6 Things to Know About Avoidance Coping

Everyone has coping strategies. When we’re faced with a stressful or upsetting situation, we respond in a certain way. Some of these responses can be healthy, positive and productive, while others can be discouraging or harmful. Some teens turn to avoidance coping, a type of coping mechanism that can have lasting negative effects, even though it can manifest in subtle ways.

What is Avoidance Coping?

Simply put, avoidance coping is a strategy where individuals attempt to avoid negative feelings and protect themselves from psychological damage or stress by avoiding certain conversations and situations. This can be impractical in many ways because it may involve overthinking about a specific subject and prevent the individual from taking any action. Here are some things you should know in order to help your teen.

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What are the Signs of Avoidance Coping?

Avoidance coping can be quite subtle and can be hard to spot because it’s often a person’s response to their individual experiences. Some signs can include avoiding situations that previously caused embarrassment or discomfort. For example, a teen may choose to stop participating in classroom discussions after feeling ashamed for answering a question incorrectly. A person who uses avoidance coping may avoid asking for favors or sharing their opinions if they feel they might upset someone. They might also shy away from activities if they don’t believe they can succeed, or feel unsure of the outcome.

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Why Do People Turn to Avoidance Coping?

Avoidance coping is used when a person desperately wants to avoid a negative feeling such as fear, shame, guilt or awkwardness. People living with anxiety are likely to use avoidance coping strategies as a way to control or manage their anxiety. Even rumination—which is commonly seen among people who feel anxious—can be viewed as a form of avoidance coping.

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What is Rumination?

Rumination is a thought process where the same thoughts repeat themselves over and over again—the goal is to find a solution to a problem. However, an individual rarely solves their issues this way as ruminating can quickly lead to a feeling of hopelessness. Rumination can be a form of avoidance coping when individuals choose to overthink of ways to avoid a negative situation.

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What are the Harmful Effects of Avoidance Coping?

Avoidance coping can have negative long-term effects, such as when a teen avoids things that are actually necessary to healthy development. Some examples include seeking help when needed, trying new things or talking to teachers or family members. Furthermore, when a person uses avoidance coping they don’t actually find healthy ways to deal with difficult situations—they’re simply trying to avoid situations altogether. Relationships can also be adversely affected, especially when one person is overly concerned about not agitating the other person.

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How to Move On From Avoidance Coping

It’s possible for teens to overcome avoidance coping. If your teen shows any signs, support them by enlisting the help of a mental health professional—particularly if there are other mental health concerns such as anxiety involved. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other therapy options can be an excellent way to address avoidance coping on a deeper level. Individually, teens need to recognize that avoidance coping doesn’t actually solve any problems, and in fact, can sometimes make them worse. To lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life, it’s crucial for teens to learn how to tolerate negative feelings and move on from them in a healthy way.

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Feature photo: Marina K Caprara