a good thing! We always talk about starting small. Sometimes we can start really small without ever even kind of poking outside your “comfort zone”.
When you are living your life inside your safe zone, you will often find that your minute-by-minute life is peppered with rituals and avoidances designed to keep anxiety at bay.
Common avoidance and safety rituals found inside the “safe zone”:
- Refusing the shower unless certain conditions are met
- Avoiding particular foods or drink
- Requiring specific lighting or sounds in the house
- Ritualizing bedtime to an extreme degree because not sleeping will “trigger” you
- Avoiding certain rooms in your house
- Defaulting to endless social media scrolling on your phone
- Demanding that things be “just so” at all times in an effort to control every variable that might lead to anxiety
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Filling your home base with safety rituals and avoidance behaviors sets you up for a more difficult time when you leave that bubble and cannot control everything the way you do while in your home base. If you refuse to practice facing your fears at home, you will have a more difficult time doing that when out.
You may also be fueling your anxiety all day long without even knowing it! It’s common for me during one-on-one coaching work to discover that clients are engaged in all kinds of bad habits that keep them wound up and on a hair trigger all day every day.
Common habits that can fuel anxiety and anxious feelings inside the safe zone:
- Rushing through every task
- Always thinking ahead and focusing on what you have to do later
- Scanning to check on how you’re feeling
- Checking ahead in your day to find the potential “trouble spots”
- Checking back to ensure that would you’ve done earlier was “correct” and that nothing bad happened
- Constantly looking for distractions and ways to keep busy so you don’t have to confront your anxiety
If you spend your day – even inside your safe zone – running around, checking, scanning, ruminating and worrying, then there will be no mystery as to why your outside exposures are particularly challenging!
When You Find Bad Home Base Habits, What Do You Do?
When I find the bad “home base” habits people are in, the first thing we do is to create homework assignments designed to break them over time. Some people have to schedule time to put their phones down and not use social media as distraction. Some have to build “relaxation breaks” into their day to stop working and allow the possibility that doing so will result in some kind of hit when it comes to job performance. Some people have to practice leaving their bed unmade, or intentionally eating foods they have otherwise been avoiding. In many cases I must teach people how to simple slow down and to move through space more slowly and mindfully. The specific actions and exercises may vary based on situation, but the bottom line is that you must stop doing the non-productive things and start doing the productive things – uncomfortable though this may be to do. Yes, even at home.
I also often have to remind people that “home base” is where we want to build a recovery foundation. This is where we can confront fears in a safer place to start. This is where we can practice valuable recovery skills like muscle relaxation and focus training. The entire recovery journey is about learning that you can tolerate discomfort, fear, uncertainty, and feelings of vulnerability. We must learn that we can navigate through those things. We must learn that we are capable of doing that. It would be nice – and convenient – to be able to start that right in your own home! When we engage in bad habits while in our home base, we are letting opportunities for improve slip through our fingers needlessly.
GAD and Common “Safe Place Mistakes”
With GAD, think of your safe place (even though you’ll say you don’t have one) as the times where there are no external demands on you. Think of the times when work is done for the day, the kids are in bed, there’s nowhere to go, and nothing to do. What are you doing with that time? What are you doing then? What do you ruminate over? What are you thinking about? What are you fretting about? What are you planning or over planning? What consumes you – even when the world is not demanding anything of you? Your “safe place” can be those times when you are not required to do anything at all. You can choose to engage in activities that you enjoy, or you can make demands of yourself by engaging in mental problem creation, then mental problem solving?
The times that can be quiet and stress free are often where we find the clues to your GAD drivers. This is where we find the bad habits you’re in that are keeping your anxiety level up all day long, even before the world presses on you and makes that situation even worse. This where you can find the clues that point you toward GAD recovery. Find the habits that are ruining your safe space, then we can work on breaking them and making things better not only in that space, but beyond!
Your home base – your safe zone – may be fill of hints, clues, bad habits and opportunities to improve your situation. Home base can be a place where you build a strong recovery foundation. When you make the effort to metaphorically “clean your anxiety house”, you give yourself the best chance to succeed in your recovery.
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