Avoidance Coping: I'm Just Going To Watch Another Episode of The Office
How often do we feel this way? How often do we just click “next episode” (or let it autorun!) without thinking about the things we are missing out on?
I know that for me, even though I preach self-care - Every. Single. Day - it is a struggle to understand how to keep up with myself and stop cycling into unhealthy choices that leave me feeling burnt out and exhausted.
I also know that I often have long and emotional days, expending all of my emotional energy with clients and reserving very little for my family or myself.
On those days? My tendency is to avoid conflict or emotional conversations with my family. In fact, avoidance is usually my preferred method to cope with a lot of life’s ups and downs when I’m feeling tired, frustrated, or generally unhappy for one reason or another.
But I know it’s not just my tendency. Our society has gotten so good at instant gratification and avoiding emotions, that we don’t even conceptualize our avoidance for what it is.
In our culture, we currently have a drug addiction issue that is headlining national news regularly. We have a “mommy wine culture” that has begun to normalize alcoholism for women (specifically, for mothers). We regularly talk about spending days upon days binging upon Netflix shows with little other activity. And we have social media which pulls us from our real-life relationships and connections into a virtual world where everyone is their own PR rep.
In America, we have a problem with opiates that runs so deep that the President has declared it a Public Health Emergency.
Why do people turn to drugs in the first place? There are lots of theories, and thousands of different stories about what led someone down the road of addiction – but often, it starts as an escape. It can start as a euphoric “high” that lifts us out of the reality of our current situation that stresses us out - avoidance.
Similarly, we are watching as the impacts of the viral sensation of mommy wine culture (just look up: #sendwine, #mommyneedswine, #mommyjuice, #needmorewine – not to mention entire brands and companies built on this idea, including things like cute travel mugs that say “This Might Be Wine”) is steadily increasing alcoholism rates in women.
What seems like a harmless joke has begun to normalize the idea that moms can (and should) be drinking throughout their day in order to get through it.
Consequences of Avoidance
The increase in the prevalence of anxiety has a lot to do with the way we’ve learned to avoid our problems. When we are using avoidance as a coping mechanism, we are prolonging the very problems that we are putting off. Having stress, difficult situations and tough conversations hanging over our heads constantly can suck the very joy out of our lives and at the same time compound the very stress that we are trying to avoid.
Similarly, when you don’t take the time to process how you feel or what you need and communicate those things to your loved ones, over time, you begin resent them when they don’t read your mind. Avoiding these tough conversations then allows anxiety to feed negative feelings like anger and resentment, and they begin to grow.
When resentment, anger, frustration, and passivity fester in your relationships because you aren’t addressing the problems within them – your relationships suffer.
It’s this simple truth: every conversation that you are avoiding with your loved one is keeping your relationship from being as rich and meaningful as you want it to be.
So if we aren’t avoiding issues, then how are we handling them?
Am I really suggesting that we just confront every issue immediately and consistently?
Well, kind of.
What I’m actually suggesting is that rather than pretending as though our lives are easy, and we breeze through conflicts without so much as a second thought – that we take time and pause.
And then problem solve.
Stress is normal – it’s part of life. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes, and it’s ok to be angry or frustrated with where your life has headed.
I’m not suggesting that every time you feel angry or frustrated that you immediately let everyone on the planet know that you are experiencing negative feelings.
But rather than drowning your sorrows away in alcohol, rather than continuing to bite your tongue every time your spouse walks into a room, rather than scrolling through social media for infinity hours, and rather than watching just one more episode – you can take that time to confront those feelings. You can identify where they are coming from so that you can address them at their source.
And once you have identified them, you have the power to have conversations with yourself and with those around you, and can determine the course of where you go from here.
Once you have figured out exactly where those feelings are coming from, you can work through resolutions for them.
In the meantime (because in real life, resolutions don’t happen instantaneously) while you are processing through and feeling your feelings, know that it’s ok to indulge in self-care. Keeping in mind, of course, that the purpose of self-care is to energize your spirits and give you strength to persist through your struggles – and NOT to avoid your problems.
Self-care doesn’t pretend as though everything is perfect.
Self-care doesn’t disengage from life.
Instead, self-care uses your creativity and intelligence, your gifts and talents, and your support system in a way that helps you feel connected to your world and reenergized in a way that helps to give you strength for those moments of conflict and deep reflection.
Need some additional support? I'd love to hear from you. You can contact me directly from my contact page (linked right here!) or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a counselor licensed to practice in South Carolina. She specializes in making relationships thrive – whether working on marriages, parenting, friendships, or conflict in the workplace. You can read more about her here.