Anxiety and avoidanceHow familiar does this feel – you’re worried about having to front your workmates with a presentation, so you put its planning on the back-burner?

Trouble is, the more you procrastinate and try to ignore the impending meeting, the more anxious you become. You start waking in the middle of the night and you feel tired and stressed during the day.

By the time you’re faced with an 11th-hour rushed job to get the presentation sorted, you’re so anxious about how it will go that you’d rather chuck a sickie than go in to work.

And, of course, that leads to more worries about how your colleagues and managers will treat you when you let them down.

The simple fact is that trying to avoid one event can easily snowball into multiple anxieties and further avoidance… and quickly spiral out of control.

This may be understandable for something as obviously stressful as a work presentation, but avoidance is just as likely to be a factor with any anxieties or phobias and is the usual knee-jerk reaction to the fear of being judged by others.

To avoid the paralysing effect of avoidance, it’s firstly important to be aware of how it manifests itself – and then to arm yourself with skills to break the cycle.

  • Decision-making: Avoidance can be broken down to two areas – physically avoiding situations and mentally avoiding decisions. In the latter case, it’s important to realise the effect that anxiety can play on your ability to make a “good” decision. Whenever we weigh up the pros and cons of a decision, we have to be aware of all the contributing factors – and often with anxiety the fear of being judged or the added stress of a social situation will outweigh quite clear benefits. Being aware of this imbalance in your decision-making is the first step to confronting your anxiety.
  • Goals: Of course, being aware that anxiety and avoidance is affecting how you make decisions is only the start. Now you have to start setting yourself achievable goals which try to break the cycle of avoidance – these don’t have to be life-changing decisions, simple acts like talking to three people at a party, sitting next to someone in the office cafeteria, going out for dinner with friends or planning that presentation can make a huge difference.
  • Facing “fears”: Our fight-or-flight response is a healthy trigger designed to keep us safe in dangerous situations – however when we transfer that reaction onto anxieties which are not threatening, it can be hard to reverse the physical feeling of relief which reinforces the apparent “benefit” of avoidance. The only way to train ourselves out of this is to experience the anxiety and become mindful of its difference to the fear of a dangerous situation.

Avoidance and anxiety are really two sides to the same coin, and the help of a qualified therapist at Robert Street Clinic can help you understand the underlying cause of the problem as well as manage symptoms and develop coping strategies. For more information about the individual skills of our psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists you can email us at, call us on 09 973 5950, or contact us via the website.