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How to Stop Avoiding Because of Anxiety: The 24-Hour Challenge

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Anxiety is tricky. It likes to lie to us, play games with our heads and most of all finds ways to stick around. So for example, when it’s time to answer a stressful school related email — and oh my gosh thinking about it makes me feel stressed, and now my thoughts are racing. Is it getting warm in here? And ah, I don’t want to look at it, because this is making me feel anxious, so really what I should do is just…

Click. Close the page. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. Don’t do it. Ah, now don’t I feel better?

Avoiding: one of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder‘s most well-mastered tricks. Sure we feel better for a few seconds, maybe even a few minutes if we are lucky, but all too soon the anxiety comes back stronger and we still haven’t done or addressed what is stressing us out. So what do we do to stop avoiding? How do we stop this spiral of continuing to avoid and the anxiety just growing larger?

It’s time for: The 24-Hour Challenge!

What you need: you (a brave person), a stressful thing you are avoiding, and a clock/watch/sundial (some way of knowing what time it is). Have your stressful thing picked out? It can be making a phone call, doing an exposure you discussed with your therapist, taking to that cute boy in class, or for me, answering school related emails.

Now, look at what time it is. Got it memorized? Great. OK — now make a commitment to yourself. Starting right now you have 24 hours to do the stressful thing. And now you have 23 hours, 59 minutes, 30 seconds… (This is a strict deadline!) This is my absolute favorite technique to use when I have been avoiding something. It definitely requires self-discipline (or you can ask someone else to hold you accountable) but for me it almost always works. In fact, just before starting writing this blog post I finally answered a stressful school email because the clock was ticking and it had almost been 24 hours since I committed to answering the email. But it’s done now. I did it and I feel much better!

Here are some final tips for the 24-Hour Challenge:

1. Pick your strategy. There are two ways to go about doing this. You can either just get it over with so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Or, you can keep stalling and feel stressed about it for almost the full 24 hours, finally doing your task toward the end of the deadline. I don’t always succeed at doing this myself, but I highly recommend the first option. Much more pleasant!

2. Give yourself a reward! This can be candy, getting to watch your favorite show, getting to write, etc. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool and provides great incentive to stop avoiding. You are reteaching your brain to stop avoiding, after all.

3. Choose your own time limit. Some tasks work well with 24 hours, but other tasks work well with a 10-minute challenge or a one week challenge. Adjust the time limit to your specific task, but the main idea stays the same.

I hope this has been helpful. I’d love to hear if anyone tries the 24-Hour Challenge and how it goes!

Click here for more information about avoidance.

Follow this journey on My OCD Voice.

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The Anxiety Anti-Avoidance Challenge
Originally published: June 27, 2016
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