Why You Should Not Practice Avoidance

In an effort to sooth their anxiety many anxiety sufferers turn to avoidance as a coping tool. Anxiety sufferers will avoid going to certain places or avoid certain people just to make sure that they won’t feel bad.

It’s almost like we anxiety sufferers would rather hide from the world than deal with the symptoms, thoughts, and feelings that drive us mad. But avoidance is ultimately not the answer to your troubles.

When you have an anxiety disorder asking questions and searching for information about anxiety becomes almost a ritual. So here is another good ritual question – does avoidance even work? Well overtime I have found that the answer is sometimes .

That’s because turning down an invitation for a night out or avoiding a visit to a friend’s home can give us a great sense of relief much of the time. So much relief in fact that we don’t or hardly feel nervous after we have confirmed that we can stay home. We feel better because we feel like we just dodged a bullet.

However in other times nervousness, palpitations, chest pain, achy muscles, etc will come no matter what we do or where we are. So in that case avoidance can be useless.

I will admit that in terms of being a calming tool avoidance can feel good because it relieves the pressure of potentially having  a panic attack or racing thoughts in public. But as good as this might feel what price do you pay for your peace?

I have applied the avoidance technique in the past and as a result I have missed out on tons of potentially fun activities. Here are a few things I have avoided to keep anxiety at bay.

  • Rejected offers to have friends come over.
  • Refused to go out to night clubs or bars.
  • Avoided any type of sit down restaurants.
  • Stayed home and watched a DVD instead of going out to a movie.
  • Called in sick to work.
  • Requested an extended vacation from work even though I had no plans to travel.
  • Avoided family gatherings.
  • Reduced travel altogether.
  • Avoided talking to people while anxious.
  • Avoided family while at home by staying in a room alone.

We could make this list longer I’m sure but clearly there are many ways to avoid things and people. But think about all the wonderful things you cut out of your life to ensure an anxiety free night.

And this avoidance behavior also brings up a real significant question – Can you still do these fun things and not be anxious? I would answer that you very well could. Will you do all these things anxiety free all the time? No, but that is o.k. and very achievable.

What is also important to realize is that it’s not the place(s) we visit that causes anxiety. Ask yourself – if finding out that you’re not going out tonight makes you feel better right away why can you not do the opposite? Well the answer is that maybe you just don’t think it’s possible. Maybe  you tried and every time you failed and now you don’t see the point in trying. But just because it’s difficult does not make it impossible and just because you have had trouble in the past does not guarantee that this will be a life long trend.

We have to disassociate the places we visit from our own fear. We have to stop projecting our anxiety on people and locations that have no connection to our anxiety disorder. The fear and unease we feel while in public is inside of us not outside.

Here is another example – do you have a job? If you answered yes than chances are you spend all day around other people. Work is actually a very social place and it would not be a stretch to think of a restaurant in the same terms. The terms of course are people doing lots of things all around you and it not bothering you.

It’s time to fess up and spend some time looking in the mirror if you practice avoidance as a coping mechanism. You know that this makes you feel left out – you should face this issue squarely.

Don’t lie to yourself and say something like "I do avoid stuff but not that much". If you avoid doing anything it should be because you’re tired, really not interested or broke but not because you’re afraid.

Avoidance is a quick fix and you know what has been said about a quick fix – it does not last. Eventually you have to go out into the world and mingle with the non-anxious. Avoidance over the long term can lead to not just isolation but also to the development of other anxiety disorders like agoraphobia . In this way avoidance can add even more stress, fear, and isolation to your life.

If you practice avoidance on a regular basis then stopping this behavior will not happen overnight. However I recommend that you not avoid fun, happiness, social connections and all the other wonderful things that we feel and think when we are having a good time.

Whether you’re very young or more mature don’t stop living your life just to avoid a bad thought or feeling. Thoughts and feelings can be strong, negative, and terrifying but I can assure you that they alone don’t kill.

And that’s the issue right there I think – anxiety sufferers feel like something bad is always around the corner – they always feel like they will drop dead or have a heart attack if they go to the wrong place and become overwhelmed with fear.

This is a common fear but not one that is rooted in fact. Panic/anxiety attacks don’t cause heart attacks, they don’t stop you from breathing and they also don’t cause insanity. Anyone from anywhere could die in public if they had a preexisting condition or if something unfortunate were to occur but that has nothing to do with fear or anxiety.

The possibility of "X" is simply life. The "X" is anything and everything that could possibly (good or bad) happen to you on any given day. There is no controlling life and you must for this reason, I believe strongly, live your life as happy as you can and as carefree as you can. There is simply no point in waiting for something you can’t confirm, describe or otherwise know anything about – the future is what it is and for now it is unknown.

Don’t avoid things or people because your life is much too short to avoid. We simply don’t have time to hide and not experience the world outside of our homes and away from the things we find comfort in. If you can find a way to get out of your enclosure on a regular basis this will help you cope with anxiety better than any day or night spent at home.

Getting back out there may take some time but with patience, practice and perseverence you can difintely find something appraoching normal that is not rooted in fear.


  1. says

    Hi Ashley, I do think that avoidance leads to helplessness and a whole bunch of other problems. Avoidance actually feeds your fear and makes anxiety stronger. It sounds counter intuitive but that is how it works. The more you hide from people or places that make you nervous the more nervous those same people or places will make you in the future. It is hard to expose yourself to your fears, trust me I know, but it’s worth it.

  2. says

    This statement “The possibility of “X” is simply life.” is very catchy. Life indeed is quite complicated, like algebra. It is how you deal with the situations…

  3. Sarah says

    I have a lot of anxiety and have found that I ONLY go to three stores on a regular basis. If I visit a new store, I feel my whole body wind up for a panic attack. It isn’t any fun. Sigh. Anxiety is like a dark cloud, I go on a walk or take a nap until it passes. It has really caused to ruin my life. My worst avoidance/self sabotage habit is avoiding anything or anyone who wants money from me. Luckily, the more “alone time” I have, the better I can be around people and their quirkey personalities AND I manage my money waaayyy better. :)

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