“Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to escape conflict, and the best long-term strategy to ensure suffering.” – Brendon Burchard.
Avoidance behaviours or avoidance coping is a very common but ineffective way of coping in which a person alters their behaviour in order to avoid feeling, thinking about, or doing tough things. A person who uses this behaviour completely avoids stressors instead of confronting them. There can be numerous reasons why we choose to ignore or avoid situations instead of confronting them. It can be because we feel inadequate, the problem seems way too big for us to handle alone, we have no idea where to start, and we are anxious and fearful.
Avoidance coping is a problem because then we don’t learn how to confront problems and deal with stress. According to Melanie A. Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Marin County, “[We] train our brain that this is something we should be fearful of and we are [incapable] of getting through a difficult situation.” It might come as a surprise to you but avoiding stress and not putting yourself out there in stressful situations is not an ideal way to reduce stress. Facing and dealing with stress, on the other hand, is one of the best approaches to managing stress.
Another serious reason why there is a need to overcome avoidance behaviour is that this maladaptive form of coping can create new problems in our lives, such as addiction. Addiction can be a coping mechanism that serves to help a person manage particular stress levels and situations. When we avoid something, we become more fearful and anxious, and this is when we might turn to drugs and drinking as a way to deal with the fear and anxiety.
This article shares six simple ways to start dealing with and ideally overcome avoidance behaviour.
1. Practice Mindfulness
According to Jon Kabat Zinn, “Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present, inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness.” You might be wondering what mindfulness has to do with avoidance.
When you focus all your attention on a particular moment, you accept the situation and accompanying emotions instead of judging the experience. This is the opposite of avoidance. Van Dijk, a psychotherapist in Sharon, Canada, says, “If you’re avoiding something, you’re not accepting it, you’re rejecting the possibility of having the experience for whatever reason.”
The goal of mindfulness exercises and related practices such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises is to focus on living in the present moment and understand your present feelings. These activities can detach you from reality and the busy life you have created for yourself. Mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises, meditation, and guided imagery allow you to take some time out for yourself to understand your emotions and feelings. Instead of avoiding and hiding your messy feelings and burying them deep down, acknowledge them. Aim to recognise what is bothering you or making you feel inadequate (for example). Unravel your feelings of anxiety and fear. Research also suggests that spending mindful one-on-one time with yourself bolsters self-confidence and self-esteem. This is especially important since avoiding things can make you feel incompetent and result in low self-esteem and self-confidence. Hence, when you connect with yourself, you are not only replacing your escape coping behaviour with more active coping strategies, but you are also improving your feelings of self-worth.
In a nutshell, mindfulness fosters acceptance and allows you to voice your concerns and express your feelings instead of dismissing them. So practice mindfulness if you want to overcome avoidant coping.
2. Start Small
If you have tended toward avoidance for any part of your life, then it can be hard for you to change your behaviour altogether. In order to make things easy for yourself, start small. Break down each task into smaller steps to sustain the change you want to see in your behaviour. For example, if you want a new job but you have been avoiding looking for it for whatever reason, break down this task into smaller steps. Start by making a resume according to the position you are looking for. Next, contact your former employers for references and recommendations. Then research the jobs by contacting relevant people in the industry you want to work in. Starting small and striving towards the main goal will help you keep your avoidance problem in check and make sure you don’t get so overwhelmed.
3. Remember it is OK To Be Uncomfortable To Go After What You Want.
The best thing to do is to confront the situation or the problem when you are dreading it. Delaying action or avoiding the situation altogether only increases stress and fear. Remind yourself it is OK to feel uncomfortable about what you want. It is OK to feel a little uneasy about something that you want. This will help you shed the habit of avoiding things that seem scary and instead grow more confident. It will also make you more accepting.
4. Seek Support
If you find it hard to overcome your escape coping behaviour, don’t hesitate to ask for help or seek support. This support can come from a certified therapist, family and friends, or even reading a self-help book.
Personal development or self-help books can be very healing and inspiring. Just reading a few pages every day can make a huge difference in your life. Reading inspiring books floods your brain with uplifting concepts. The motivating content encourages you to change and become a better version of yourself. You start believing that you are capable of much more. The inspiring and motivating words of self-help books can spur you to action. Simply put, personal development books on overcoming avoidant behaviour can help you greatly in feeling more capable and less fearful.
Try and talk to the people who you find to be motivating, confidence-inspiring and who are reliable confidants. Sharing the feelings that bother you with your trusted friends instead of avoiding them will make sure you don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside. Your friends and family members would also help you deal with your avoidant behaviour by sharing their insightful advice with you.
Do also seeking professional help. Certified therapists are in a better position to guide you on how you can navigate avoidance in a healthy way by using active coping strategies. Avoidance is very common in anxiety and depressive disorders and therapists are trained in cognitive and behavioural approaches to help overcome avoidance – certainly at my college, our student hypnotherapists learn a lot about helping clients overcome avoidant behviours.
5. Write Down How You Feel
Writing whatever you feel is the best way to tap into your inner self and interrupt avoiding behaviour. Writing brings whatever you are feeling or scared of to the surface so that it is no longer buried inside. Once you bring up something, you can face it. In this way, writing can help you overcome your avoidance behaviour.
The important part is understanding what you have written. Your writing serves as a direct communication channel with yourself and can be very revealing in terms of how you feel and what you need. When you write down something and read it out loud, you can discover your negative thought patterns and identify why and where they come from. So, in order to help yourself overcome avoidance behaviour, start expressing how you feel in whatever way you want.
6. Identify the Triggers
Stress management can help you manage and overcome your avoidance behaviours. However, the first step of stress management is identifying the stressors or triggers that put you in a stressful situation. Being self-aware of yourself is always a good thing. Knowing about your triggers that make you feel avoiding is the best strategy that allows you to better understand what you can do to help.
Being mindful of your stress triggers will allow you to cope with such feelings more effectively. When you recognise the neurobiological triggers that make you feel like you cannot do anything, you will be in a position to reflect on them. This reflection will help you react to such a situation in a better way since you would be aware of the triggers and would have time to find healthy ways to cope with them beforehand.
Moreover, identifying your stress triggers can also give you some control over the way you act. Figuring out what forces us to ignore problems instead of confronting them is the essential step in trying to make yourself feel better when you are struggling with escape coping. Evaluate your triggers. Why are you feeling this way? Did you recently encounter any trauma? Is it the great deal of stress that is producing such feelings? Don’t be afraid of facing your problems. Figure out the patterns that are associated with the situations when you feel the need to avoid a situation completely to cope with your avoidance behaviours more effectively.
Overcoming avoidance behaviour can seem overwhelming and initially feel scary, especially if you have tended toward avoidance coping for the most part of your life. However, there are healthy ways to move forward. Remember, it is never too late to help yourself and take the first step. Hopefully, with the tips shared in this article, you will be able to manage and move on from avoidant coping. Just try to replace your avoidance behaviours with active coping strategies and know that you can live a healthy and peaceful life without having to avoid people and situations. Starting small, practising mindfulness, and seeking support work well when trying to shed the habit. When navigating avoidance, the ideal way to deal with it is to make a choice that genuinely contributes to your mental and physical well-being, not only in the short but also in the long run. However, if you feel that you have not made any progress and self-help tips are not working for you, seek out a mental health professional for help.
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