Avoidance and Escape Strategies

We all know at this point that avoidance creates, maintains, and intensifies anxiety.

You have an uncomfortable thought, feeling, or sensation.
It feels likes a threat of danger.
You do something to make it go away.
What you do to make thoughts, feelings or sensations go away are compulsions, avoidances, escape strategies, safety behaviors, and reassurance seeking.
These are functionally synonymous.

Great job, Mind! For a second or two, that avoidance gave you relief. If your thought, feeling, or sensation was actually a threat to you, you’d be in the clear from danger. You also just taught your consciousness to watch out for that thought, feeling, or sensation so that next time it can do something to make it go away even faster. What an amazing process!

Compulsions, reassurance seeking, and safety behaviors are the dirty words in the psychology world for what we, humans, do to maintain anxiety disorders. I obviously use these words too, but I don’t think they are dirty. Rather than evidence of weakness or a limitation, I think it’s an incredible process. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what your mind comes up with to try to alleviate your suffering.

I strongly believe you should respect your mind too. In fact, I think the only way to alleviate your suffering in the long-term is to befriend your own mind, watch it, listen to it, and learn to work with it compassionately.

We need to learn to work with our urge to avoid because avoidance makes anxiety disorders worse in the long-term. Throughout your time in Huddle.care, you have reflected on what triggers your anxiety and the avoidances you engage in that maintain it. We’ve discussed what you value and how to gain motivation to refrain from avoidance in order to go towards what you value. In addition to remembering how avoidance maintains anxiety, let’s discuss how avoidance and escape strategies undermine your potential. An anxious moment is an opportunity for confidence and escaping it undermining your potential for confidence.

I actually mean it when I say that uncertainty is an opportunity. When you feel uncertain about whether you have a disease you fear, it probably doesn’t feel like an opportunity. Fearing that you’ll panic in front of people you like probably doesn’t feel like an opportunity. Same for worrying all night rather than sleeping. Not an opportunity. I get you. And, I disagree with you.

When you are relating effectively to yourself in the middle of the night when you’re stuck on a random intrusion, you will know it. It is a private confidence that only you share with yourself. Once you have that confidence, you can do anything.

This is why your anxiety disorder is a gift. Because you have to practice observing yourself, developing a strategy for how you’re going to relate to yourself, and experimenting compassionately with yourself in smaller moments, you have the chance to develop a much deeper confidence in yourself that can carry you at all other times in your life.

If you expose yourself to anxiety, but then you check or get reassurance, you undermine your chance for self-confidence. The habit of undermining yourself leads to doubts, self-criticism, and uncertainty. Doubts, criticism, and uncertainty narrow your thinking. When your thinking is narrow, your awareness of the opportunities available to you is limited. So, avoidance narrows your thinking, limits your opportunities, and undermines your potential.

Don’t just refrain from avoidance because your psychologist told you that it makes your anxiety worse. Stop avoiding so that you can develop the internal resources needed to reach your potential. Practice patiently and compassionately with yourself so that you have the chance to see who you can become.

It’s okay if you forget your strategy and avoid anyway sometimes. Meet yourself where you are. That moment is your opportunity! When you engage in an avoidance behavior, try thinking, “My mind works perfectly. What can I do right now that would give me more self-confidence rather than more fear?”
Your anxious moment is your opportunity for greater confidence.

Questions for reflection:

  • What is your narrative around how your avoidance, escape strategies, and reassurance seeking started? Do you feel compassion towards that narrative?
  • In what areas of life do you want more confidence?
  • In what ways does your avoidance undermine your chance for confidence?
  • What can you do in that area of life that would create more confidence?