How Avoidance Makes Anxiety Worse

By Cathy Neville, LPC, on April 12, 2015

Why should you hide from anxiety?

Why should you have to avoid it, accommodate it, or act like it isn’t really there?

After all, anxiety is supposed to work for you. It is supposed to be that voice of reason in a tight situation. Fight or flight, right? Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, many anxiety sufferers learn that the way to deal with anxiety is to avoid it.

You start avoiding the things you fear the most to feel safer.

You start pouring all your effort into escaping rather than dealing with your anxious feelings and triggers.

But is it working?

Probably not.

Like any problem you refuse to face

Anxiety will get more determined to find you.

And it always does, usually in a big way.

Avoidance simply produces more anxiety.

It produces more distance between you, the life you want to live, and the people you want to love.

Avoidance simply empowers anxiety.

Avoidance simply keeps you stuck.

That is not okay.

So, how should you deal with this stalker you call anxiety?

How can you get it to fall in line in your head and respect your peace of mind?

Avoid no more.

That’s right.

Otherwise, life just gets more complicated and too limiting.

Not sure you can face your fears successfully?

Need more motivation to make a change?

Let’s look at how avoidance coping actually makes managing anxiety harder.

1. Avoidance usually just keeps you focused on the people, situations, or feelings you’re trying to avoid. Aren’t you constantly conscious of the thing you don’t want to deal with? It seems like you’re constantly maneuvering mentally in order to avoid pain, pressure, embarrassment — whatever.

Avoidance doesn’t improve anything; it just amplifies your anxiety. You’re better off “avoiding avoidance.” When you’re ready to say enough is enough, then it’s finally time to face your anxiety with the support of family, friends, or a counselor.

2. Avoidance is not as passive as it seems. In fact, avoidance is actually an attempt to fight anxiety. This rarely works. By forcing yourself to ignore your feelings you subject yourself to punishing rounds of self-deception and self-protection. You end up losing precious time and energy trying to ward off and block your uncomfortable feelings. Your health and relationships suffer as you attempt to aggressively ignore the triggers. This is fruitless. Eventually, the anxiety comes back stronger anyway. Anxiety still gains the upper hand because you won’t make peace with it.

Avoidance doesn’t allow you to tell yourself the truth about your fear and discomfort. Learning to accept anxiety is the best counter measure.

3. Avoidance makes you intolerant. Avoidance coping keeps you afraid and unable to deal with intrusive thoughts and scary feelings naturally and progressively. You simply don’t deal. Learning how to process feelings you don’t like or want to experience is emotional tolerance. Emotional tolerance is key to helping you cope differently.

Avoidance doesn’t make room for emotional self-soothing, regulating, and competency. Learning to recognize and embrace your anxious feelings will give you better opportunities to overcome or reduce them as you move forward.

Avoidance keeps you hemmed in.

It is not the powerful position it first seems.

But you are not powerless.

With the help of a compassionate professional you can regain your ability to fight or flee appropriately.

You are not solely at the mercy of over-stimulated anxiety or the draining task of ignoring it.

When you learn to accept that reality includes anxiety, anxiety will begin to loosen its hold on you.

You can look anxiety in the face, shrug your shoulders, and truly be okay.