How to Reduce Your Panic-Related Avoidance Behaviors

Avoidance Only Increases Anxiety

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Avoidance behaviors are any actions a person takes to escape from difficult thoughts and feelings. These behaviors can occur in many different ways and may include actions that a person does or does not do. People with panic disorder often take on avoidance behaviors to sidestep fearful thoughts, feelings of dread, and overall anxiety-related symptoms.

As a person dealing with panic and anxiety, you may already be familiar with acting out of avoidance. These behaviors can have a negative impact on many aspects of your life, including your career, relationships, and personal interests or hobbies. You may find yourself avoiding job opportunities, social events, and even friendships in an attempt to keep your anxiety at bay.

Effects of Avoidance Behaviors

Aside from restricting your life, avoidance behaviors often have the opposite effect than what is desired. While in the short run you may experience a temporary sense of relief, in the long run, avoidance actually leads to increased anxiety.

When avoiding places, people, and events, someone with panic disorder is really trying to escape feelings of anxiety. However, every time the individual escapes these anxiety-inducing thoughts and feelings, they are actually reinforcing them.

They are sending the message to themselves that the world is a dangerous place. In the end, they may become increasingly afraid of more and more stimuli, allowing for the ​cycle of anxiety to intensify.

People who live with avoidance are often depriving themselves of many experiences, adventures, and connections. Panic-related avoidance behaviors may be preventing you from living your life to the fullest. If you exhibit some anxiety-related avoidance behaviors, there are some things you can do to address the issue.

Recognize Avoidance Behavior

In order to change any maladaptive behavior, you must first start becoming aware of when it’s occurring. At the end of each day, stop and reflect on how you engaged in avoidance behaviors throughout your day. Write down any that stand out. You may have noticed how you did this in small ways. For example, perhaps you stayed away from a co-worker because you felt anxious about talking with him.

Once you start to consistently track your actions, you may be surprised to find out that you are participating in more avoidance behaviors than you previously thought. 

You may also notice big ways in which you engaged in avoidance, such as taking a different route to work to avoid highway driving because it makes you feel anxious. Only by making an effort to notice these actions will you be ready to change them.

Finding Trust and Support

The key to overcoming avoidance behaviors is to continue to slowly face what you are avoiding until it no longer has such a grip on you. Of course, doing so is far easier said than done. That is why it is recommended that you don’t face previously avoided situations alone, but rather engage in them with a trusted friend or family member by your side.

Let your friend know that the situation you are stepping into is usually a source of anxiety. Have a backup plan ready should things go sideways. If you're attending a large social event that you would normally avoid, talk beforehand about what you’ll need if you feel uncomfortable.

Prepare your loved one to give you space if you should want a few minutes alone to manage your anxiety. Perhaps you will forewarn her that you will need to leave if symptoms become unmanageable. Regardless of your plan, make sure your loved one is aware of it so that she will know what to expect should your anxiety arise.

It is important to note that you never should rely on one person to buffer your feelings of anxiety at all times. By doing so, you may accidentally create a shift in avoidance where you become overly dependent on this person.

Eventually, you will want to step into the previous avoidances alone. Your loved one may still be supporting you from a distance, but it is only when you move forward alone that you can truly overcome your avoidance behaviors.

Develop Anxiety Coping Skills

Your avoidance behaviors revolve around not wanting to experience anxiety or other symptoms of panic disorder. The most effective way to get past this fear is to learn techniques that will help you control your symptoms. Coping skills can help you keep your anxiety in check and may even assist in managing your panic attacks.

Such skills can be learned through the help of a therapist or on your own by using self-help books. Some common strategies to aid in coping with anxiety include:

Getting Help For Avoidance Behavior

Not everyone with panic disorder exhibits avoidance behavior, but many will find that these issues put excessive restrictions on their lives. If you are finding that your avoidance behaviors are unmanageable and out-of-control, it may be time to seek professional help.

Getting professional help with your symptoms is by no means a failure on your part. In fact, many people with panic disorder have found that they recover quicker through treatment. 

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.