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How to Approach When Anxiety Says to Avoid

approach not avoid in anxiety

We all experience negative emotions, and whilst these feelings can be unpleasant, experiencing them at times is a normal consequence of life’s ups and downs. However, when emotions like anxiety and sadness are too intense, or last for a long time, they can cause problems.  

Many people try to manage these difficult emotions by staying away from the situations or things that bring them on – this is known as avoidance.

If social gatherings bring on worry and fear, you may find yourself avoiding going to events with friends and family, so you do not have to feel anxious. When you’re given a challenging task to complete, such as a difficult work project, you might avoid or procrastinate from starting the task due to worries about not being able to do it well. If you’ve been tired and low in energy, you may find yourself in a pattern of staying home and in bed to prevent feeling more tired and overwhelmed.  

 Avoidance is only a temporary fix 

Avoidance is an understandable response to unpleasant emotional experiences. In the short-term, avoiding the situations that trigger difficult emotions means you don’t have to face the discomfort or distress.

However, the relief is only temporary. In the long-term, avoiding our fears creates new problems. Withdrawing from loved ones, responsibilities, and things that are important to you maintains the cycle of anxiety and leads to further isolation and low mood. This is because avoidance prevents you from learning that your worries are unlikely to come true, or if they do come true, you are capable of coping.  

When your anxiety says “do not pass go”, do the opposite   

A helpful alternative is to do the opposite of what your anxiety is telling you – to approach, not avoid, situations you may feel anxious about. When your anxiety says “don’t go to lunch with your friends, you won’t have anything interesting to say, stay home instead” it’s tempting you with avoidance.

In the first instance, you could try to challenge these thoughts, for example: “Even though I’m feeling anxious today, I can join my friends for a coffee. It’s ok if I don’t have much to say but I’ll listen in and share one thing from my week.”    

By approaching and not avoiding situations that may trigger anxiety, you’ll gradually build confidence in learning that you can cope and can master the situations that you previously feared.

This skill builds hope, confidence and leads to lasting recovery – rather than the ‘quick fix’ offered by avoidance.   

How to approach – not avoid – a situation 

how to approach when anxiety says avoid
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For more tips on how to approach and not avoid your fears, try a THIS WAY UP program and learn these skills today.  We have a program which specifically targets anxiety, check out our Generalised Anxiety Program. 

If your worry is not generalised about many different things, but is more focused on one particular domain, our other programs may be more suitable for you, such as worry about: 

• Your health – check out the Health Anxiety Program
• Social situations – check out the Social Anxiety Program
• Panic attacks – check out the Panic Program 
• Obsessions and compulsions – check out the OCD Program 
• A traumatic event in adulthood – check out the Post Traumatic Stress Program 
• Anxiety during the perinatal period – check out the Pregnancy Program or Postnatal Program 

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