Avoidance: Fueling the Fire of Anxiety
It is human nature to want to avoid things that feel unpleasant or uncomfortable. For example, if you were electrocuted every time you touched your toaster, would you keep your finger on it? I’m guessing that you’d pull away. We are wired to respond to our environment and learn ways of avoiding pain or discomfort, as it has helped us to survive. I am equally guilty of this – I don’t like getting hurt; I don’t even like being without my slippers for too long.
I can think of many people who seem to actually love the adrenaline that comes with risk and/or pain, and have no difficulties with the inherent uncertainty that comes from taking chances. But this is probably not the crowd who would be prone to the type of anxiety I am talking about here.
How Avoidance Contributes to Anxiety
In the case of people who do struggle with certain types of anxiety, an association is established where a particular place or situation is perceived as a threat, and avoided at all costs. For someone with social anxiety, for example, there is usually a core fear of being judged by others, and so that person will avoid situations where there is a potential for this to happen (parties, dating, job interviews).
But this approach can cause problems in the long-term, because as people avoid, the associated fear grows stronger. Avoidance perpetuates the fear because it also causes that person to lose confidence in their ability to navigate the situation next time. It tends to keep them stuck in the cycle and prevents progress from being made, as they are not allowing the chance to prove themselves wrong.