Jumping out of an Airplane

The first time a skydiver jumps from an airplane, he’s terrified.

But by the tenth jump, the skydiver’s fear has taken a back seat to a newly developed confidence. He jumps out and enjoys the rush of adrenaline as a seasoned skydiver.

Moriah Behavioral Health medical director Dr. Timothy Jeider says we should be talking about this concept of repeated practice and exposure during Mental Health Awareness Month. Dr. Jeider says many people he sees that complain of anxiety are actually just out of practice – meaning they haven’t exercised their social muscles in a while.

In absolutely everything we set out to do, we gain more confidence in it if we do it regularly. This includes common social activities, uncomfortable face to face conversations, and dealing with annoying or argumentative family members or co-workers.

“Not everything has to be overwhelming all the time,” Dr. Jeider said. “Sometimes it’s normal to be uncomfortable, and sometimes accepting criticism is very constructive.”

Teen girl with anxiety

He says people found refuge in their homes during the Covid pandemic, and during that time they lost their interpersonal skills and social stamina. 

“We’re on the verge of having an entire generation of kids who are terrified of walking into a McDonald’s,” Dr. Jeider said. “There are kids out there who literally cannot leave the house.”

Dr. Jeider says there is a difference between having an anxiety disorder and having “developed anxiety” through avoidance of social interactions. 

Like skydiving, it comes down to practice. Dr. Jeider says the key to dealing with anxiety may be as simple as re-engaging our social muscles through repeated exposure to in-person interactions. 

“I have people tell me all the time that their anxiety is under control, and when I ask them if they leave the house they tell me ‘No, almost never.’ Go outside!” Dr. Jeider said. 

Dr. Jeider encourages parents to ask their children what they are doing to make themselves better. How are they challenging their fears and developing more confidence? And for that matter, parents might ask themselves the same question. 

“Kids need validation, empathy, healthy confrontation, and the right to agree to disagree,” he said. “Parents have the hardest time with validation. It’s just an acknowledgement that you hear what they say, not that you agree with them,” he said.