What Are You Avoiding?

Procrastination and extreme busyness seem like they are on opposite ends of the productivity spectrum, but they actually have a lot in common. They can both be methods of avoidance. Avoidance is a physical, mental or emotional state in which we deliberately choose not to focus on or interact with something—usually something that is challenging or feels overwhelming.

Some signs of avoidance are easier to spot than others. For example, laying on the couch and watching television instead of finishing an important project or assignment is likely a type of distraction or a “numbing “strategy. Numbing is a method for dulling or overstimulating the senses so that we are less able to focus on the thing we are trying to avoid. Other numbing strategies can include alcohol, drugs, social media usage, and even intense exercise.

In the same way, busyness or hyper-productivity can also be avoidance strategies. In Western culture, these strategies are more subversive because they have become a part of our accepted social structure. Individuals who overwork themselves are sometimes even praised or given rewards such as promotions or accolades.

Nearly everyone avoids something. So what are you avoiding?

Telltale signs that you are avoiding a person, situation, or emotion include the following:

  1. Finding ways to distract yourself when a certain feeling or situation arises. Distractions may include scrolling through your phone, watching videos, eating, shopping, and even sex.
  2. Having trouble being quiet and alone. Does your mind race as you are trying to fall asleep at night? Or when you find yourself without your phone for a few hours? This could be a sign you are avoiding looking at a particular issue.
  3. Substance abuse. If you find yourself consuming substances beyond occasional, recreational use, this could be a numbing or avoidant behavior. Ask yourself whether you can sit with intense feelings without the aid of substances, or observe how often you turn to substances to alleviate discomfort.
  4. Physical ailments. Illnesses can have many causes but they are often exacerbated by stress and repressed emotions. The body can store tension and trauma and, if not released properly, this can lead to symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.

To figure out what you are avoiding, try meditation, mindfulness or therapy to help peel back some of the protective layers of the psyche and understand what is going on at the subconscious level. This can reveal areas of pain and discomfort that you may not pay attention to in your daily life. By resolving these underlying pain points, you will be less likely to engage in distracting or avoidant behavior.