Let’s Talk About Avoidance

Update: I am reposting because for some reason the comments were disabled. I apologize for this and I have corrected the issue. This is important subject to me and I would love some feedback

Lets Talk About Avoidance Behavior’s

I wanted to share what I have learned in my ongoing work with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This blog post is about avoidance strategies that we use in the different levels of anxiety. I tend to use avoidance in my own struggles with social anxiety. I am learning at the moment how to recognize the subtle behavioral avoidance that I use in my life. What disorder is most associated with the subtle avoidance behavior, the cognitive avoidance, and the safety signals. I share this with those that can’t see a therapist (I am working through this with my therapist on this project) and it would help to do this with a therapist.


Why do we Use Avoidance?

Avoidance strategies are often used by many of us in situations that cause anxiety or depression. While avoidance has it uses it’s not very good for mental health in the long run. Two important things are essential in avoidance behaviors.

  1. Avoidance prevents habituation or a reduction in response strength with repeated presentations of the feared stimulus.
  2. Avoidance interferes with a process of extinction, or decrement in responding through repetition of unreinforced responding: repeated encounters with feared stimulus without adverse consequences.

I will list what I have learned are the Emotion-Avoidance Strategy and the disorders most often associated. These behaviors are critical to learn about:

  • Avoiding eye contact (Social Phobia)
  • Avoiding Drinking Caffeine (Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia)
  • Attempting to Control Breathing (PDA/Depression)
  • Avoiding exercise and other forms of physiological arousal (PDA/Depression)
  • Avoiding touching sink/toilet (Obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD)
  • Procrastination (avoiding emotionally salient tasks) (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)

This next list is Cognitive Avoidances – While I am listing the disorders most associated it isn’t a “this only applies to this disorder.” I am going off my workbook (cited at the end of the blog).

  • Distraction (reading a book, watching television) (Depression/PDA)
  • “Turning out” during a conversation (Social Phobia)
  • The reassuring of the self that everything is okay (GAD)
  • Trying to prevent thoughts from coming to mind (OCD)
  • Distraction from reminders of trauma (PTSD)
  • Forcing self to “Think Positive” (Depression)
  • Worrying (GAD)
  • Thought suppression (All disorders)

This last list is safety signals (this will all make sense in the end), and the list will also include Disorders most often associated

  • Carrying a cell phone (PDA/GAD)
  • Carrying empty medication bottles (PDA)
  • Holding onto “good luck” charms (OCD)
  • Carrying mace at times (PTSD)
  • Carrying a water bottle (PDA)
  • Having reading material/prayer books on hand (GAD)
  • Carrying sunglasses or items to hide face/eyes (Social Phobia)

That is a lot of information I know, so how do you do with this information– you make a list. In the first section you list the Subtle Behavior Avoidance, then Cognitive avoidance, and then safety signals associated with avoidance behaviors.

Mine would look something like this:

  • Subtle Behavior Avoidance – Avoiding Eye Contact at my favorite Coffee Shop
  • Cognitive avoidance – Distraction – listening to music while I at a coffee shop working on school work/writing
  • Safety Signals – Carrying a water bottle and my medication

Another example

  • Subtle Behavior Avoidance – Attempting to control breathing at my favorite coffee shop
  • Cognitive avoidance – Trying to prevent thoughts from coming into my mind.
  • Safety Signals – Always having iWatch, so that I can use the breathing app

This is step one in a long process. The point of the list to record the avoidance behaviors that you are currently engaging in right now so that when it comes to exposure therapy. I have found the process very useful so far. When the time comes to exposure therapy, I will write another blog post. This is an essential step for me because avoidance behaviors are very much a part of my life.

Always Keep Fighting


J.E. Skye

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoCassidy Kelley


unsplash-logoJared Rice


27 Replies to “Let’s Talk About Avoidance”

  1. I’m just starting the process of working through avoidance in counseling. This post is spot on! I really am going to start listing out my avoidance behaviors! Thanks for the post!

    1. I have to start listening to my own avoidance behaviors. It can get really bad. I am a natural introvert and I didn’t realize until my training how bad I avoid things. Thank you for sharing!

      1. I didn’t either until it started being brought up so often. Now that I’ve been alerted to the severity of it, I really want to try and notice it more.

      2. It’s good to know that someone else is on this journey. I hope we can conquer our anxiety. Good luck. If you ever need anything let me know.

  2. Food for thought for sure. I know I use avoidance/self-soothing (to try to ‘help’ when I feel anxious/worried/low), especially as a “sensitive” guy. Some of the avoidance “routes” I took haven’t been the healthiest, thought. I’ve touched on this in therapy. Could probably look at this a bit more. I also am terrible with eye contact, and am aware of a degree of social anxiety.

  3. Interesting and comprehensive. I find DBT a really good therapy to practice to avoid going into full avoidance. Self-soothing helps mediate that need to head straight into avoidance. Looking forward to your experiences with exposure therapy!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. It helps me realize a lot of issues that I have and what causes them. This was an eye opener and I’m going to share with my therapist.

  5. I never heard of avoidance until now. My experience with therapists has been pretty bad, to the point where I was blamed for a lot of my problems despite the many mind altering drugs I’ve been on. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll be looking into it some more.

    1. That is what sucks about therapists. I have heard that sometimes you get one that’s only in it for the money and not to help. I got lucky my first time. I would say keep looking if you can. If not I have found CBT work books helpful as well.

  6. I have a question about making my own list. For each one, I have to think about a specific situation where I was avoidant, like you did with the examples of your behavior in the coffee shop?

    1. You don’t have to give the situation. You can just work on the avoidance behavior. I added that because I spend so much time at my favorite coffee shop.

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