Avoidance is the most common way to steer clear of anxiety producing situations. Some people deny they use avoidance because they view it as simply refusing to do something. It can actually be much more subtle and there are plenty of things we use to justify our avoidance behavior. We have the potential to use many behaviors and mental mechanisms, but see which of the following five common avoidance strategies you can relate to:
1. The Busy Bee. Once again (it seems) you find you’re unable to go out and socialise because you’ve got too much on. Even some of the most mundane tasks such as cleaning or shopping are used as excuses to avoid the things that make you anxious.
2. The Lid. Some people are good at pushing things to the back of their mind. Effectively they are suppressing the need to address a worrying issue that really needs to be resolved. Putting a lid on a simmering pan may contain steam for a while but once the pressure builds it will burst out. Avoiding issues like financial debt is that simmer pan.
3. The Contortionist. Fear avoidance can involve a variety of mind tricks. Some people go through all sorts of twists and turns involving distracting behaviors like work or other appointments to suppressing or diluting the importance or significance of an issue that should be engaged with.
4. The Sick Person. This, I suspect, is very familiar to most people. How many of us have avoided a stressful or tedious situation by pulling a sickie? It’s easy and effective but when it becomes a routine or even chronic pattern of avoidance it’s a problem (see also avoidant personality disorder).
5. The Persuader. This is the person who uses force of personality or certain excuses to avoid the feared situation. To avoid crossing a bridge, for example, they may insist on going via a particular route because they have an errand to run or something to collect. These fears may run to their partner who they imagine being involved in a car accident, so they insist the partner takes the train, and so on.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.