My closet is cleaned out, new items for my room have been bought, trips have been researched, and lots of Psych episodes have been watched. This is just a small list of all that I have participated in these past few months instead of working on my applications for internship. I have really been struggling with avoidance coping.  

There’s a difference between avoidance coping and procrastination. According to Wikipedia, procrastination is, “the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished.” According to this definition I am procrastinating but there are emotional factors for me participating in these avoidance activities instead of applying to internships that makes it avoidance coping. As defined by Wikipedia, avoidance coping is, “a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. Coping refers to behaviors that attempt to protect oneself from psychological damage.” In my current stressor of applications, I am trying to protect myself from the “psychological damage” of being rejected.

Overcoming Avoidance Coping

The frustrating thing about avoidance coping, at least to me, is that it doesn’t even work! Usually the thought or feeling you are trying to avoid ends up increasing. For example: I’m trying to avoid the anxiety and self doubt I would feel if I got rejected, but the longer I participate in avoidance coping, the more my anxiety has increased and I have been struggling with self-doubt, which has continued to increase the longer I have avoided applications.

Along with the list of all that I’ve done instead of applications, there is a long list of negative self-talk that has come along with avoidance coping. This self-talk has increased shame and leads to more avoidance coping, and the cycle continues. There are numerous ways that avoidance coping is manifested.  I’ve shared from my experience but if you feel that avoidance coping is something you struggle with, hopefully with these strategies you can find something that works for you. 

As with most concerns, it can be helpful to first identify when avoidance coping is taking place. Then it is important to identify what the stressor is and what psychological damage is being avoided. From here, there are many skills to implement to help break the cycle.     

  1.  If avoidance coping is really affecting your life it could be beneficial to seek out professional help from a therapist. The therapist can help you to see thought patterns and behavior patterns that are avoidant coping and can help you work towards your goals. There may be past experiences that cause avoidance of anything that is a reminder of this experience and a therapist can be a fundamental tool in working through a painful past experience.  The accountability a therapist can provide can also be a very valuable tool in helping you change this ineffective pattern.  
  2.  Exposure can be helpful in some instances of avoidance coping. Exposure can also be thought of as “baby steps;” taking small steps towards your goal that increase anxiety to a manageable level, but still pushes you. One way to do this is through the “ten minute trick.” You start by setting a timer for ten minutes and then   engage in the task that you have been avoiding. Usually by the time the ten minutes are over, anxiety has subsided enough to continue in the task. If the anxiety is still unmanageable, you’ve engaged in the task for ten minutes more than you probably would have without pushing yourself to do so. Exposure will cause you discomfort so it can be helpful to prepare yourself and sit in the discomfort.
  3. Take inventory of the costs that avoidance coping is having on you.  There is a great website,  The Costs of Avoidance, with some good tools for addressing avoidance.  One worksheet is straightforward and thorough in prompting you to write down the thoughts and behaviors that have been implemented. After writing these down, it asks if these helped get rid of the painful thoughts or feelings that were the reason for avoidance coping in the first place and if these behaviors will lead to a meaningful life. There is also a worksheet to be done at the end of each day titled “The Avoidance & Suffering Diary.” These worksheets seem helpful to clearly list out how avoidance coping is costing more than it is helping. http://www.aliceboyes.com/avoidant-coping/
  4. It can be helpful to engage in adaptive coping strategies. Self-care can aid in stress management, which is especially important when facing painful feelings. Remember to keep a balance so that the adaptive coping strategies don’t become part of the avoidant coping.

If you are like me, it is easy to find yourself in the avoidance coping cycle, but as I’ve done this research and reflected on how the cycle has impacted me, I feel the motivation to break the cycle. I hope you can find something that helps you face those possible painful feelings so that you aren’t limited from a full and meaningful life. I guess I’ll go work on those applications now.

Resources if you question if you have avoidance coping: