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Why Avoidance Coping Isn’t the Easy Way Out

Avoidance coping is more on staying away from the stressors rather than confronting it / Photo by Kurhan via Shutterstock.com

 

Avoidance coping is defined by Elizabeth Scott, a wellness coach who specializes in stress management, as a “maladaptive form of coping that involves changing… behavior to try to avoid thinking or feeling things that are uncomfortable.” In essence, it is staying away from the stressors instead of confronting it.

It may appear that by avoiding certain thoughts and situations may help in reducing the distress they feel. It is in this way that anxiety lies to them. It makes a person believe, for example, that keeping themselves from social situations will ease their anxiety or refraining from activities where they could potentially fail will make them happy. Most of the time, in order to not go through excessive stress or feel stressed without having to stay away from the stressor, they need to directly deal with the issue.

Kinds of Avoidance Coping

According to Psychology Today, there are two main ways people resort to avoidance coping:

Excessive doing

A person can engage in excessive doing if they tend to overdo or repeat certain behaviors to address a problem. For example, cleaning their table 50 times to avoid coming in contact with bacteria when they eat on the table.

Not doing

This involves avoiding anything that may prove their fears, such as information, relationships, situations and conversation, Ownx says.  For instance, an individual may choose to stay at home instead of taking an exam which they think would result in having a low grade.

Why It Makes Problems Like Anxiety Worse

Rather than dissolving the stress, it tends to heighten it because initially, it does not fix the problem that causes them to be stressed. Making use of avoidance coping may also cause the problem to multiply instead of decrease. Constantly engaging in this type of behavior may frustrate others and in turn, make them have problems in their relationships. This may also cause them to have lesser social support. Moreover, using avoidance coping generates more anxiety.

Mindbodygreen lists ways that avoidance coping makes problems worse:

Lessens emotional tolerance

By engaging avoidance coping prevents an individual from practicing emotional tolerance, which is done by being able to perceive an emotion in a compassionate way and without criticism. Therefore, if a person is prone to avoiding certain emotions, this makes them more likely to rely on vices or substances to cope because they are not able to tolerate uncomfortable emotions. Before they learn to practice emotional tolerance, they must allow themselves to feel emotions first, even those that make them feel uneasy.

Makes people harder on themselves

Another reason why this coping strategy makes people struggle more is that prevents people from being able to recognize opportunities, it isolates them from others and makes them more fearful of situations that can trigger their anxiety. In other words, they try to construct their lives in such a way that prevents them from feeling uncomfortable emotions. They must learn to expose themselves to it so that they may “become more comfortable with the discomfort it causes.” In doing so, they will learn to live alongside their fear and not be hindered by it.

When one feels uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, they tend to be harsh on themselves. They may see themselves as weak or think that they are not coping well. Other emotions may also spring from this such as feeling embarrassed, afraid or even more anxious. They may also feel forced to put it under control. They are advised to practice self-compassion, find support and learn about other coping strategies.

Pathologizes other emotions not associated  with happiness

Additionally, avoidance coping makes a person pathologize, or consider any emotion that is not related to happiness as a disease. This is because society influences people to think that everything in life is easy and everyone is happy all the time. The extravagant life often esteemed highly by the society which mostly consists of beauty, fashion and money-making pharmacies conveys the message that an individual is defective if they are not always calm or happy. It is suggested that anxiety be used as a sign that there may be some areas in life they need to pay more attention to, such as being in an unfamiliar situation or taking up an endeavor which they are not very confident about, instead of merely pathologizing it.

Makes people dread uncomfortable feelings and situations

Finally, it makes this method of coping causes them to dread situations that may cause them fear and anxiety. As a result, this stops them from feeling pleasure from the present moment because they tend to concentrate on the prospect of feeling anxious and afraid. This makes them even more anxious and afraid which causes them to avoid activities that will help them cope with those emotions and tolerate them.

How to Stop Engaging in Avoidance Coping

Instead of engaging in avoidance coping, Verywell Mind gives healthier alternatives. First, one must know what it is and realize why it is not effective. Second, they must identify the reason they resort to avoidance coping. Third, they should learn how to use stress management strategies. Fourth, they are also encouraged to practice emotional coping strategies such as meditation and journaling. Next, they are also told to learn how to bear with uncomfortable feelings which may be done using mindfulness techniques. Then, it is also suggested that they find active coping strategies. Seventh, they are advised to practice their communication skills by asserting themselves learning to negotiate and discuss problems with others. Ninth, they may ask a friend to help keep them from engaging in avoidance coping. For instance, their friend may check if they have begun working on their project or had cleared things up with a person they had an argument with. Finally, asking the help of a therapist may help them in choosing more active coping techniques.

 

Meditating is one way to cope up with avoidance coping / Photo by Evegny Atamanenko via Shutterstock.com

 

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