If you have anxiety, you are familiar with a pattern of behavior known as avoidance. Avoidance means changing your actions in order to avoid experiencing anxiety or panic. It means you convince yourself if you just don’t do that, you will be safe. Presumably from flesh-eating zombies, searing humiliation, uncomfortable conflicts, and/or embarrassingly copious bouts of perspiration.
But here’s the thing (there’s always a thing): avoidance actually magnifies your anxiety about whatever it is you are trying to avoid. I say this as someone whose unread email-pile looms menacingly in the distance like impending doom. Did you know that NOT answering email does not make those unread emails disappear? Weird.
The truth is that avoidance makes your world very small. It prevents you from forming relationships and having experiences and achieving your goals – unless your goal is to sweat a lot and secretly loathe yourself. It also doesn’t actually keep you safe, since the anxiety originates in you.
For example, maybe you’re late for class, but you decide that rather than walk in late, you’ll just skip it. Because ACK, WHAT IF PEOPLE SEE YOU.
Email build up. It is a thing. And the more you avoid it, the more vivid and horrible your nightmares of being pilloried while angry Gmail denizens pelt you with garbage. No? Just me?
You end up disqualifying people as friends and/or partners, which is super lonely.
Avoidance is only a temporary solution. Not even that. It’s like one of those terrible bandaids with no adhesive that comes right off. It just doesn’t work. The hard part about it is that your brain will turn somersaults trying to convince you that it DOES work, because, hello. Avoidance! Let’s not think about why you’re feeling this way.
The bad news is that the only way to break the cycle of avoidance and anxiety is to confront it. Recognize it. Admit that you’re doing it. Question the bad voices. The good news is that you can bear the discomfort. It sucks. But you can do it. And exposure to discomfort will cause it lessen over time. It’s worth it, I promise, because the pain of isolation and missed experiences is worse. Don’t hesitate to get help (yes, it’s one of those things you’ll want to avoid – no one is saying this will be easy, just that it’s worth it). Most important, be kind to yourself. You’re not lazy or anti-social or defective. Everyone has a thing. If your thing is anxiety, avoidance is part of the deal, but it can be overcome.