Anxiety can be an uncomfortable and distressing feeling that we want to get rid of. This can lead to making choices that will alleviate our anxiety in the quickest way. Avoidance behaviours can encompass a wide range of physical and mental actions, from procrastination and refusing to think about certain things, to social withdrawal and distracting oneself. These behaviours can momentarily ease discomfort but ultimately reinforce the problems they are meant to alleviate.
Here’s how the cycle of avoidance typically unfolds:
- Temporary Relief
When we avoid a difficult situation, we experience temporary relief from the discomfort, anxiety, or fear associated with it. This relief reinforces the idea that avoidance is helpful.
- Escalation of Anxiety
Over time, avoiding the situation increases anxiety because the problem remains unsolved. This makes the problem more overwhelming and challenging when we come to address it at a later date.
- Reinforcement of Avoidance
Since avoidance initially provided relief, we’re more likely to use it again in the face of similar challenges. This strengthens the use of avoidance behaviour as a coping strategy.
- Negative Consequences
Avoidance behaviours often lead to negative consequences, such as missed opportunities, damaged relationship and compromised performance (i.e., academic grades or work-evaluations). These consequences can amplify the problems we were trying to avoid in the first place.
Breaking the Cycle
Breaking the cycle of avoidance can seem daunting and overwhelming. However, gradually taking steps to confronting feared situations will go a long way in breaking down this cycle and building a sense of confidence. While it may be tempting to jump into the deep-end and tackle your biggest fear first, taking a slow and persistent approach allows for you to learn and practice skills that can assist you.
- Seek Support
Reach out to friends, family, or professionals for support when dealing with challenging situations or emotions. Having a support network can make it easier to confront problems.
Practicing mindfulness helps keeps us in the present and from catastrophising about hypothetical outcomes.
Instead of avoiding problems altogether, break it down into more manageable steps. Create an action plan to assist with tackling these steps.
Be kind to yourself. Avoid self-criticism, and recognise that there may be set-backs. Self-compassion can reduce the fear associated with confronting difficulties.
Avoidance behaviours may offer temporary relief, but they are ultimately counterproductive, fuelling a cycle of increased avoidance. To break this pattern, it’s vital to confront challenges directly and adopt healthier coping strategies. By doing so, we can not only avoid the negative consequences of avoidance but also experience personal growth and resilience.
Our Blog Author
This blog was written by Simone Chaochalakorn – Psychologist at YMM.
Simone has experience working in a variety of contexts, including working with young children in primary schools, as well as adolescents in clinics. Alongside this, Simone has also assisted adults and seniors with concerns such as work-related stress, relationship difficulties, anxiety and low mood. Simone uses a client-centered approach, in which she strives to understand each individual and their unique problem, in order to find the most effective strategies to help them.
To learn more about Simone, check out the “Our Team” page on our website! https://yourmindmatters.net.au/our-team/