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Breaking the Cycle of Avoidance Behaviors

Learn How to Manage Anxiety by Confronting Avoidance and Building Resilience

Discover how anxiety and avoidance behaviors create a cycle of fear and learn effective strategies, including exposure therapy, to break free and manage anxiety for a healthier, more resilient life.

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Anxiety is an important aspect of the human experience. Being cognizant of threats can help us stay safe. Heightened stress levels when we merge onto a busy highway can help us be more aware and cautious. However, when our stress levels are constantly elevated in everyday life, it can begin to impact daily functioning. When people experience anxiety such as this, they may try to avoid the situations that trigger these intense feelings. However, avoiding anxiety does not make us more relaxed. Paradoxically, avoidance makes us more anxious.

Avoidance behaviors make anxiety worse

The adrenaline rush caused by anxiety can help us take on challenges. For example, feeling nervous about an interview might give us the extra motivation to prepare for the meeting.

Anxiety, in small doses, can be helpful. However, when it persists over long periods of time and when it keeps us from attending to our responsibilities, it can be disabling. Even more so, when we adopt avoidance tactics to try and escape from an anxiety-provoking circumstance, we unintentionally reinforce the false belief that the situation is actually dangerous. This means that we remain in a constant cycle of fear and apprehension.

The next time a stressful situation comes along, your brain will exhibit even more resistance. Avoidance can lead to strained relationships, exacerbate anxiety, cause depression, and pull you into a downward spiral of negative thought patterns.

Event

An event you encounter initiates anxiety

Anxiety

Hyperawareness arises that leads to an avoidance of situations or triggers.

Avoidance

You avoid the perceived threat as a means of coping.

Temporary relief

Avoidance offers temporary relief, yet leads to increased avoidance and more anxiety over time.

Intensified anxiety

You become more anxious and you avoid more situations over time. The anxiety-avoidance cycle.
Infographic illustrating the cycle of anxiety and avoidance: 1. An anxious person deciding whether to stay or go. 2. Avoidance leading to temporary relief. 3. Anxiety intensifying over time.
Hover over the ❔ symbol for details about anxiety-avoidance.

A situation is perceived as a threat or danger, triggering anxiety.

You become hyperaware of the anxiety and begin to avoid anxiety-provoking situations.

Avoidance delivers temporary relief, training your brain that avoidance is a good response, leading to increased avoidance over time.

Avoidance leads to lower confidence and a diminished sense of mastery, fueling more avoidance and exacerbating your anxiety.

You become more restricted, avoid more situations, and become increasingly isolated. This is the anxiety-avoidance cycle♻

Breaking the cycle is possible

It is hard to break the anxiety-avoidance cycle, but it is also possible.

The first step is to understand what anxiety avoidance looks like in your own life. What avoidance behaviors have you adopted?

The second step is to recognize the role that avoidance behaviors play in perpetuating and exacerbating your anxiety. This will give you the drive to break the cycle.

The third step is to challenge your avoidance behaviors. A commonly used evidence-based approach is exposure therapy. By gradually exposing yourself to anxiety-provoking circumstances your brain can learn (or relearn) that the situation is not dangerous.

Reach out today

Aimee Kauffman, LPC, is a skilled therapist based in Michigan who specializes in understanding the relationship between anxiety and avoidance behaviors. With expertise in treating anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health challenges, Aimee is dedicated to helping you develop effective coping mechanisms. Her compassionate approach ensures that you receive the support and tools needed to manage your anxiety and improve your overall mental well-being. Reach out to Aimee today and take the first step towards a healthier, more fulfilled life.