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To Avoid, or Not to Avoid? Avoidance as an Emotional Coping Strategy

Do you ever avoid things that you don’t want to do? Do you feel that avoiding certain activities, events, or disputes is the best thing to do when your priorities conflict with each other? New research suggests avoidance might actually be  an effective coping strategy in specific situations. However, when dealing with intense thoughts, memories, or emotions, avoidance coping has many drawbacks, and can cause a host of other issues. It can also be vital to share these feelings with a friend or a therapist.

To study avoidance coping strategies, a team from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto Scarborough recently evaluated a group of undergraduate college students who led very full lives. They worked, went to school and had family responsibilities. The students were surveyed at two different points in time to determine their level of anxiety and conflict in managing “competing responsibilities”, the methods they used to handle them, and the level of satisfaction they derived from the activities.

Students who used avoidance coping strategies, the study found, were not only better able to manage conflict across work, family and school but also experienced greater satisfaction. One of the researchers involved says she feels that the findings suggest that appropriate avoidance coping strategies can “empower individuals to manage school, family and work responsibilities” (Nauert).

It’s one thing to avoid commitments and responsibilities, but it’s another thing to avoid painful thoughts, feelings, memories, or sensations. It is important to consciously experience these feelings when they come up, because avoiding or burying them inside is not a long-term solution. These emotions can manifest themselves in other ways,  like out-of-control stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, low self-esteem, relationship problems, and eating disorders.

An example of an avoidance strategy that can be troublesome is putting off a conversation that you need to have. Talking out our feelings or conflicts with others lets us release and process the attached emotions. Leaving these emotions neglected inside never works; they will come out eventually. It’s beneficial  to let out these thoughts through talking or controlled venting, or through writing—either in a letter or a diary. It’s not always important to send or share such a letter with someone, but rather to let out any pent-up feelings through writing.

From an addiction perspective, allowing thoughts and feelings to stew inside of us unexpressed is dangerous, and if left unchecked, could lead to relapse. Many people, who use drugs or alcohol, may do so to drown out painful feelings. This is a horrible solution, as it leaves those feelings trapped inside and unprocessed. Eventually, they will rise to the top and boil-over whether in the form of crying, yelling, fighting or rage, and may be inadvertently directed at the wrong person.

Addicts that have been using for a long time usually experience a buildup, a log jam, of repressed emotions. This is why meetings, and individual or group therapy sessions are so important. They allow us to share, talk through, and process long-hidden experiences and emotions with others. It is only once we release this underlying pain that we can truly begin to recover mentally, which will hopefully result in a sense of freedom and fulfillment we have always been looking for.




Boyes, Alice, Ph. D. “Why Avoidance Coping Is the Most Important Factor in Anxiety.” Psychology Today, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 July 2013.

Nauert, Rick. “Could Avoidance Really Work as a Coping Strategy? | Psych Central News.” Psych Central, 10 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 July 2013.

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Kevin Giles is a product of Santa Cruz, CA – the stoner capitol of the world. A born again Christian, Kevin loves his Lord Jesus and believes that his purpose in life is determined by God. He first entered drug recovery at the age of 19, suffering from an addiction to marijuana. He is a recent graduate of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master’s degree in Christian Ministry. Passionate about God’s Word, he aspires to become a pastor or missionary. Kevin has also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Monterey Bay. His interests include traveling, movies, golf, fitness and reading. He also enjoys being outdoors as well as spending time with friends and family. Kevin’s faith, education and life experience give him a unique perspective on addiction, recovery and spirituality.

Filed under: Addiction, Life, Recovery, Research · Tags: avoidance, coping with stress, emotions, mental health, responsibilities, therapy is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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