No one likes to do things that they do not like. My personal experience of avoidance involves the dentist. Sorry to any dentists out there (mine included because she is actually quite lovely) but I do not like going. But I have to go. I am an adult and these are the only teeth that I will ever have. Even though there is initial discomfort, there is long term gain in terms of the health of my teeth. So I go every six months even though I would love to avoid it. And I feel proud of myself for going, even though I would prefer not to.
I’ve been working therapeutically with people for a long time now and I see avoidance as central to many mental health conditions. Let’s take depression for example – when people feel depressed they often report that they do not feel like doing anything. They want to stay home, avoid all social interactions, even avoid basic self-care and hygiene. Initially this feels somewhat comforting but in the long term, it is highly detrimental to one’s mood. Depression tends to get worse when avoidance is high. People need social connection and enjoyment to feel good. The main therapeutic work for depression is getting people active again, engaged and connected. Once this initial hurdle is overcome, people generally start feeling better and want to do more. It’s not easy but getting going can sometimes be enough to get things moving in the right direction.
What about anxiety? I see so many people who experience panic attacks and daily anxiety. The quickest way to get rid of a panic attack is to avoid what makes you panic (also known as the ‘triggers’). Unfortunately this quick fix has some pretty devastating consequences. When you avoid, panic gets worse and people have to avoid more. All of a sudden, someone’s world becomes very small and they cannot do anything without fear of another panic attack (this is called panic disorder). The only way to learn to manage anxiety and panic – do what makes you anxious. This may sound contradictory but it is the only way. I know this may sound very scary but working with a qualified and caring psychologist can be extremely helpful in taking a gradual, less scary approach to reducing avoidance. Yes, medication can also help but only to some extent. I think of medication (for anxiety or depression) as a crutch that allows the real work to be done.
So have a think about the things that you avoid – a really good think because avoidance can be deceiving. Maybe it is walking down the street on your own, driving a car or flying in an air plane. Maybe it is avoiding going to a party or a job interview. Maybe you used to do more than you do now but you just lost that enjoyment. Of course, we all avoid and sometimes this is appropriate. I avoid things that I deem to be legitimately dangerous, such as driving recklessly. However, if my brain is telling my body that walking down the road is unsafe and sends out a panic attack as a result then there is a real problem and getting some help would be beneficial.
If you are ready to reduce your unhealthy avoidance and make some changes to your life then maybe now is a good time to give the team at Broulee Psychology at call to discuss whether now is the right time for therapy. We can help you gradually reduce your avoidance and get control of your mental health in a non-judgemental and caring way so that you can get back to living the life that you want to live.