Avoidant Behaviour

How might anxiety affect our behaviour?

When feeling anxious there are several ways that it can affect our behaviour:
• Avoidance
• Increased and decreased activity
When anxious, we may avoid situations that increase our anxieties. If, for
example, we have previously felt very anxious in a busy town centre, we may avoid
them or crowded places in general. Although avoiding difficult situations makes our anxiety levels decrease initially, the more we avoid them, the more anxious we feel about challenging them in the future.
This is because by avoiding a feared situation we never get the opportunity to find out
whether the fear is realistic, and never get the chance to learn how to overcome our fears
and cope with difficult situations. Avoidance actually makes our anxiety worse and  does not help us because:
• The relief it provides is only temporary
• We never actually face our fear and learn that the imagined threat will not happen
• Each time we avoid something it makes it even more difficult to face in the future
• Eventually, we may end up restricting our lives due to avoiding more and
more things

How can i change my behaviour?

Goal setting

Begin to recognise when you are avoiding things and begin to tackle these fears. Don’t try to do this all at once but in a steady way.
Set yourself very small goals :

For example, Sarah experienced feelings of anxiety when picking the kids up from school six weeks ago. Since then she has avoided taking/picking the kids up and has asked her mum to pick them up and take them every day. Sarah is unhappy with her avoidant behaviour and has practiced controlled breathing and is planning small steps in order to pick the children up again. With the help of her mum, she plans to walk further each day on the journey to the school; until she is able to meet her mum at the school to pick up the children.

Write down goal that you would like to tackle on goal setting sheet below. Identify what goal you would like to achieve, the steps involved, what you will do for each step, when & where it will be achieved and who will be involved.

Goal Setting Worksheet
People may also feel that they are managing their anxiety by escaping from situations that make them anxious.

For example, leaving a planned night out early, by making an excuse such as ” the baby sitter has to leave” or ” i’m not feeling very well”

Instead of escaping try slowly, increase how long you stay in these situations that makes you anxious.  If you remain in this anxious situation what do you predict will happen to you or your anxiety? People often think it will just keep getting worse and worse and spiral out of control. This is not the case. You will prove that you are not under threat  therfore it will start to come down.

As well as avoiding situations or escaping, they may also display safety behaviours. These “safety behaviours” may help at the time, but they also help to keep the anxiety going because the anxious person never learns that nothing awful would have happened.

For example avoiding one particular stretch of road as opposed to avoiding all driving situations altogether. Certain bridges, tunnels, roads, or driving conditions may be avoided, while others are not.

Challenging avoidant behaviour may not be easy but will help reduce the cycle of anxiety. Look at the next section on controlled breathing, relaxation and distraction as means to help and assist you when you are overcoming your avoidant behaviour.


Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

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