Avoidance & Distraction

The act of avoiding something or distracting yourself from something can be very useful in tolerating painful events or emotions when you can’t make things better immediately. This can be a subconscious action but often works best when consciously decided.

When we’re feeling distressed, distracting ourselves with other activities, thoughts, emotions and sensations can allow our focus to shift from a negative, stressful place to a place that feels more tolerable. The same can be said for avoiding distressing events, people, tasks, etc.

However, if we constantly avoid and distract ourselves from things that cause us distress, we inadvertently give those things more power and allow them to appear bigger, scarier and more stressful than they may really be (see On Vulnerability). This can also lead to unintentional inattention in other areas of our lives (see Procrastination).

Avoidance
Noun
The act of keeping away from, keeping clear of; preventing from happening

Temporary use of avoidance and distraction as coping skills works well, but they shouldn’t become a “way of life”. If we constantly avoid and distract ourselves from things that cause us distress, we never allow ourselves the ability to work through them and, hopefully, overcome them.

We also might be missing out on some very pleasant experiences that just happen to accidentally get overlooked.

I’m not saying to be reckless. Or put yourself in the way of obvious danger. But if you constantly distract yourself from feeling negative emotions or experiencing potentially distressing events, you’re doing yourself a disfavor.

Distraction
Noun
The act of drawing away or diverting; separating or dividing (such as one’s attention)

In order to ever truly live fully, we must at some point face the things that distress us. I know you don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to either. I’d much rather go on believing that if I avoid it, if I distract myself from it, if I pretend that it doesn’t exist that it cannot effect me.

But it does.

Think about something you’re avoiding. Start with something small – a paper you need to write, a task you need to complete, a phone call you’ve been putting off…

Just thinking about it, I can feel a knot in my stomach forming. A sickish, uncomfortable feeling. It’s much easier to avoid or distract myself from thinking about it. The sickish feeling goes away. I can breathe easier and go about my day.

Until the distressful thing comes up again. Someone mentions it. My mind wanders to it. I’m confronted with it face to face. Now, the sickish feeling is worse. The know in my stomach has grown.

I can keep avoiding it seemingly forever, distracting myself to better tolerate the feelings. But it still exists. And it will keep popping up, often at horrible times, the sickish feeling constantly growing.

Avoiding something makes it easier to tolerate, but it doesn’t make the distress go away. At some point you need to face the thing(s) that causes you distress.

When you choose to do so is your choice. So is how. And how much. But as long as you avoid it and distract yourself from it, it’s still there. And it will still cause you distress.

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