Are you using avoidance behaviour?
Anyone who’s ever reluctantly attended a party only to spend the night playing with the host’s dog knows a thing about avoidance. Not comfortable in crowds? A game of fetch and lots of “Who’s a good boy?” can seem like a good alternative.
Avoidance behaviour is a way to manage stress by avoiding difficult thoughts or feelings, and it can take a lot of forms. Maybe you buried yourself in Netflix binges to escape the stressful reality of life during the Covid-19 pandemic. Or perhaps you can’t be in public without a friend to make you feel comfortable.
While avoidance behaviour serves a purpose, it doesn’t address the root issue. And that’s an issue when it comes to your mental health. As the saying goes, “if you resist, it will persist.”
Here’s a rundown on avoidance behaviour and how to overcome it, according to experts.
What is avoidance behaviour?
If you’re avoiding stressful or socially difficult situations through distractions or by staying away completely, you’re practising avoidance behaviour, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
Remember the anxiety you avoided by playing with a pup during a party? That might take a few different forms, depending on the type of avoidance.
You can partially avoid uncomfortable social situations by hanging with the dog or sitting in the corner the whole time. Or you might choose to escape and walk out in the middle of the party. Or you avoid gatherings entirely.
Who’s prone to avoidance behaviour?
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety are especially likely to use avoidance to dodge triggers or potentially harmful environments. Others may practise the behaviour because they struggle with their emotions in general.
“If you’re comfortable with strong feelings, then you’ll have less need to avoid [them],” says Alice Boyes, PhD, a former clinical psychologist and author of The Anxiety Toolkit.