How to Overcome Panic-Induced Avoidance Behaviors
Sometimes, you simply might not be in the mood to see your friends, run errands, or talk about a particular topic with your coworkers. Avoiding specific situations from time to time is completely normal behavior and can be a sign that you’re in-tune with your own needs and boundaries. However, if you’re consistently running away from people, places, or your own thoughts, you might be showing signs of avoidance behavior.
Relying on avoidance to maintain your sense of safety and peace may suggest that you’re dealing with a mental health issue. When you regularly avoid situations out of fear of a panic attack, you may be grappling with panic-induced avoidance. You should understand what avoidance is, how it relates to panic and anxiety disorders, and what you can do to overcome it.
What Is Avoidance Behavior?
Avoidance behavior is a broad term that refers to any actions you may take to hide from anxiety or discomfort. Facing each and every one of our struggles head-on can be very difficult, so most of us engage in avoidance behavior from time to time. For example, if you have social anxiety, you might avoid social gatherings unless you’re close friends with everyone in attendance. If you hate confrontation, you might change the subject to avoid talking about an issue with your partner.
Although avoidance behavior is common, it is only a temporary solution to our problems. Distracting yourself or running away from your struggles may offer short-term relief, but it does nothing to actually resolve the issue. In fact, avoidance behavior may even make the problem worse by reinforcing your anxiety.
Panic-induced avoidance behavior is especially problematic because panic disorder can so easily take over your life. If you have panic disorder, you might try to avoid certain places or situations that trigger your panic attacks. While reducing your anxiety and panic attacks by avoiding triggers may be helpful when you’re in the early stages of panic disorder treatment, it is not a permanent solution. When you run away from challenging situations instead of addressing the root causes of your panic disorder, you confirm to yourself that the world is a frightening place and that you need to escape.
Signs of Panic-Induced Avoidance Behavior
Avoidance coping behaviors are so common in people with panic disorder that you might not even realize what you’re doing. If a situation heightens your anxiety, it’s natural to want to avoid that situation in the future. However, recognizing and challenging your avoidance behavior is a key step in truly overcoming your panic disorder.
The following are some of the most common signs of panic-induced avoidance behavior:
- • Trying to “turn off” or “shut down” your emotions instead of acknowledging and understanding how you feel.
- • Avoiding places where you’ve experienced a panic attack before.
- • Being unable to run errands or go to certain locations without a friend by your side.
- • Repeatedly turning to books, movies, games, or daydreaming instead of spending time with friends or family.
- • Using drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other reckless behavior to numb your anxiety.
- • Feeling an immediate sense of relief after deciding to avoid or ignore a potential trigger.
How to Overcome Avoidance Behavior
Overcoming your avoidance coping behaviors is one of the most challenging steps in recovering from anxiety and panic disorder. When you don’t have the healthy coping skills to deal with your triggers directly, avoidance may be your only source of comfort. However, you have the ability to face your anxiety and stop using avoidance as a coping mechanism. Here are the most important steps to take:
Embrace your emotions with mindfulness.
The core cause of avoidance behavior is a fear of uncomfortable, unpleasant, or painful emotions. Running from these emotions will only make them come back stronger, though. Instead of suppressing your feelings, try to allow your emotions to come and go naturally.
Our emotions wash over us like waves, but they eventually subside. By being mindful of your emotions and accepting them without judgment, you reduce the power that they have over your behavior.
Develop healthy coping skills.
Avoidance behavior is an unhealthy coping mechanism, so you need to replace it with healthier coping skills. For example, relaxation exercises can be especially helpful for panic disorder as they help you calm down your body and mind when you start to feel anxious. You can practice relaxation meditation exercises on your own, or you could listen to guided audio or video resources to practice deep breathing. Most importantly, you should start practicing these techniques when you already feel calm and relaxed. This way, it will be easier to remember the exercises when your anxiety begins to elevate.
Gradually build up your tolerance.
If you’ve been relying on avoidance behavior to ease your anxiety for a long time, stopping all at once could have a devastating impact on your mental health. You’ll likely see more sustainable, long-term progress if you gradually build up your tolerance for your triggers.
For example, if you have social anxiety and avoid social gatherings at all costs, your first step toward overcoming avoidance should not be to attend a massive party where you don’t know any of the other guests. Instead, you could attend a smaller get-together with a few close, trusted friends. Then, once that experience feels less daunting, you could try attending larger gatherings.
Work with a therapist.
Overcoming panic disorder and avoidance behavior on your own can be very challenging. Professional mental health support is the best way to heal from all types of anxiety. A therapist who specializes in panic and avoidance can help you understand why you feel the need to avoid certain emotions, thoughts, or situations. Once you have a strong understanding of your underlying thought processes, you can start to challenge them and build up healthier coping skills.
Avoidance behavior is a complicated and life-altering problem, but help is always available. Menachem Psychotherapy Group offers therapy for individuals with anxiety, panic disorder, and other mental health disorders that result in avoidance. To learn more about our practice or to schedule a meeting with a therapist in Los Angeles, contact us today.