How Can I Avoid Avoidance?
There are a number of different ways to avoid dealing with or facing an uncomfortable situation or feeling. You can…
Run and hide or keep your distance
Find excuses and distractions
Find ways to sidestep or work around
Pretend it doesn’t exist or isn’t happening
Keep yourself busy with tasks or overthinking
And so on…
We all do it from time to time because it makes sense to try to avoid pain and discomfort, and sometimes avoidance is a wise choice to prevent unnecessary or excessive suffering.
But there are other times when avoiding an uncomfortable situation or feeling can actually lead to more discomfort – it can add to your stress and anxiety and make things even worse. Because even if you are avoiding doing something, often you will still be thinking about it, and that usually includes thinking about how you should just do it, which then adds more pressure and frustration with yourself for not facing the issue head on.
And avoiding a problem doesn’t solve it or make it go away. In some cases, avoidance can cause the problem to grow into an even larger problem.
As I mentioned, we all use avoidance as a strategy from time to time, with some of us using it more often than others. There are those people who seem to be really good at tackling stressful situations head on and there are others who tend to turn to avoidance as their default.
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or has a tendency to worry and feel nervous, you’ve probably been using avoidance as a go-to coping strategy for a while.
It’s something you learned early on as a way to avoid the discomfort that comes with anxiety - the fear, worry, tension, or panic - and it’s most likely become a habit that you’ve gotten pretty good at.
When you’re dealing with anxiety, you find ways to maneuver and adapt your behaviors or come up with countless excuses and justifications in order to avoid a dreaded experience or situation. (You can be crafty and creative in that regard, although not always graceful...)
You might also turn to cognitive strategies such as overthinking, where you spend a lot of time preparing and planning and trying to think your way out of a problem, or rumination, where you spend time repeatedly going over everything that has gone wrong in the past, both of which serve as ways to avoid dealing with the issue at hand.
And even if you’ve gotten pretty good at avoidance, you probably haven’t been able to avoid the consequences of avoidance:
The anxiety doesn’t go away and it can intensify.
You can start to lose confidence in yourself and doubt your ability to navigate difficult situations.
You can miss out on opportunities for growth and achievement.
You’ve also probably had times when you’ve experienced the impacts that avoidance can have on your relationships – you might have dealt with disappointment and frustration from others or you might have had a hard time forming or maintaining certain relationships.
So you might wonder...
How can I avoid avoidance?
Here are some tips to get you started:
Recognize when it’s happening and recognize the impacts. Catch yourself when you’re avoiding something or feeling the urge to avoid and look at the potential consequences of taking action vs. avoidance.
Shift your thinking. Offer yourself encouragement and affirmation. Look for alternative views and approaches to the problem. What can you do differently? What are your options? Is there another way to think about it?
Learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. If you can learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings, observe them, and allow them to pass, you can learn how to handle the feelings instead of going with the usual avoidance response. You can learn to be more "comfortable with the uncomfortable" and facing difficult situations won't bring you as much anxiety.
Calm your body and your mind. Use strategies to help calm your response to stress – activities that are calming, soothing, or grounding. This can help prevent overwhelm and it helps you feel more capable and confident in your ability to move through the discomfort.
Take small steps. Sometimes the thought of taking something on can be overwhelming but if you break it down into smaller steps it can be easier to manage.
Build your communication skills. You might be avoiding a person or a social situation because you don’t feel confident in your conversational skills or your ability to set limits or communicate your needs and feelings. If you can learn to improve your communication, you can start to feel more confident and capable of navigating uncomfortable conversations.
Accountability. Find someone to help hold you accountable for completing a project or dealing with an issue. Self-discipline can be hard to maintain and it’s much easier to keep avoiding if you’re not held accountable.
Ask for help. Making a change to how you do things can be hard to do on your own and even with these tips, you might need a little more guidance and support. If that's the case, it's a good time to seek out professional help - counselor, therapist, coach, teacher, etc.
These are all valuable steps toward overcoming a pattern of avoidance and it's important to note that avoidance can be a tough habit to break, so you have to be persistent in your approach to overcoming it. Taking the time to manage your anxiety and stress is an important part of the process, but you have to be careful that it doesn't become yet another avoidance tactic.
If you can continue to pay attention to your responses and take actions that help you move forward, you can build confidence in your ability to face uncomfortable situations and over time you can learn to avoid avoidance, as necessary.