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Does it help to keep fears a secret?
January 04, 2012

Simple Ways to Tame Anxiety

January 4, 2012
Volume 12, Issue 1

Happy new year!

Most people try to keep their problems with anxiety to themselves. Is this always good, or can it work against you? This month's issue of Anxiety Coach® suggests a way of reviewing this issue for yourself.

The Anxiety Coach® newsletter brings tips for overcoming fears and phobias to your inbox the first week of each month. If you like it, please pass it on anyone who might be interested. If you received this issue from a friend and want your own subscription, please subscribe.

Do you keep your fears
and phobias a secret?

Most people do, because there's something about being afraid that feels inherently shameful. I remember a time when I was in graduate school when a group of us took an excursion to a hilly area of dunes in Indiana. I must have been picking my way up the hill very, very carefully, because out of the blue, another student said to me, "you're afraid of heights, aren't you?". I was afraid of heights, and at that moment I felt like my most shameful secret had been suddenly revealed for all to see.

How Does Secrecy Affect You?

Most people are somewhat motivated to keep their fears a secret. The question is, how does secrecy affect your prospects for getting over the fear?

People's efforts to protect themselves against anxiety usually make their situation worse, and this is often true with secrecy. If you keep your fear hidden from friends and family, it might be worth your while to take a closer look at all the effects of secrecy, not just the immediate relief you get in the moment.

Side Effects of Secrecy

When medications are advertised on television, they loudly trumpet the ways the medicine is supposed to help you. And then, because the law requires it, they mention the negative side effects that may come with the medication. But when people keep their fears secret, they tend not to notice the negative side effects of secrecy.

I don't suggest that my clients just tell everyone about their fear. I usually suggest that they review all the costs and benefits that come with keeping their fears a secret. This is often so helpful that I devote a chapter of my Panic Attacks Workbook to it.

Keeping your fears a secret often requires, for example, turning down invitations to go anywhere you might experience your fear. When you keep turning down invitations to dinner, or someplace else you fear, you get the benefit of avoiding fear, but it comes with some negative side effects. You risk becoming socially isolated, as people gradually stop inviting you. You may continue to believe that others would look down on you for your fear, without ever having the chance to get any actual evidence, and maybe find out differently. You lose out on support from people who might be more understanding than you expect, even people who have a similar problem which they keep secret.

Getting Free

Think how great it would be if you didn't have to worry about hiding your fear during, say, a meal at a restaurant. People who worry about having a panic attack in a restaurant keep thinking they'll go to the bathroom to calm down, but then worry "but what if I get afraid again and want to go back?". They fear this would "break their cover", that if they went to the bathroom a second time, someone would demand an explanation. They think they can only go once, and since the feel like they need to save that for an emergency, they feel like they can't go at all.

This makes the meal feel like more of a punishment than a pleasure. That meal in a restaurant isn't a punishment! How great it would be if you could feel more free and let enjoying yourself, rather than controlling your anxiety, be your only concern.

It's a lot easier when you don't have secrets to keep. Reviewing, and maybe revising, some of your rules about secrecy is often a big help as you work to undo a pattern of chronic anxiety.

See you next month!


Dave Carbonell, Ph.D.

New Article on Emetophobia

Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. Talk about secrecy! It's surprisingly common, and can be really disabling, just as much as panic disorder.

ADAA Conference in April

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America will hold their annual conference this April, in the Washington, D.C. area. It's a great conference, mostly aimed at professionals, but they also offer some programs for consumers.

Information and registration is available here.

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