In a recent therapy session, my therapist and I talked about avoidance behavior and when it’s okay to not engage in situations that cause anxiety, but this is also confusing. I don’t want to fall into old bad habits, so when is it okay to take the detour or skip out on something that causes stress?
For a long time, I didn’t know there was a difference. For example, recently a friend of mine had a kid-friendly party on a very rainy evening. The house was packed with adults and children; the noise level was that of a concert or sporting event. At least, this is what it felt like to me. Constant chatter that grew louder as the night went on. The guests were forced indoors and so many people made the otherwise large house feel tight. I don’t think I breathed the entire time I was there. Trying to track my three small children, and make sure my husband wasn’t completely miserable added to my stress. We didn’t know a lot of the guests, and even though the kids seemed to enjoy it, I told my husband next year we will stay home.
I questioned if this decision was a negative behavior I should get ahead of. Was I choosing to avoid the party because of my anxiety? My mind screamed to leave the house within the first five minutes we arrived. Something kept me there though. Maybe the hope of finding my groove, or the fact that I am fond of social situations, and I thought it would get better. Whatever the case was, I did not enjoy myself as I thought I would, yet everyone around me had drinks in their hand and smiles on their face. Standing there awkwardly, I felt like I was missing that connection in our DNA that says parties are fun.
Talking to my therapist, we discussed that not everything we skip out on is negative avoidance behavior. There is a direct link to my anxiety and forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do, such as grocery shopping. I have always hated this chore. To get around doing it, I use grocery delivery or curbside pick-up. This is avoidance behavior because anyone should be able to go to the store without feeling a crippling anxious dreed. I shunned the grocery store because it got to the point where I couldn’t go in even for a small thing like a gallon of milk. The grocery store triggered my unease. This was preventing me from living. However, steering clear of a party that doesn’t appeal to me is okay. Why? Because I’m not dodging all social gatherings, and interactions altogether. I do leave my house to seek out social situations on a regular basis. For example, next week I have three engagements, a writing group meeting (which I host), book club, and dinner with some girlfriends.
It’s a fine line to walk. I no longer fret over the grocery store compared to the past, but I still hate doing it, and I stay away at all costs. There are too many choices, one way out, and lines that slow my departure down. I think I will continuously despise the grocery shopping.
Avoidance behavior can be an unhealthy routine, and I found myself doing it in for years. I don’t want to take steps backward. Knowing it’s okay to opt out of invitations or situations that are not appealing to me is helpful and liberating. It lowers my stress levels. Being aware of the decisions I make and how they impact my life is a valuable tool to keep in my arsenal. I’m sure the lines are not constantly clear, and there will be times I convince myself that sidestepping a situation is a healthy decision when the truth is it’s good to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Life would be so boring otherwise.