Avoidance: A Coping Mechanism

Avoidance: A Coping Mechanism. Psychology Fanatic article header image.
Avoidance: A Coping Mechanism.

During my first semester of college, I fell behind in a few classes; procrastination was the culprit. The accumulating assignments overwhelmed my first taste of self-organization. Living on my own and trying to earn enough to survive, I experienced the anxiety of existence for the first time.  The psychological load outmatched my mental resources; too proud to seek help, I dropped most of my classes. My decision to withdraw delivered immediate relief. I experienced comfort by giving-up. In psychology we refer to this aa an avoidance coping strategy.

By giving-up, we conserve mental energy, relieving anxiety; defeat is deceivingly soothing. Quitting and moving on is not always wrong, sometimes we need space to heal, instead of working at a failed cause until we collapse. But avoidance has a cost. We trade relief for accomplishment. We slowly box in our lives, limiting future opportunities for growth.

​For me, a few extra weeks of late-night work would have prevented retaking mandatory classes. Always retreating, gaining temporary relief quickly becomes a bad habit; better futures require enough grit to face tough demands. Stress is uncomfortable. And stress heightens as we extend beyond normal comfort zones. The great achievements lie beyond the valleys of stress.

Is Stress Bad?

​​Stress is Good; Too Much Stress is Bad

Stress is good; too much stress is bad according to the Diathesis stress model.

Improved futures require we perform with moderate stress. When we realize the connection between stress and achievements, the knowledge bolsters our resolve to march forward into the shadowy unknowns, maintaining composure when the pressure ignites fear and the still doing what we must do. Basically, avoidance often side steps the good stress.

Hans Selye (1907–1982) revolutionized concepts about stress. He theorized that stress impacted wellness in many ways. He developed the general adaptation syndrome to describe the impact of stress. Selye believed that “stress is the spice of life,” arising from both pleasant and unpleasant activities. Therefore, our goal is not freedom from all stress, but rather to keep stress in manageable portions (Krech, 2012, Kindle location 759).

Examining Desires to Avoid

We must scrutinize the impulse to escape roughness. These pulsing desires can be destructive. Whether we simply give up, shoot up, or run away, we default to devastating habits that promise a life of pain, avoiding the discomfort that offers long term blessings. Choices made unconsciously through impulsive reaction must be reevaluated for effectiveness, examining the short and long-term costs of escape.

Many of us have some unhealthy reactions to stress that impede our growth—we just don’t know it. We must dodge the ego and accept responsibility, honestly examining past choices, unveiling the nasty patterns. Sadly, without insight, we will continue to flee opportunity to avoid stress, never achieving our intentions.

​Managing stress is a skill, requiring more than grappling with pain by powering through it. Accordingly, we use tools to assist, soothing anxiety and giving hope. However, these tools shouldn’t be a surprise—meditation, exercise, healthy eating, rest and supportive friends. As we mindfully examine our lives, discovering avoidance and learn better skills that address the stress without avoiding the opportunity. With skill, we can seize more opportunities and flourish.

Pull up your big boy and girl britches and courageously move toward the life you desire.

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Krech, Gregg (2012). The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology. ToDo Institute Books; 1st.

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