When you face a challenge in life, you have a choice of either coping or avoiding it. Coping is a positive way to manage challenges, problems, and disappointments. Avoidance is a negative behavior that can make your problems even worse.
Types of Avoidance
In psychology, avoidance refers to the behaviors a person chooses to escape or not deal with their thoughts and feelings. According to research published in Psychology Today, there are two types of avoidance:
· Not Doing
Doing involves behaviors that try to diminish a thought or feeling, like someone washing their hands repeatedly because they fear germs. Not doing involves behaviors that try to remove a person from situations that make them uncomfortable. As an example, a person might take a different route to work to avoid driving past the place where they recently had a car accident.
Psychologists agree that both types of avoidance behaviors are not healthy. People who avoid their thought and feelings often find themselves fixated on their problems because they use so much energy to avoid them. Avoidance can become a way of life and lead to:
· Decreased Self-Confidence
Avoidance behaviors can cause stress when they disrupt a person's routine. Engaging in avoidance behaviors can lead to anxiety because a person may become anxious about their thoughts and feelings. They may have difficulty maintaining their avoidance behaviors, leading to more stress and anxiety. A person's self-confidence can decrease when they feel nothing they do can solve the problem except avoid it.
Coping is a skill that can be improved with practice. People who cope well with life's challenges use several different methods to recognize, face, and manage their problems. Coping is a positive and healthy mental and emotional health strategy. According to researchers, effective coping strategies are the main difference between people with mental health issues like anxiety and depression versus those who do not have these issues.
Coping and Avoidance Strategies
The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior published research describing effective coping strategies. In comparison, the Journal of the Medical Library Association published research into non-effective avoidance strategies. Elements of these two types of strategies compare as follows:
Action to Avoid Triggers versus Problem Solving
If a person had a negative experience, they might take action to avoid situations that trigger those same feelings or the possibility of the same outcome. Coping means they look for ways to solve the problem and produce a better outcome the next time they are in that situation.
Imagine sharing your ideas at a business meeting where your boss ridicules you. To avoid that happening again, you may stop speaking up at meetings. Coping would consider how well thought out your idea was and find ways to improve your presentation the next time. Instead of keeping quiet, coping helps you find a better way to explain your idea.
Assuming Intent versus Getting Support
Avoidance can cause a deep mistrust of other people. To avoid negative feelings, a person may assume that others don't like them or want to hurt them emotionally. By assuming a harmful intent, a person tries to justify their avoidance of others in their minds.
When a person copes with challenges, they realize that others' support is often the key to solving the problem. If a person is afraid of failing at work, they may assume that their coworkers are trying to get them fired. Instead of seeking out their coworkers as part of the team, they may be quiet or rude. Without support, the person won't be able to succeed as a part of the team.
Not Starting Tasks versus Managing Expectations
Would you start a project or task if you didn't know how to finish it or how it would turn out? Avoiding tasks because a person is unsure of the outcome limits the opportunity to learn new things. Tackling a challenge allows a person to use and build their skills.
To cope when a project or task isn't going well, a person learns to manage their expectations. Perhaps they need more training or support, or they may need more time to find a solution. Coping moves people toward completing a task, while avoidance may keep them from even trying.
There is a stark difference between coping and avoiding. Coping is an effective set of strategies to manage challenges. Avoiding often creates new problems while trying to escape from the current one.