Several of our Therapists that are seeing clients in person have now been vaccinated. In addition to offering in person appointments we are also seeing clients for online sessions via video call.
Monday, 19 Nov 2018

What are safety seeking behaviours and why do you need to stop using them?

By Private Therapy Clinic

Safety seeking behaviours are behaviours that you develop in response to feeling threatened. They help you, in the short term, to reduce the levels of anxiety that you are experiencing. For example, if you dread public speaking, you might come up with an excuse to avoid an event where you will have to speak in public, or if you have a great fear of disease, you might develop obsessive compulsive feelings around behaviours such as washing your hands or avoiding coming into contact with potential contagions.

On an immediate level, behaviours like this may seem to be useful because they remove the factor that is causing you anxiety and you may experience a sense of relief about having managed to avoid something that you find stressful. Over time, however, safety-seeking behaviours can become extremely disruptive and even lead to exaggerated fears of situations that do not actually pose any objective threat to your well-being.

People with a range of anxiety disorders often display safety-seeking behaviours as a maladaptive response to the negative feelings that they are experiencing. People with a condition such as agoraphobia are displaying an extreme form of safety seeking behaviour. To keep themselves safe, they do whatever they can to remove themselves from society completely. While they might feel safer on an immediate level, obviously over time their behaviours have the effect of seriously damaging their quality of life. People with anxiety disorders may also try to reduce perceived risks for their loved ones, such as children or other family members. In the process, they can contribute to others developing a heightened and unrealistic sense of risk.

When you allow yourself to engage in safety seeking behaviours in response to perceived threats, you are actually allowing yourself to feel more afraid and anxious. You are focusing on your symptoms of anxiety at the expense of other emotions. You constantly examine what is happening, around you and in your own mind, that might cause you to experience negative feelings. You can become permanently attuned to negativity, and in a constant state of incipient panic. If you reduce your social contact with others in response to feelings of anxiety, you eliminate potential support networks that would help you in difficult moments. By refusing to confront situations that make you feel anxious, you remove the possibility of learning that most of these situations do not actually pose a threat to you, and of figuring out how to cope with them in an adaptive way.

For all of these reasons, and more, it is essential that anyone who uses safety-seeking behaviours to manage anxiety learns a new, and more useful, approach to their situation.

If you suffer from anxiety and deal with it on your own by engaging in safety-seeking behaviours, you may need some help in breaking the cycle of negativity and avoidance that is stopping you from living your life as completely as you would wish. You can work with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist to develop more useful coping mechanisms that will help you to manage your symptoms more effectively, and also to assess risk in a more realistic way.



Furukawa, T. A., Chen, J., Watanabe, N., Nakano, Y., Ietsugu, T., Ogawa, S., … Noda, Y. (2009). Videotaped experiments to drop safety behaviors and self-focused attention for patients with social anxiety disorder: Do they change subjective and objective evaluations of anxiety and performance? Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 40(2), 202–210. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2008.08.003

Kim, E. J. (2005). The effect of the decreased safety behaviors on anxiety and negative thoughts in social phobics. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 19(1), 69–86. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2003.11.002

McManus, F., Sacadura, C., & Clark, D. M. (2008). Why social anxiety persists: An experimental investigation of the role of safety behaviours as a maintaining factor. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 39(2), 147–161. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2006.12.002

Wells, A., Clark, D. M., Salkovskis, P., Ludgate, J., Hackmann, A., & Gelder, M. (1995). Social phobia: The role of in-situation safety behaviors in maintaining anxiety and negative beliefs. Behavior Therapy, 26(1), 153–161.


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

Check out other related articles

  • 09 Dec 2017

    “Worrying thoughts”: What if we're doing it wrong?

    Let me ask you a question: Is anxiety and fear a major problem in your life? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that whether your answer is “Yes ” you are in good company. If you answered “yes” the chance is that: you have developed a problem with anxiety and you struggle. You may b.....

  • 13 Nov 2018

    What is a thought record and how can it be used to help you restructure your thinking?

    Often, our own thought processes hold us back from achieving all that we can. In order to make sure that our own negative thought patterns are not holding us back, we need to understand our own minds better, and figure out when and how negative thoughts arise......

  • 18 Jan 2019

    What is Exposure Therapy and How can it Help You?

    Exposure therapy is one of the tools commonly used by therapists who work in treating anxiety disorders of various kinds; it is a tried and tested technique that has been around since the 1950s and that has been clinically proven to be an effective approach to managing and treating anxiety, includin.....

  • 01 Oct 2018

    The Most Effective way to Treat Social Anxiety Disorder

    Social anxiety is a state that can affect people from all walks of life. Everyone has experienced a jangling of nerves before a big interview or date; this is normal. But when this sense of nervousness reaches such heightened levels it interferes with rational thought over a sustained period, it shi.....