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The Avoidance-Oriented Coping Style 101

Procrastination. Rumination. Passive-aggressiveness. Substance Abuse.

All of these are good examples of bad coping mechanisms, and they all fall under the umbrella of avoidance-oriented coping. They can be conscious or unconscious. Regardless, they are simply a form of avoidance to help us avoid dealing with difficult thoughts, emotions, or situations.

What is Avoidance Coping?

Avoidance behaviors. Avoidant coping. Escape coping.

These are all terms for avoidance coping. It's a maladaptive approach to coping. It's when someone changes their behavior(s) to avoid feeling, doing, or thinking about difficult emotions or situations.

When engaging in avoidance coping, people simply try to avoid the stressors rather than addressing them head-on. In theory, avoidance sounds like a great way to deal with the issue and reduce your stress around the problem. However, that's not the case. Unfortunately, more often than not, the only way to effectively manage the stress caused by a stressor is to address it head-on. You must confront or deal with problems to truly eradicate them.

Stress avoidance may work in short-term situations like where you have to put up with a difficult co-worker for a project. However, stress management should be the aim. You can't always avoid stress, but you can always effectively manage it with healthy coping mechanisms.

Why It's Unhealthy

Avoidance coping is an unhealthy approach because it generally exacerbates stress and anxiety instead of alleviating it. If you are prone to anxiety, then you likely rely on avoidance techniques which makes it more difficult to change lanes. However, it's not too late.

The main reason avoidance-oriented coping is considered maladaptive is due to the exacerbation of stress. One of the biggest ways in which we do this is procrastination.

So, when something stresses you out and you avoid doing it you put it off but you are more than likely still thinking about it. You still feel stressed out about having to do the thing, you've just delayed doing the thing. You don't relieve any stress by avoiding it and had you just gone ahead and dealt with it you would have reduced your stress because it would have been over and done with.

Avoidance simply piles on more stress.

The Anxiety Link

If you resist it, it will persist.

As noted earlier, people with anxiety heavily rely on avoidance techniques in a bid to manage stressors. That will not serve you well, as we have already discussed how it adds to your stress level. Initially, you may feel relief to your stress levels, but if you are constantly sidestepping or avoiding difficult conversations it's having a negative impact on the situation or your relationships. It's slowly building up as you leave it on the backburner, turning a blind eye to the rattling lid as the pot bubbles away. The longer you avoid it the greater your anxiety grows.

When It's Healthy

There are avoidance-oriented approaches that can be considered passive rather than maladaptive and therefore could be healthy.

These approaches do not deal with the issue directly but rather influence your response to the difficulty. If you can calm yourself down when faced with a difficult situation then this is a healthy approach even if it doesn't influence the situation directly.

For example, jogging and other relaxation techniques can relieve stress, boost your self-confidence, and could be considered passive avoidance-oriented coping strategies. The stress-relief and increase in self-confidence leave you well placed to deal with your stressors as well. So, there is an overall benefit.

Remember, just because a style of coping provides you with relief in a moment does not mean it's a healthy approach. For example, you may find relief in a pitcher of margaritas, you may feel better after eating a delicious meal, or going on a shopping spree… but those are temporary.

You might be able to avoid it right now, but you can't ignore it long-term and that's why avoidance-oriented coping styles aren't going to help you. It might feel insurmountable, but you can deal with it by adopting active-coping strategies.

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