Dismantling Reactive Avoidance: Facing Anxiety Head-On

Reach your full potential

Luana Marques Ph.D.

Sarah, a competent marketing executive, has been wrestling with anxiety for quite some time. Lately, she feels like her professional and personal growth has hit a wall. The more she attempts to ward off her anxiety, the stronger its grip appears to become. She confided that she usually responds to her anxiety by taking immediate action to alleviate her discomfort. Just yesterday, an email from her boss upset her, prompting a quick, emotionally charged reply. The instant relief she felt upon hitting ‘send’ was short-lived, however, as she realized she had misunderstood the original message. This incident not only heightened her anxiety but also created an uncomfortable future conversation with her boss. Sarah was left wondering if faster reactions or elimination of anxiety would be her panacea. But, is anxiety the real villain here?

The true menace that kept Sarah trapped wasn’t anxiety itself, but rather psychological avoidance. Psychological avoidance refers to any response to a perceived threat that brings immediate emotional relief but comes with long-term negative consequences. In Sarah’s case, she fell into the trap of one of the 3 R’s of psychological avoidance: React.

Reactive avoidance is a subtype of psychological avoidance, where an individual responds to discomfort by actively trying to mitigate or eliminate it. Although it offers a momentary sense of relief, it inadvertently magnifies the root problem over time. Imagine Sarah defending her marketing proposal vigorously in a meeting when her boss questions it. This immediate response may temporarily ease her anxiety, but it strains her professional relationships and fuels her stress levels.

Reactive avoidance is not unique to Sarah; it is a phenomenon many of us encounter in various scenarios. We might interrupt or answer hastily during a conversation, or send a quick, thoughtless email response when anxious. In these instances, we aim to eliminate the discomfort of anxiety, only to witness it rebound with increased ferocity. The driving force behind our actions, the ‘why,’ reveals whether we’re engaging in avoidance behavior.

To better understand if you might be falling into the reactive avoidance trap, here is a checklist of behaviors indicative of this pattern:

  • Raising your voice or yelling
  • Interrupting or responding hastily
  • Sending email responses promptly when anxious
  • Leaving your job on a whim
  • Blocking people on social media
  • Escalating issues to higher authorities without exploring milder approaches

The perpetuating cycle of avoidance keeps us stuck, as it stops us from facing our fears and anxiety head-on. Every act of avoidance reinforces our belief in our inability to cope with discomfort, increasing the likelihood of future reactive avoidance behavior (Ost, 2008).

To break free from this cycle, you need to choose to approach, instead of avoiding, by using a technique known as opposite action (Linehan, 2015). When confronted with anxiety, instead of succumbing to the pressure to avoid, you choose to approach the discomfort. Sarah, for instance, might have chosen to draft her email but hold off on sending it immediately. Alternatively, she could have arranged to discuss the email with her boss. Embracing discomfort allows us to gradually understand that we can withstand it, thereby building resilience to face our fears.

Avoidance, not anxiety, is the true adversary. While we might not be able to eliminate anxiety entirely, we can certainly break the shackles of avoidance that restrain us. Growth and transformation occur when we venture outside our comfort zones and face our fears head-on. Embracing discomfort can lead to discovering a newfound strength and freedom, providing us with the means to live life to the fullest.

Let’s not forget: Life begins at the end of our comfort zone. It’s when we confront our anxieties instead of running away from them that we truly grow and flourish. Confront your fears, embrace the discomfort, and unleash your fullest potential.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add Comment *

Name *

Email *


Keep Reading: Related Posts

Using VR (Virtual Reality) to Treat Social Anxiety
Guest Author for www.rtor.org Currently I am working on a Virtual Reality emersion therapy that involves fear of heights and I wanted to delve more into alternative therapy with VR...
A Break-Through Approach To Addiction And Behavioral Health Leads To Wellness For All
Laurel Donnellan In the fall of 2017, both serial entrepreneurs Jeffrey Vann and Gregg Champion founded START UP RECOVERY as a legacy business with the idea of disrupting an industry,...
Top 15 jobs for those who live with depression
John Riley & Asuria.au Living with depression I can speak from first hand knowledge that working in public environments can be very tough to function in and there are great...