Choosing Awareness Over Avoidance Coping
When I started thinking about writing this post, I wanted to put it off. I thought, now is not the best time to write this. I need time to think about this topic some more. Avoidance coping has been such a big thing in my life that I felt like it needed more time.
Then, I realized that the very topic of the post is the exact reason I needed to write this post and NOT put it off.
As you can probably tell by this third paragraph – I have been a “putter-offer” for a long time…a procrastinator – and yes, an avoider. Avoiding things that cause stress, anxiety, pain (physical, mental, emotional) is natural because of the stress response factor. When the brain tells us something is going to be painful/difficult/uncomfortable, we will naturally avoid it.
The body’s reaction to stress, as explained by Harvard Medical School, “is also known as the fight-or-flight response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.”
Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.”
Our bodies try to conserve energy as a survival mechanism too. When the brain tells us that something is going to take a lot of effort, many times we will choose the “lazy” option (avoidance). It’s all about self preservation. (Find out more about this here.)
Awareness vs. avoidance
Over the past several years, I have realized that awareness is SO MUCH BETTER than avoidance. I DECIDED to see what was on the other side of fear. I DECIDED to make changes, DECIDED I was capable. I DECIDED to stop avoidance coping. And when I did…well, good things happened!
DECISION #1: In the summer of 2015, I decided to quit smoking.
I had smoked cigarettes on and off since I was 16 years old. Based on the many times I had tried to quit in the past, I knew that this would be a major undertaking. If you have never been a smoker, you won’t know what this feels like (and if you want, you can skip ahead a few paragraphs).
Things that people deal with when trying to quit smoking include fear of failure and intense physical withdrawal symptoms, in addition to just getting through life without a cigarette. Yeah, it’s bad. I feared all of these things.
So, of course, it’s something that people regularly avoid. I definitely avoided it…for a long time!
I made a conscious choice to stop avoiding and putting it off til later. The method I chose to become a nonsmoker (and, yes, I say becoming a nonsmoker vs. quitting because it is a much more positive way of thinking) was to read the book The Easy Way to Quit Smoking for Women, by Alan Carr. I’d heard people talk about their success with the book and figured I’d give it a try.
The book literally uses awareness to teach you how each cigarette leads to the next and that it’s a vicious cycle. And, it worked for me! It was difficult in some ways, but not nearly as bad as any other times. It’s been 6 years and I haven’t had any desire for a cigarette since the initial physical impact.
Decision #2: In the summer of 2016, I decided to lose weight. I really decided I could no longer go on the way I was going.
My weight, as with many (even most) women, has been a struggle since I was in my late 20’s and really became an issue after having my first child, gradually putting on more and more weight as the years went on. I never wanted to do the whole dieting thing. I just knew I wouldn’t want to deprive myself of foods that I enjoyed. Tracking stuff, cooking special meals, or following a strict plan sounded way too difficult and time consuming. Therefore, I avoided it.
I thought exercise was the key. I’m not an athlete and pretty much hate sweating and the feeling of being out of breath and all that. Needless to say, I avoided it. And there were lots of reasons (excuses) why I didn’t exercise. And then I felt guilty for not making time to do the routines that Oprah recommended or that I read about in a magazine. How could I not find 20 minutes three times per week?
How did I feel better about it? I utilized avoidance coping. If I don’t think about it, I won’t feel guilty.
It was difficult to see, but I came to terms with what I had been doing to my body and my health by avoiding the things that I feared. When I made the decision to get to a healthy weight, I took it one step at a time. I started small. After I determined the number of calories I needed to eat to lose 1 – 2 pounds per week, I tracked my eating with the My Fitness Pal app. Tracking wasn’t hard at all or even very time consuming. I learned a lot!
