Avoidance shrinks your world and erodes skills

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

People who are anxious often start to withdraw from anything that causes them worry. It might only be in minor ways to start with. But over time, avoidance erodes your skills until life is narrow and unsatisfying. Don’t let avoidance shrink your world!

Everyone feels anxious sometimes

We all have times when we’re worried or anxious about a certain situation.

For example, going to the dentist is nerve-wracking for many people. But for some, this sets up a cycle of avoidance. They may decide not to go to their appointment – and suddenly their fear and distress disappears!

But as soon as they make another appointment, all that worry comes back. So they put it off a second time. And their worries disappear again. Somehow they never do make it back to the dentist.

Avoidance creeps up on you

That’s how easy it is to set up a pattern of avoidance that can shrink your world, and lower your self-confidence.

The problem is, once you start using avoidance to get rid of discomfort, you keep on using it. You’re so convinced you can’t bear those unpleasant feelings, you’ll do anything to not feel them.

So you avoid more and more activities over time.

Pretty soon, you’re avoiding anything at all that makes you worry or feel nervous. You hate those feelings so much, you’re willing to forgo a full life to get rid of them.

Because there’s a catch.

The more you avoid, the less you’re taking part in the wider world. And strangely, the more you worry.

Avoidance gets worse over time

Unfortunately, avoidance gets worse over time. Every time you avoid a situation, you prevent yourself learning something new. It may be how to mix with people, or how to carry out a particular skill.

Now that you’ve missed out on that little bit of learning or practice, you feel even less able to deal with similar situations. So you avoid these as well. Over time, your avoid more and more situations. And as you avoid learning new skills, you limit your ability to deal with everyday activities.

Let’s look at some common examples of avoidance in everyday life.

Example 1: You fear embarrassment or rejection

Until recently, you’ve had a small group of friends you saw regularly. And you’re able to talk to people at work, when it’s one or two people at a time.

However you’ve never felt comfortable in large groups. Parties or seminars are your worst nightmare.

You can’t bear what you see as the humiliation of being alone in a room full of people. Everyone else seems to be chatting nonstop, and having a good time. You feel as if you look so weird, hanging round on the fringes on your own.

So then you start to avoid new places because you don’t know anyone. You don’t want to look stupid wandering round on your own. And you duck away when someone you know comes in the opposite direction, so they won’t see you’re on your own.

Avoiding people

Soon you’re avoiding cafes, shopping centres and theatres, in case you run into someone you know. Then you start to lose confidence that anyone thinks you’re worth socialising with. So you even start to avoid catching up with your friends.

You hide your unhappiness from yourself, by saying you don’t really care about other people. But gradually, you start to feel lonely and insignificant.

However, even this sadness isn’t enough to make you push back against your fears. The thought of expanding your horizons again causes such anxiety, that you avoid this as well. So you hunker down with your emotional pain, and remain unhappy.

And avoidance shrinks your world even more.

Example 2: You fear being attacked outside your home

Your fears of being attacked make you think twice before going outside, even during the day. So you only go out when absolutely necessary. Or you only go to certain places at certain times of the day. But you still watch out for anyone who looks suspicious.

At first, you may still manage to get to work or study. And you force yourself out to do the shopping or go to the doctor. But you never relax or enjoy being outside on your own.

So you limit how often and how far you go. You try to work from home, and refuse social gatherings in awkward parts of town.

And perhaps you start relying on someone to go out with you every time, even to the local shops.

Avoidance means you miss out

Unfortunately, these limits mean your world narrows. You’re missing out on lots of opportunities.

Other people won’t always be around to go out with you. Activities or work may not be at times or places that you’re comfortable with.

Gradually, opportunities to enrich your life dwindle. You’re limited to the same old routine, in the same old places. Your boss doesn’t understand why you evade certain tasks out of the office. Your study suffers when you don’t attend required assessments.

Soon your fear of new places is stronger than your desire to get out and about. Your sense of independence and self-confidence dwindle.

So again, avoidance shrinks your world.

Example 3: You fear falling ill

If you fear falling ill, you may react in one of two ways.

One person who fears falling ill may go to the doctor repeatedly about the same issue. They’re seeking reassurance that they’re not ill. Yet they can’t believe the doctor’s diagnosis that they’re fine. Although their behaviour isn’t helpful, they don’t avoid the issue. 

On the other hand, if you’re avoidant, you refuse almost all contact with the health system.

Not only that, you avoid media coverage of health issues. Discussions about nutrition, illnesses, death, funerals, or even making a will send shivers down your spine. You don’t want to know about any of it.

So you avoid taking steps to deal with any of these issues. You refuse screening tests to catch health conditions early. Anyway, you “know” that with your luck, anything they find will be fatal.

Repeated checking

However, sometimes you may feel compelled to scan your body repeatedly for problem signs, such as lumps. Yet if you find something that seems suspect, you avoid going to the doctor. Instead, you worry and prod and poke that area until it’s sore and painful.

So that must mean it’s really serious, right? But you still don’t get it checked out.

Meanwhile, your worries magnify day by day. In the end, all you do is obsess about your health. So again, avoidance shrinks your world, and yet you probably aren’t even ill.

In effect, you’d rather die than challenge your fears, or work to prevent or reduce health conditions.

Everyone avoids

Of course, everyone does avoid some things, some of the time.

But anxious people avoid lots of things, lots of the time. And they don’t realise that, most of the time, their fears about what will happen are unfounded

When avoidance gets out of hand, it’s hard to live a full life. Worry and anxiety have a way of crowding in on you. They make you feel that it’s easier to give in, and not do what you need to.

That way, you don’t worry or feel so anxious. But if you give in to your fears, you’ll be able to do less and less.

Avoidance shrinks your world

Avoiding life’s smaller hassles means you don’t learn life skills step by step.

After all, everyone learns from scratch when they’re young. Avoiding these steps means you don’t build up a store of experience.

If you start to avoid later in life, you’ll lose confidence in your capacity to deal with daily hassles. So avoidance really means you’re going backwards. It’s making your world smaller and smaller.

Push back against the temptation to avoid things, that you know in your heart you need to do. And if it’s too daunting to manage on your own, read some books on overcoming anxiety.

Better still, gather your courage and tell your local GP how avoidance is starting to affect your life. 

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