Tiffany Graves, M.S., LPCC on Feb 08, 2023 in Mood and Feelings
What Is Avoidance?
Avoidance is when you actively put physical or mental effort into keeping away from someone or doing something. Avoidance can temporarily relieve stress, pain, anxiety, depression, and uncomfortable feelings for an individual. However, when you avoid something, you are also avoiding the issue at hand, potentially creating a bigger problem. For example, if someone has anxiety about public speaking, they may try everything in their power to avoid talking in public. However, this doesn’t address the deeper issue: the fear that is fueling the anxiety related to public speaking. This fear, if left unchecked, could grow and become bigger, so much so that an individual might not even want to meet new people for fear of talking to them. Avoidance quickly relieves big emotions, allows us to return to our comfort zones, and — in most cases — continue on with our lives. But we all are familiar with how little issues can eventually grow into overwhelmingly big ones.
How We All Use Avoidance on a Daily Basis
Avoidance is something we all use — even me! I can imagine some of you can relate to avoiding some household chore on a given day because you just don't feel like doing it. Avoidance, whether we like it or not, does work, and this is one major reason we all tend to fall back on using avoidance in our daily lives. Avoidance can range from small to large utilization, such as: getting the mail, doing the laundry, taking out the trash, getting your car tags renewed, filing your taxes, or even ending unhealthy relationships. In a world full of instant gratification, avoidance is just another tool we utilize to help us feel better quicker.
The Many Different Faces of Avoidance
Avoidance can look different depending on your life’s journey. For instance, a child avoiding putting his shoes on might throw a tantrum or scream "NO!" before being convinced of doing the task, whereas an adult might flat out just not go to places or talk to people as a way to avoid a given task or experiencing difficult thoughts.
At a young age, we learn that some tasks can be avoided — but only for a given period of time before we MUST complete them or face the consequences of avoiding that task. Homework is a great example; you are given a due date ahead of time in which you have the choice to work on it before the deadline or avoid the assignment until the last minute. It is then you have to face the decision of completing it or receiving consequences for avoiding it. In this case, the consequence would be a zero or a lower grade, which overall may not have a significant enough impact on your grade for you to care.
Other types of avoidance, in particular those related to our mental health and thoughts, can cause more intense and long-term consequences for us to manage at later times in our life. Research shows that when we avoid addressing mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, they can manifest as physical symptoms such as nausea, stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.
While avoidance can be useful in some situations, it can also be harmful in others. Being able to evaluate both short-term and long-term consequences can go a long way in helping to reduce the amount of overall unwanted experiences and emotions.
Avoidance and Mental Health
As mentioned above, when we avoid our mental health, our physical health can also be impacted. You may not realize how much energy it takes on a daily basis to consistently work to avoid situations or thoughts that make you uncomfortable. This type of avoidance in and of itself can pile up, causing feelings of fatigue, trouble concentrating, and even memory issues.
Most often we tend to avoid our thoughts by engaging in some form of mental and physical task that keeps us so busy that by the time we are done, we crash from exhaustion. On the other hand, not everyone has an outlet, and sometimes all that one can do is sit with all of those thoughts, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness in not being able to quiet their mind.
You don’t have to suffer alone with all of those thoughts. You don’t have to feel exhausted all the time by placing all of your effort into avoiding negative thoughts, situations, or people. Mental health professionals are trained to help you challenge these thoughts, regain control, and gain the power to quiet your mind as needed.
A simple first step that you can take on your own is journaling. Having a space to be able to release some of those thoughts can be empowering. Giving yourself space to process through your own thoughts can really help to quiet the mind and allow you to stop spending so much energy on a daily basis avoiding them. We all know avoidance can be easy, but take the challenge: Stop avoiding your thoughts and fight back! You are deserving of a quiet mind.