Editor’s note: We’re featuring blog posts by other amazing local therapists. This week, Ania Scanlan, is providing insights and tips to stop avoiding things.
A long list of to-do’s awaited me as I got up on Friday morning. Things started off great! And by mid-morning I was halfway through the list.
Then I reached that dreaded item. You know, the one that gets moved from day to day until it’s absolutely necessary to get it done. Everything list-related came to a screeching halt.
I stepped away from what I was (or rather, wasn’t) doing, and felt myself stuck and overwhelmed. A lunch with a colleague helped me get back on track.
What is avoidance?
What I’ve encountered was avoidance. Most people have experience with
avoidance in one way or another. We avoid getting run over by a car on a busy
road. In our Minnesota winters, we try to avoid slipping on ice and falling. You may
be avoiding having a difficult conversation with your partner. Others avoid large
gatherings. I’d rather avoid roller-coasters.
Avoidance is a coping strategy we use to escape from uncomfortable thoughts,
feelings and experiences. Often, we recognize that we’re avoiding. We just don’t
take the next step of digging a bit deeper to discover why we’re avoiding.
Avoidance and Fear
Avoidance and its alter egos – procrastination and resistance – are manifestations of fear. We all tend to avoid things and situations we fear or worry about. Fear of putting yourself out there, fear of judgment from others and ourselves, fear of having to follow through on a commitment or a promise, or fear of failure. And there are many more. So we avoid, trying to make ourselves feel better.
Except we don’t feel better. We feel worse. The more we avoid, the worse we feel, the more we avoid, to infinity. Avoidance creates more avoidance, and ultimately, it creates more stress for us.
How do you stop avoiding?
1. Recognize that you’re avoiding. Notice your behavior and note when you avoid, procrastinate, or come up with excuses (aka, you resist). Which situations or activities do you avoid? When are you most likely to procrastinate? When does the resistance show up? What does avoidance look like for you? What’s happening for you at these times? Are you aware that you’re avoiding or procrastinating in the moment? Or do you recognize it later? Much later? Write this down, so you can start to see patterns.
2. Say it out loud. Research shows that talking out loud through what you’re doing (or not doing) can help you get intentional and motivated. Giving voice to your internal world allows you to gain perspective and distance. Saying “I can do this” out loud carries more weight than thinking it. Similarly, saying“I’m avoiding doing this because I’m afraid I’ll fail” puts it in perspective. You can then motivate yourself to do it anyway. Name the fears, the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Then say them out loud.
3. Learn to actively manage stress. What is the next step you can take to combat avoidance? It could be going for a walk around the block. Watering your plants. Petting your cat or dog (or both). Do some deep breathing. To be clear, taking a break and then coming back to tackle the thing you don’t want to do is not avoidance. It’s taking care of yourself.
4. Take small steps. When you come back to this item you’re avoiding, decide the next small step you can take. We avoid things because they’re big and scary. They overwhelm us. Take a page from the Getting Things Done system – decide what is the absolute next action you have to take to move this thing forward? For example, if you have to make a phone call you’ve been dreading, the first action could be to find your phone. If you have your phone with you, but you don’t remember where the number is, the next action could be to look up the phone number. Always answer this question for yourself – what is the next smallest step I can take to move this forward?
5. Learn to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Let your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings come, don’t judge them. They are temporary and they will pass. The previous four steps set up the space for you to start this process.
Everyone avoids at one time or another. It’s what we do with it that writes the rest of our story.
Experiencing high stress in your life, and want help managing it? Contact Ania to schedule today.
Find Ania at:
Instagram @ empoweryoutherapy
Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views, values, or stance of POW! Psychotherapy, its owners and therapists, or other contributors.