Anxiety and the Avoidance Trap
Avoidance is a common behavior associated with anxiety. For example, if someone has social anxiety, they might avoid attending social gatherings where they would be expected to interact with a lot of people. This avoidance feels like a relief initially because the threat of experiencing uncomfortable symptoms goes away. While it makes logical sense in the moment, avoidance makes anxiety worse over time.
Every time this person says ‘no’ to a social gathering, they are enforcing the idea they cannot handle the experience and need to avoid it to be safe. As they lose confidence in their ability to tolerate discomfort, they will be more likely to avoid it again the next time. What starts with large gatherings could develop into avoiding other situations. Over time, their life becomes increasingly limited.
If avoidance is not the answer, how do we best address anxiety around specific triggers? The answer is the opposite of avoidance: exposure. Find ways to begin to tolerate anxiety-causing situations, and the uncomfortable feelings that result, by developing coping skills. Start slowly with something just outside of your comfort zone to begin to build confidence and tolerance, and work toward addressing larger triggers.
Depending on the severity of one’s anxiety and the extent of avoidance, exposure can be extremely difficult to do without help. Working with a mental health professional can provide the support and guidance needed to face anxiety and overcome the avoidance cycle.
-Laura Gross, LMSW
Laura Gross is a fully licensed clinical therapist with Marsh Psychology Group. Contact her at:
Marsh Psychology Group: 248-860-2024