It’s natural to want to avoid anything uncomfortable, but this may lead you down a terrible path.
Part of what makes us human is that we can define our existence by two things: Gaining pleasure and avoiding pain. We want to avoid anything that takes us out of our comfort zonesand makes us feel uneasy. For solving problems – which you will undoubtedly face – avoidance coping is an unhealthy way to do it.
This article will look at what avoidance coping is, why it’s not effective at solving your problems, and how to stop it
What Is Avoidance Coping?
Whenever a person faces trauma, they deal with it in one of two different ways: either through approach coping or, as we’re looking at here – avoidance coping.
It’s hard to sum up what avoidance coping is, but we can look it at more like an orientation for how you cope. With avoidance coping, you are adopting a bunch of behaviors that allow you to distance yourself from any trauma. This can look like:
Distancing yourself from the issue either through diving more into your work or other activities
Minimizing the scope of the trauma and minimizing your feelings
Denial that anything is even happening to you
Addiction to help cope either through drugs, alcohol, or even overeating
Isolating yourself from people, oversleeping, and being withdrawn
Why Is This Happening?
Basically, what’s happening is a form of being an ostrich and burying your head in the sand. It’s a refusal to accept reality and current circumstances.
If you’re surrounded by people that care about you, they might also contribute to the avoidance coping. They may be a reminder – or constantly remind you – of whatever the problem is. This can cause you to further push away, isolate yourself, and refuse to approach the issue.
There can become a sense that if you ignore the problem, it will just go away which we all know is the furthest thing from the truth. It doesn’t even matter how big the issue or trauma is. Avoiding it creates the same problems, and the longer you let it go, the bigger it becomes.
This becomes dangerous because if you choose to ignore a small problem, it can snowball into something much bigger and unmanageable.
The thing with avoidance coping is it’s not always a bad thing. Using it helps to avoid stress in the moment and gives the ability to cope. This is ok every once in a while, but if you constantly do it, you will always depend on it never taking action – or accountability.
Over time, constantly coping with things through avoidance can lead to:
Emotional numbness which can cause relationship problems
A lack of awareness with how you are feeling
A lack of awareness with how you relate to the world
An inability to take appropriate action and the chance to heal
How Can You Stop Avoidance Coping?
On the one hand, a person using avoidance can cope – but only for the moment. Nothing gets solved like this, it does not resolve the trauma, and it can grow and fester even worse. It might seem like a quick fix, but it only gets worse, in the long run, causing more stress.
The first thing to look at is approach coping or active coping.
This involves changing your way of thinking about the stressor. If you look at every problem as having a solution, it can become easier to overcome. A trauma or stressor only has power over you if you allow it to. Knowing we can conquer it can create a powerful mindset that allows you to approach it head-on.
This cognitive coping is the first step as many of the problems we face are ones we’ve built up in our own minds. Your mind is like a muscle and you can train it to stop thinking in an overly negative way.
The next big thing is to come to grips with the idea that coping like this does not work.
The sooner you can realize this, the sooner you can make progress. Just by reading an article like this shows you are making the first steps. Gaining the information behind what avoidance coping is gives you power over it and can help you stop it.
Another big way to stop it is to recognize when you’re doing it.
Make a note every time you avoid coping with something and you’ll soon learn to nip it in the bud.
This is also a good time to use stress relief techniques such as meditation, yoga, and exercise. It’s not that you’ll be avoiding a problem, but you’ll put yourself into a calmer state to deal with it. Trying to deal with trauma with heightened stress is a recipe for disaster, and it’s better to go in calm and relaxed.
Avoidance coping is a natural thing and nothing to be ashamed of. It is important to recognize if it’s got out of control for you and needs to be addressed. The sooner you can stop this method of coping, the sooner you can take control of your life, emotions, and mental health.
This is difficult and does require some work. Learning to reframe your thoughts is the best place to start and can put you into a better headspace to cope. Another good idea is to remember to take small steps and not feel you have to deal with everything at once.
Start changing your behavior by taking small steps instead of thinking you have to overhaul yourself in one big swoop. Having an accountability partner is a great way to do this and will also help with your communication skills. When you’re able to communicate better, it can make this whole process much more manageable.
And as always, if this feels like something out of your control, talking to a professional is always the smart choice. This can help you approach the problem with a trained professional and is a true act of strength.
Jamie Logie is a personal trainer, nutritionist, and health & wellness specialist. Jamie also studied sociology and psychology at Western University and has a counseling diploma from Heritage Baptist College. He has run a blog and top-rated podcast on iTunes called "Regained Wellness". Jamie is also a contributing writer for places like the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, LifeHack and has an Amazon #1 book called "Taking Back Your Health".
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