Avoidance coping is a common survival technique for veterans who have endured psychological stress. You may shut off in response to unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Maybe you avoid places that remind you of your time deployed. While these acts of self-preservation may help you get through the day, they can be a sign of an underlying mental health issue. Keep reading to learn more about avoidance coping and alternatives to help you heal from your invisible wounds.
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What Is Avoidance Coping?
Avoidance coping refers to strategies used to disengage from stressful situations instead of addressing them head-on. In other words, behaviors that are used for avoiding stress by ignoring a difficult situation or unwanted feelings. This is considered a maladaptive form of coping because it increases feelings of stress and anxiety in the long run, despite causing you to feel better in the moment.
Avoidance behaviors can take on many forms but they all involve changing your behavior to avoid thinking about, feeling, or doing difficult things. These behaviors are viewed as unhealthy avoidance coping methods because they don’t address the root causes of stress. Additionally, overusing such behaviors can lead to a variety of unwanted consequences including lower self-esteem and poor mental and physical health.
Signs of Avoidance Behavior
There are many reasons why you may find it easier to cope with stressors through avoidance. Veterans struggling with PTSD or anxiety are more prone to rely on avoidance coping to manage difficult symptoms. For instance, symptoms of a anxiety attack can make it difficult to stay in the present moment. Therefore you scroll on your phone until the unpleasant thoughts and bodily sensations subside. Maybe you learned avoidance techniques early in life if you were a child of a dysfunctional family. You may have used only passive coping strategies to avoid conflict or rejection. Now, these behaviors are magnified as you attempt to cope with service-related trauma as an adult.
No matter the case, if you engage in avoidance behavior you may:
- Avoid taking actions that trigger painful memories
- Avoid anxiety-provoking thoughts or places
- Distance yourself from unpleasant feelings
- Withdraw from loved ones and social settings
- Avoid conflict, even when it’s necessary
If you often engage in these behaviors, it may be worth it to investigate the underlying cause. At Heroes’ Mile, you can improve your mental health in a safe and judgment-free environment surrounded by other veterans. Here, you should feel free to discuss topics that may be difficult to discuss with civilians. Our treatment center is for veterans by veterans to ensure that veterans get the comprehensive support they need to overcome their unique experiences.
Avoidance Coping Examples
Emotional avoidance allows individuals to avoid thoughts and feelings of traumatic events without the people around them knowing. This is a common response for veterans struggling with the symptoms of PTSD. Attempting to shut off internally can help you temporarily manage stress. However, it’s not a long-term solution because the unprocessed information will continue to resurface.
Many of the behaviors that involve avoidance help individuals distance themselves from reminders of the trauma. For instance, a veteran that experienced a natural disaster while deployed may turn to alcohol or other substances to avoid memories or thoughts of the disaster. On the other hand, some combat veterans may avoid places, sounds, and smells that remind them of the time they spent in a warzone. By avoiding these triggers with avoidant behaviors or substance abuse, they temporarily protect themselves from trauma, but do not address the underlying issue.
There are a variety of behaviors that may be ingrained in your daily routine to enforce self-preservation. Some of the most common avoidance behaviors include:
- Leaving social events early
- Canceling plans last minute
- Avoiding places
- Ignoring calls and texts
- Substance abuse
Different Types of Coping
There are two broad categories when it comes to the different types of coping: passive/avoidance coping and active/approach coping. As mentioned, avoidance coping involves behaviors that prevent individuals from addressing stressful problems or situations. Whereas active behavioral coping addresses the problem directly so you can take the steps to solve it.
Active coping helps you overcome your knee-jerk avoidance response by reacting to the stress rather than ignoring it. Although there are different approaches to active coping, they all center on tackling the issue so that you’re able to move past it and minimize long-term stress. This is accomplished by fostering an awareness of your stressor followed by actions taken to reduce the effect of the stress.
However, learning to use active coping mechanisms can require some help from a mental health professional. Veterans struggling with PTSD can benefit from trauma-based therapy techniques in addition to veteran support groups. This emotional and peer-to-peer support can help you recognize these behaviors and learn what you can do instead to improve your overall mental wellness.
Trauma-informed therapy methods that can help you manage symptoms of PTSD and anxiety include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy
- Traumatic incident reduction therapy
- Equine therapy
Can Avoidance Coping be Helpful?
Avoidance coping strategies involve turning your attention away from having to process information the body deems threatening. This can be helpful during traumatic events such as combat and sexual assault. Your mind and body may temporarily shut down to help you get through the situation until the threat has gone. However, these traumatic experiences will not go away if you simply avoid processing the trauma. Avoidance coping will only put off unpleasant thoughts and feelings until you encounter another trigger, often leading to more severe symptoms in the future.
But there are some forms of passive coping that are considered healthy. For example, stress relief practices such as exercising or meditating can help you minimize stress before directly addressing the stressor. While these coping mechanisms don’t affect the situation, they can empower you to approach it in a better state of mind. Sometimes intentionally separating yourself from a stressful situation to gather your thoughts and feelings can help you to respond more proactively.
You may want to feel good in the moment, but avoidance won’t help you learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. The only way to take the next step and process your trauma is to work through the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You can safely do this with the guidance of a mental health professional at your own pace as part of your mental health recovery journey. They will help you find effective active coping mechanisms that help you manage your mental health in the long run.
When to Seek Help
Finding help is one of the best ways to overcome the underlying issues resulting in your use of avoidance coping behaviors. With the support of a mental health professional in a veteran-exclusive environment, you can discover active coping mechanisms that decrease your stress in the long run and help you overcome addiction. For additional information on how Heroes’ Mile can help you take the next step in your recovery journey, call us at 888-838-6692 or fill out a confidential contact form. We’re here to help you overcome the obstacles preventing you from living a happier, healthier life.
Original Author: Heroes’ Mile