I really had no idea how many calories I was eating vs. how many I needed. I learned about myself and made decisions based on things that I like; I didn’t force myself to eat things that I didn’t like but made substitutions and adjustments. For example, I love salty snacks, so I now eat a lot of air popped popcorn! Thankfully, Pinterest has tons of awesome ideas! And, it’s amazing what you can do with cauliflower these days!
Being aware of what I was putting into my body – actually aware of how much – lead to me losing 50 pounds over approximately 9 months. That’s not a long time, when you think about it. And I’ve kept most of it off, which I totally attribute to awareness.
Decision #3: In the fall of 2017, I decided to start this blog, well – a blog. I realized that I couldn’t wait around for life to happen and that I could take things into my own hands.
Telling myself that I didn’t have the money or time to go back to school and I didn’t have the personality to be an entrepreneur, I avoided taking steps to improve my life and financial situation for many years. I got to the point that I felt like I was too old or it was too late to make career changes (and that was when I was in my mid 30’s and 40’s!).
I stayed in a job in which I wasn’t happy or fulfilled for many years because it was comfortable and there were a lot of benefits to working there (flexibility and time off). Eventually, I ended up finding another job that I did like, with pretty much the same flexibility and benefits!
When I saw others making a living from blogging and other online jobs, my first thought was that I wasn’t cut out for that kind of work. But as I continued to read more information about this kind of opportunity, I realized that anyone can make changes at any time in their life and I went ahead and purchased my domain and hosting! I intentionally decided that I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and avoid “going for it” any longer.
My awareness was that I didn’t need to stay stuck! Moving ahead is scary, but so worth it!! I LOVE writing for this blog and helping others along the way!
What happens when you utilize avoidance coping?
Nothing really positive comes from avoidance. All it does is delay something that will inevitably come around again. Let’s look at how avoidance can actually hurt you.
When you put off doing things that you perceive as hard or uncomfortable, things on your to-do list don’t get done. You may start feeling lazy or unaccomplished. It can also lead to feeling overwhelmed when things you believe “should” be getting done, aren’t.
Imagine you are avoiding things you know need taken care of; then someone reminds you of things you need to do or that you should/could be doing; you might start seeing yourself as a failure.
And so begins the negative pattern – you put something off or avoid it totally – you feel guilty about it or you feel inadequate – you feel worse so you avoid thinking about it – and so on – and so on.
When you avoid, you lose confidence in yourself, you stop believing in yourself.
Special note to recognize when it’s not just avoidance (in ourselves and in others). There are times when people just CANNOT push through, can’t make any extra effort without some outside assistance from a professional! We need to be gentle with ourselves and others in these instances.
What happens when you choose awareness?
You see what’s on the other side of fear!
When you push through something that seems difficult or you know will be uncomfortable, you will notice some things – some really good things.
First, you’ll see things being accomplished. You’ll cross things off of your list! (Ah, we know the satisfaction in that!)
You’ll gain confidence and feel better about doing something difficult next time. The more you practice something, the easier it gets.
Best of all, you’ll feel good about yourself – even if things don’t turn out how you had hoped – you took steps and pushed through – you’ll feel successful. And you should celebrate! (Here’s a post about how to stop downplaying those successes – I see you doing that!)
Believing in my abilities to make transformations in my life has been a game changer. Allowing myself to be hopeful, have dreams, and pursue goals has been life changing.
I can’t express how happy I am to be experiencing the rewards of finding what was on the other side of my fears! I feel better – physically, mentally, and emotionally. My outlook about the future is so much more positive and I am excited to see what awareness will reveal next!
What about you? Are coping by avoiding?
Is there something that you’ve been putting off or avoiding? A difficult conversation? A job or career change? Making a budget? Taking things one step at a time and staying present really helps!
Take a moment to share your thoughts so that we can learn from and support one another as we move through fears and awaken to new pursuits!
And, join us in our private Facebook Group – Over 40~Making the Most of Midlife. We talk about things like this and touch on lots of other topics related to well-being in midlife. (It’s a totally kind and supportive group!)
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