How to Stop Avoiding and Start Living : The Worry Cycle
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It goes without saying that we all tend to avoid unwanted experiences. Often this makes sense, as stressful and “negative” experiences are likely to reduce our quality of life and create additional problems.
On the other hand, unwanted experiences are a fact of life. Negative thinking, anxiety, awkward social interactions, waking up early, confrontations, and other fears are all examples of experiences that we all must occasionally face. Given that these experiences are inevitable, it is important to learn how to face them head-on, rather than always avoid them.
Psychologists refer to the tendency to avoid unwanted experiences as Experiential Avoidance, and this process can actually lead to greater anxiety and a reduced quality of life.
When Avoidance Becomes Problematic
The problem with avoidance is that it can often produce the very results that you are trying to avoid. For example, a common theme with experiential avoidance is this type of anxious cycle:
As you can see, there are 4 elements to this cycle:
- A thought, feeling, situation, or other experience produces anxiety.
- In order to reduce anxiety, the experience is avoided.
- Life is restricted (quality of life is reduced) as a result of avoidance.
- This causes you to feel worse about your situation, which produces more anxiety.
It is important to note here that we may avoid all kinds of experiences. This includes external experiences (a social confrontation, a final exam, studying for a job interview), as well as internal experiences (acknowledging the death of a loved one, anger, sadness, etc.)
Examples of Avoidance
Notice how by avoiding situations which produce anxiety, Alena and Alex both end up feeling worse! As a result, they are more likely to feel anxious when the same experiences occur.
This highlights the main issue with avoidance:
It reinforces further avoidance by providing temporary relief while restricting the quality your life and eventually making you feel even more anxious.
Some typical kinds of avoidance include:
- Taking drugs or drinking alcohol in order to avoid feelings/experiences
- Not responding to phone calls, texts, emails, letters
- Avoiding homework, projects, or other commitments
- Staying inside and avoiding social interactions
Save for Later
- How To Stop Negative Self-Talk: The Cognitive Triangle
- How To Stop Negative Self-Talk: Cognitive Distortions
- Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness
- How To Stop Negative Self-Talk: With Thought Logs
- How to Be Strong When You Fail
Over to You
What are some examples of avoidance that you can relate to?
Nancy FigueroaNovember 30, 2018 at 6:43 am
For years I have avoided to correct mistakes on my tax returns. I feel ashamed to personally go, make a call or hire somebody to fix this for me. It has now escalated to the point where my salary might be seized. I would rather resign and be without a job than to take the necessary steps to fix this. I am now anxious day and night waiting for the dreaded news.
beckyFebruary 12, 2019 at 5:21 pm
This didn’t really give any useful tips to help it just identified the problem… good start but where do you finish reading?
James Voss, MA, LMHCAFebruary 13, 2019 at 5:24 pm
Thank you for providing input about this blog post! 🙂
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