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Why It’s Important To Understand Avoidance Behavior

How do you handle stressful scenarios? Some people prefer to face uncomfortable situations head-on to get unpleasant experiences out of the way. Others prefer to avoid any setting that might cause them mental or emotional distress. 

If you see yourself in the second example, you might be creating additional stress in your life with avoidance behavior. Let’s learn more about what avoidance behaviors are. Once we have a good definition, we’ll talk about specific coping mechanisms you might have. Then, we’ll show you how to reduce this thought and behavior pattern and get professional mental health help when you need it.

What Are Avoidance Behaviors? 

Essentially, avoidance behaviors are any activity you do to avoid unpleasant emotions and thoughts. There are many ways avoidance behaviors could manifest, and they look different for everybody.

If you struggle with a panic disorder, you’ll find that avoidance behaviors may be especially prevalent in your life. You might do or not do particular activities to avoid feelings of dread, panic, discomfort, or anxiety

Let’s look at a few examples of this kind of behavior to understand it better.

Examples of Avoidance Behaviors

Perhaps you’re not sure what avoidance behaviors look like. If you regularly commit certain activities out of an avoidance motivation, you may not even realize it’s something you do since it comes so naturally. 

Do you have a significant amount of social anxiety? One example of an avoidance behavior would be avoiding activities you genuinely enjoy simply because others may be there.

You might also avoid changing jobs, attending birthday parties, and a host of other events because you anticipate panic and want to avoid it. Over time, you may push away even friends and family as a result of avoidance behaviors.

While it’s uncomfortable to realize, seeing this behavior pattern is the best first step to making lasting positive improvements. 

Why Do You Use Avoidance Coping Methods? 

Let’s talk about why you might use these avoidance techniques in the first place. Ultimately, your mind uses avoidance to try to keep you safe from a perceived danger. You may tell yourself that you’ll experience less stress if you avoid a particular stimulus altogether rather than choosing to face it. 

The Downside To Avoidance Behaviors

Unfortunately, this can become a cycle of anxiety that causes you to be increasingly fearful about more triggers. In psychology, this type of behavior or coping falls into a maladaptive classification. 

While these behaviors might feel like stress relief at the moment, they only attach more anxiety to the avoided stimuli long-term. A person who continually enacts avoidance behaviors may not realize how much they are restricting their life. Still, their avoidance will, unfortunately, reinforce particular anxieties over time rather than relieving them. 

What Are Common Coping Mechanisms?

When you’re in an anxiety-inducing situation, you may find that you also begin to enact coping mechanisms to deal with your discomfort. 

Let’s explore this list of common coping mechanisms. As we do, contemplate whether you see any of your typical behaviors listed as positive or negative coping mechanisms.

  • Humor: Do you find that you make jokes about your emotions or fears when you feel uncomfortable? This method of coping may have a positive effect on minor stressors. 

  • Seeking support: When you feel overwhelmed by your anxiety, reaching out to your support system is crucial.

  • Problem-solving: One way to cope with discomfort is to attempt to pick it apart and “solve” it. You might try to brainstorm ways to “fix” your stress surrounding a particular stimulus.

  • Relaxation: You may attempt to relax whenever you begin feeling burdened by anticipated anxiety. 

  • Physical recreation: Perhaps the way you deal with emotional energy is to go to the gym or go for a bike ride. Physical recreation can be a positive way of coping with pent-up stress.

  • Adjusting expectations: Another way of coping is to imagine new outcomes. When you change your expectations, you may find that facing a particularly stressful event becomes more manageable.

  • Denial: You might practice denial in several ways. When you want to ignore that a stressful scenario exists, you could reframe it in your mind as something less significant, or you might take up distraction techniques such as drinking or watching TV.

  • Self-blame: Another coping response to a stressful stimulus is self-blame. When you partake in self-blame, you’ll find yourself internalizing the issue in a way that negatively affects your self-esteem.

  • Venting: You may also attempt to cope with your stress by expressing your emotions outwardly to others. This method can be positive or negative, depending on your framing of the situation.

Are There Other Positive Coping Methods You Can Use? 

The list above shows several coping techniques – some positive and some negative. Only you can know whether the motivation behind each method is rooted in avoidance.

Are you wondering how you can implement more positive coping strategies into your life? Active-behavioral coping and active-cognitive coping are two methods that might benefit your growth in this area. 

Active-Behavioral Coping Addresses the Problem

When you want to cope in less avoidant ways, you can do so with active-behavioral coping. This term refers to addressing your stressor so that it has less power over you. 

If you’re dealing with minor anxiety, this might be possible and therapeutic for you. Still, if you have a diagnosed panic disorder, you may find that facing your fears is easier said than done. In this scenario, you don’t have to struggle alone. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional to begin treatment.

Active-Cognitive Coping Changes Your Thoughts

You can also cut the avoidance by trying out active-cognitive coping. The goal of this method is to change your mindset surrounding a trigger. If you can reframe or talk through something that makes you anxious, you may have a better outcome when facing it.

Healthy Ways To Reduce Your Avoidance Behaviors 

Perhaps you’ve noticed your avoidance behaviors have caused you to miss out on parts of your life that are important to you. When you stop avoiding things, consider these options that may help you grow mentally in this area and reduce your avoidance. 

Share With Your Support System 

As we mentioned, letting your support system in on what you experience is paramount to achieving mental growth. We know not everyone has positive influences in their life who can listen and encourage you to the capacity that you deserve. In this case, sharing with an empathetic mental health professional could be a helpful alternative for you.

Try Practicing Mindfulness 

Have you ever tried mindfulness? When you’re in a moment that feels particularly anxiety-inducing, you might consider trying mindfulness techniques. 

  1. Try to bring your awareness to how you feel in the present.

  2. Instead of focusing on shame, try to accept the emotions that come up at that moment.

  3. Imagine your racing thoughts passing by you as if in a stream.

Mindfulness is one practice that can benefit you as you seek healthy ways to reduce your avoidance.

Don’t Be Afraid To Talk to a Provider Who Gets It 

When you’re struggling with anxiety, panic, or stress, it may be hard to attempt to stop avoidance behaviors on your own. As we mentioned earlier, avoidance behaviors are your mind’s way of trying to keep you safe. 

If you’re dealing with anxiety symptoms, you don’t have to stop avoidance behaviors by yourself. A caring talk therapist or psychiatric provider can help you navigate this challenging journey. 

How Mood Health Providers Can Help With Anxiety 

We know everyone who struggles with anxiety has a unique story and mental health journey. Mental health care isn’t one-size-fits-all. Finding care that prioritizes your individual needs can make a huge difference when you’re looking for virtual care to help manage your symptoms.

At Mood Health, we want you to have more quality, affordable ways to find the care you need online. For that reason, we offer discounted rates on your first talk therapy session and month of psychiatric care. Our team also consists of highly-trained mental health professionals who care about helping you get better. 

Mood Health Is Your Partner 

You don’t have to try to reduce your avoidance behaviors alone. When you need high-quality mental health services from providers who care, we’re on your team. Consider talking with a Mood Health talk therapist or psychiatric provider to help with avoidance behaviors and start living a life that brings you joy. 

 

Sources:

How Do You Cope? | Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior | UCLA

Avoidance-oriented coping as a predictor of panic-related distress: a test using biological challenge | Penn State University

Coping Skills for Anxious Times | Harvard Graduate School of Education