Do you know someone who seems to be isolated and doesn’t want to be included in anything that may not be their normal activity? Maybe it’s your friend who just can’t seem to get past being around a big group of people because they are afraid of judgment from others. This is what it means to have an avoidance behavior issue.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6, ESV
What is avoidance behavior?Avoidance behavior is when a person displays actions that allow them to avoid hard or painful situations. It can also be a behavior that keeps a person from experiencing life events because of the fear of having an unpleasant experience.
More often than not, these individuals do not like confrontation and they will avoid it at all costs. They do not like to be faced with any type of stress or fear. This is also known as avoidance coping.
No one likes to feel out of control or uncomfortable, but some people experience anxiety when they are in these situations. When they exhibit avoidance behaviors they are taking action to ensure that they do not engage in anything that may be hard or produce stress.
Sometimes avoiding stress can produce more stress in the long run. There are instances that it would have been better to face the situation and be done with the anxiety rather than prolong it just to steer clear of potential stress.
Types of avoidance behavior.
There are different types of avoidance behavior that people will use to ensure that they don’t experience any type of anxiety or stress. Most of the time, the behavior is dependent upon the fear the person may have when it comes to confronting their fears and worries.
Cognitive Avoidance. Behavior that typically revolves around the person not wanting to think about the situation or event. They would rather forget about the entire thing to maintain inner peace and not face the symptoms of anxiety.
Situation Avoidance. Commonly associated with the person avoiding people, places, or things that can evoke a feeling of anxiety or stress. This could be anything from doctors to school functions.
Somatic Avoidance. Literally staying away from anything that can produce a physical feeling. Not just fear-based, but this can include situations such as falling in love, engaging in a fun activity, or even a concert that can cause excitement-related physical responses.
Substitution Avoidance. Substituting one feeling with another feeling or behavior. For example, a person may substitute grief with anger or consume alcoholic beverages to ease the pain of heartache.
Protective Avoidance. Avoiding something to maintain a feeling of safety. This can look like compulsive cleaning or taking a different route because you are afraid of bridges.
Positive types of coping.
When it comes to coping, there are categories. Understanding these categories can help the person who is facing avoidance behavior.
Active-behavioral coping is where the person can address the stress. One way this can be done is for the person to talk about the problem/situation that is causing the stress or anxiety. A person may also find that recognizing positive things rather than negative ones can alleviate anxiety. This is referred to as active-cognitive coping.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. – Psalm 94:19, ESV
Why do people use avoidance behaviors?
Most people who find themselves prone to anxiety are the ones to often use avoidance behavior to keep from experiencing any situation that could lead to stress or anxiety. They do not want to experience the emotional or physical symptoms of stress and anxiety. Because they have learned how to avoid the situation, it could be difficult for them to learn how to engage in strategies that will help them reduce anxiety.
There are those who suffer from PTSD that have learned how to use avoidance behavior to escape the chance of experiencing the anxiety of triggering the PTSD. Those who have experienced traumatic events have developed this type of behavior because it makes them feel as though they can control their reactions to anything that may remind them of the event.
Learning how to avoid stressful situations can help a person feel more powerful than the situation. This is a hazard because it gives them a false sense of being in control. It could also lead to more destructive behaviors.
Why is avoidance behavior unhealthy?
Due to the increase in stress and the effects of that on the physical and emotional areas of a person, avoidance behavior is considered unhealthy. This is commonly mistaken as remaining calm, but in actuality, it is more damaging. It can cause a person to feel okay for the moment, but in the long run, that person may experience mental health issues, as well as physical health problems.
The reason for this is that people don’t feel any less stressed having put off the initial encounter. They still feel the symptoms of stress, but it’s at a later time. Sometimes, delayed stress can cause problems for us in our relationships.
Avoidance behavior and anxiety.
More often than not, avoidance behavior becomes a choice for people because they don’t want to face the symptoms of anxiety. They want to avoid feeling any sort of physical symptom that they cannot control. This could make them afraid of being unhealthy. This leads to a fear that is unhealthy and causes even more stress.
There are times that someone avoids being around people simply because they don’t want to have any confrontational conversations with the people they love. Even though they know that avoiding the situation will only make matters worse they will steer clear of any situation that may cause confrontation. They forget that the problem will not go away just because they ignore it.
The cycle of avoidance behavior.
The phenomenon of avoidance is interesting. There is an agreement among counselors that there is a cycle of avoidance behavior. It is thought that exposure to the situation can reduce long-term anxiety even though it may increase short-term disability. While on the other side, the thought is that by avoiding exposure, short-term anxiety is reduced but long-term anxiety is increased.
What are common symptoms?
Several symptoms can be associated with avoidance behavior. Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms.
Escapism. Turning away from the reality of life and seeking solace in books or movies.
This can also be seen when a person avoids work or school. They do not want to face the possibility of criticism.
Substance abuse. The use of substances to numb themselves from feeling any pain or anxiety symptoms.
Burying emotions. This is evident when a person keeps their emotions hidden but may end up having an outburst.
Isolation. When a person chooses to stay away from anything uncomfortable it could be a symptom of avoidance. This may also include not answering phone calls or text messages.
Canceling plans/creating excuses for avoiding. A person may make plans and then cancel when it comes time to go. They may also find any excuse not to go to an event.
Procrastination. This is evident when a person delays doing the things that need to be done for work or school.
How to tell if you are exhibiting avoidance behavior.
If you feel as though you are uncomfortable going places or being around certain people, you can take an inventory of your behaviors to see if you may need Christian counseling to assist you in overcoming avoidance behavior. Here are a few things to ask yourself as you consider whether or not you may suffer from avoidance behavior.
- Do you avoid putting yourself in a place that may cause you to be in a situation that causes you fear?
- Do you keep your mind busy with other thoughts to keep from thinking about something?
- Do you avoid places to stay in a mindset of feeling safe?
- Do you avoid things that you feel will cause anxiety or stress?
- Do you substitute a behavior to reduce anxiety?
Overcoming avoidance behavior.
It’s hard to allow ourselves to engage in a situation that causes us to experience anxiety and stress. We don’t like feeling out of control, so we do what we feel gives us control. But even then, we find we are caught up in anxiety. Sometimes the best thing to do is to face the fear and walk through the situation. We tend to forget that avoiding the problem only prolongs the process of overcoming avoidance behavior.
Ideas for overcoming these behaviors:
- Develop coping skills.
- Start journaling.
- Utilize techniques to manage stress.
- Replace negative self-talk.
- Learn to embrace changes.
- Understand that even hard things can cause growth.
- Seek professional help.
If you feel that you are experiencing any of the symptoms or behaviors in this article, reach out to your local Christian Counselor and get started with a faith-based plan.
“Lonely Tree”, Courtesy of Ivars Krutainis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Water”, Courtesy of Yucar Studios, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunflowers”, Corutesy of Paul Green, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wildflowers”, Courtesy of Joel Holland, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.