Have you ever had something on your list to take care of, but keep pushing it off for later? There’s always seems to be something “more important” that seems to come up. Here’s the problem with that approach to life. It creates an undercurrent of anxiety that inhibits your ability to engage fully with life.
Today I want to unpack ‘anxiety and avoidance’ and how they fuel one another. The goal is to give you an understanding of how they work together and what causes these emotions to be so debilitating. Also, we’ll look at some practical ways to address this.
When I’m talking about anxiety and avoidance, it’s more than just procrastination. We all procrastinate to some degree. Some of you may be procrastinators, I know I can be at times, I’m also guilty of that too. What I’m talking about is when procrastination is a part of several areas of your life. Not just a project that you’re putting off, but you have a tendency to gravitate toward avoiding. For example, You’re not paying your bills when you’re supposed to, not reaching out to somebody, or it could be not doing your homework. The list can go on and on.
If you find yourself avoiding, the by-product of that can be two-fold.
1. It causes a ripple effect and makes everything harder.
It begins to linger in the back of your mind and starts to take up emotional bandwidth inside of you. When this happens, it negatively affects several areas of your life. Each time you think of what you’re avoiding it takes energy to push it away. It becomes harder to ignore the more you avoid and you’re better off simply doing it.
Some of you might be saying, “Well what about Anxiety..? I think about doing ‘X’ and I get anxiety just thinking about it.” That leads me to point two.
2. It fuels anxiety.
The way anxiety and avoidance work together ( and this is the reason I call them twins) is they act as one unit. For example, if you feel anxiety about a certain topic, person or conversation, the default way to defuse that feeling is we subconsciously say to ourselves “I’m going to to push that off.., I’m going to avoid taking care of that..”. When we have that internal dialog, the anxiety begins to fade away.
However, here’s the problem with that approach. When you feel the anxiety and turn to avoidance to alleviate it, the core reason you’re feeling it doesn’t go away. In reality, it calms down, but it comes back even stronger.
So here’s the cycle; Avoidance is saying, ‘here’s a solution to defuse this feeling of anxiety.’ So you avoid, and it temporarily defuses the stronger feeling of anxiety, and so on and so on. The more you avoid, the more anxiety you feel. The more anxiety you feel, the more you want to avoid to suppress the feeling of anxiety. It creates a really destructive cycle.
Where does this lead to?
You feel completely overwhelmed because you’ve applied this cycle to several areas of your life. Avoidance is used as a false shelter to manage everything, but the cycle becomes bigger and bigger. It becomes hard to know which thing to tackle first because it all creates a certain level of anxiety. So in turn that feeling of powerlessness grows.
You just feel stuck. It’s the same root issue and stems from, ‘there’s so much on my plate, I feel so much anxiety that I literally feel paralyzed in life and I don’t know the first step to take.’ It becomes hard to reverse this feeling of trapped and suffocated by life practically. Which in turn leads to feeling powerless. It’s really a vicious cycle and feels incredibly smothering.
How Do I Reverse It?
If you’re still reading this, then I’m sure you’re asking ‘How do I change that cycle of anxiety and avoidance?!’… or… I’m currently feeling overwhelmed or feeling stuck and don’t know how to push through and get things done.
I’m speaking from experience here. I’ve been guilty of this at times and have had to learn the hard way.
Ultimately it comes down to the ‘free will muscle.’ It means having to choose to stop the urge to avoid and lean away from something. You have to engage your ‘Free Will’ (everyone has it) and intentionally lean into whatever it is you’re wanting to avoid. The same applies to anxiety. You have to start somewhere, and typically it requires choosing to push through your kneejerk reaction. You may feel a lot of emotion in the process of doing it, but taking care of it quickly could defuse that tense emotion which is draining in the long run.
By you leaning into what feels uncomfortable, it can also help identify what you might need to work on. For example, there isn’t anyone I know that enjoys having a confrontation, I know I’m not wired this way. If you become aware that having confrontational conversations shuts you down and creates a lot of anxiety then leaning into the emotion instead of avoiding it will not only help you deal with an uncomfortable situation, but it will also highlight areas’ opportunities for healing. It opens the door for you to find the core reason it causes you to shut down.
It may mean meeting with someone like a Life Consultant or a Counsellor. It could be as simple as processing with a trusted friend. The key is to be vulnerable and open about it so you can begin to address this cycle of anxiety and avoidance. Dealing with confrontation is just one of many examples. There’re several reasons you may lean towards avoidance or causes the intense emotion of anxiety. Use them as an opportunity for growth.
In the next week try to identify a few areas in your life where you are avoiding. It doesn’t matter what it is, you just know you’ve been avoiding it. It could be something as simple as returning something back to a store. Get a notepad, write them down and begin to track what you’re avoiding. Also, on the other side, start to think about times you feel anxiety in general. This doesn’t include external stressors in life, such as moving or starting a new job in a new city. These are external stressors, I am talking about when you feel intense emotions of anxiety, write those down.
The Challenge within the challenge.
Begin to flex your ‘free will muscle’ and work through those things one at a time. You might not get through them all in a week. If you’re an overachiever, you may knock out your list, but in reality keeping that pace isn’t sustainable. You’re looking to reverse a cycle of avoidance and the tendency to run from anything that creates anxiety in your life. To make it a lifestyle, you have to lean into it on purpose until it becomes a regular part of how you deal with situations. Make it a social experiment with yourself. Commit to moving through anxiety or turning towards the thing you’re looking to avoid. It may only take a few weeks to reverse!