We all face stressors on a daily basis and we have all devised our own particular methods for coping with these stressors. Some people find that exercise and healthy living is an excellent way to deal with their daily stress, while others prefer to turn to alcohol to escape their reality for a little bit.
We all employ a variety of both adaptive (exercising for example) and maladaptive (drinking, for example) coping mechanisms. A common coping mechanism used, particularly with those struggling with low self-esteem and confidence, is avoidance. Avoidance coping is really a maladaptive coping mechanism by which the person tries to avoid the stressor altogether rather than dealing with it. Perfect examples of avoidance coping include procrastinating rather than getting the job done, repressing feelings rather than expressing them and dealing with them, avoiding confrontations rather than asserting your needs, avoiding social situations and general avoidance facilitated by abusing substances like alcohol and drugs. So you can see how avoidance coping falls on a continuum from mildly maladaptive to more severely maladaptive (drinking and drugs).
Regardless of where your method of avoidance coping falls on this continuum, it is still bound to cause you more stress and anxiety in the long run. Recognising that you have an issue with avoidance is essential in gaining control over this maladaptive coping mechanism.
Here are some signs that you struggle with avoidance:
- You prefer to blend in and don’t draw any attention to yourself whatsoever. This is often a result of low self-esteem and a belief that you have nothing of value to contribute to social situations
- You avoid doing things that caused you stress in the past. For example avoid going to a particular shop because you had an embarrassing encounter there, or avoid speaking to a particular person because you had an uncomfortable interaction with them in the past.
- You avoid making people upset or angry at all costs. You prefer to say and do what makes other people happy, rather than asserting your own needs and opinions, lest they get upset with you
- You avoid starting tasks if you feel overwhelmed by them. Procrastination is the name of the game here where you either avoid, or put off, doing important things because they feel overwhelming.
- You avoid dealing with your thoughts and emotions. For example, you have a suspicion that you are dealing with depression, but rather ignor this thought and get busy with other things instead of seeking help from a professional.
Avoidance coping does not assist us in any way. In fact it reinforces the stress we are trying to cope with and, in many ways, reinforces negative beliefs about ourselves. Speak to a psychologist at Centre for Human Potential to learn how to break the cycle and learn how to stop being avoidant.
Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).