⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄
Last Updated on


What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄

Have you ever avoided exercising despite the fact that it is good for your health? Or have you ever avoided household chores like cleaning, laundry, or organizing? Or perhaps you have avoided working on tasks that are difficult or tedious? And what about avoiding dealing with conflicts or difficult conversations with others?

We are all guilty of avoiding unpleasant tasks from time to time. It’s easy to avoid things, especially when we have so many other things we’d rather do with our time. This type of coping is known as avoidance coping.

It is natural to resist tasks or activities that are unpleasant, difficult, or outside of our comfort zone. However, if you continue to avoid something, you will become trapped in an avoidance cycle, which will result in negative consequences such as missed deadlines, decreased productivity, or increased stress levels.

To overcome these avoidance tendencies and better manage your time, you must first understand it.

What Is Avoidance Coping?

Avoidance Coping is one of the major types of coping that enables an individual to deal with both extrinsic and intrinsic sources of stress, which can range from minor inconveniences to major events.[1] It is commonly regarded as a maladaptive behavioral response to excessive fear and anxiety.[2]

Avoidance coping differs from problem-focused mechanisms in that it aims to alleviate immediate distress by denying, minimizing, avoiding, or distracting oneself from stressful or unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or situations rather than dealing with them directly.[3]

A Natural Response

Avoidance coping is a natural human response because it provides a quick, albeit temporary, relief from stress and discomfort.[4]

Avoiding dangerous or stressful situations is an evolutionary survival skill that has been hardwired into the human brain. When there is a real risk or threat, avoidance is adaptive and can help to keep you safe.


For example, if a person were confronted with a dangerous animal in the wild, their natural reaction would be to flee or hide.

In today’s world, avoidance coping can also be considered a survival skill because it helps people manage their emotions and stress levels in the short term. It allows people to temporarily relieve stress by avoiding certain situations, thoughts, or feelings, especially when confronted with circumstances or problems over which they have no control.[5]

For example, if a person is feeling overwhelmed, they may use avoidance coping strategies to escape the stress, such as excessive social media use or avoidance of social interaction.

The Avoidance Cycle

When avoidance is used repeatedly as a coping strategy, it can lead to a pattern of avoiding stressors or problems, forming an avoidance cycle, rather than addressing them directly.

The avoidance cycle usually starts when you finally decide to take action on that goal you’ve been putting off.

But before you can even begin, this thought pattern appears. It causes you to redirect your attention to something else. Specifically, a distraction of some kind to keep you from carrying out the original action you planned. And it happens every single time.

Let’s look more closely at an avoidance cycle:

avoidance cycle
    1. Feeling anxious or fearful when confronting with a stressor or problem
    2. Engage in avoidance coping behaviors (e.g. procrastination) to avoid stress
    3. Stress is relieved temporarily but the problem is not resolved
    4. Continue to use avoidance coping in response to similar problems

    An avoidance cycle looks something like this:

    “I have to _________ before I can _________”.

    Your mind has formed an underlying belief about something, as well as the conditions for whether or not it is “safe” to act.

    For example:

    • “I have to … have a perfectly quiet environment … before I can start organizing my office.”
    • “I have to … have all the right gym gear … before I can finally start my fitness routine.”
    • “I have to … have the perfect resume … before I can apply for the job I want.”
    • “I have to … know everything about the subject … before I can present my project to the team.”

    There is always some reason why you cannot. It makes no difference whether it makes sense or not because your mind believes it for some reason and you would never seriously question this belief if you were aware of it at all.

    An avoidance cycle is especially limiting because it lurks beneath the surface. Most of the time, you are completely unaware that this cycle is taking place within your mind.

    Why Avoidance Coping Does Not Work

    While avoidance coping may provide temporary stress relief, it does not resolve any problems and thus does not work in the long run:

    Unresolved Problems

    Because it does not address the root cause of the problem or stressor, the problem remains unresolved. For example, if a person is faced with a difficult work project, procrastinating or distracting themselves will not make the project go away, and it will likely become more difficult and stressful to complete as the deadline approaches.

    Similarly, avoiding difficult emotions or interpersonal conflicts can aggravate problems and make them more difficult to resolve. For example, avoiding a conversation with your significant other about a problem in your relationship will not solve the problem, and the relationship may continue to deteriorate without resolution.


    Increased Stress Levels

    Avoidance coping may provide a temporary escape from stress, but since it does not address the underlying cause of the stressor, stress can accumulate over time.

    For example, if a person is feeling overwhelmed by a difficult work project, they may resort to avoiding the challenge by procrastinating or using technology excessively to relieve stress. However, this will only provide temporary relief, and the stress of the work project will continue to build as the deadline approaches, leading to even greater stress levels.

    Avoidance coping has a snowball effect in this way, eventually causing higher stress levels and a decline in wellbeing.[6] In fact, studies[7] show that people who use avoidant coping strategies are more likely to be anxious and depressed. They experience more stress and are less happy and healthy than people who use active coping strategies.

    Decreased Self-Esteem

    When a person avoid problems and responsibilities on a regular basis, they may feel guilty or ashamed about their lack of progress or ability to handle their responsibilities. This can lead to low self-esteem[8] and negative self-talk over time, such as “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t handle this.”

    Because the root cause of their problems is never resolved, someone who is stuck in an avoidance cycle may frequently miss deadlines and have problems in various areas of their life, such as their career, health, and relationships. This can lead to even lower self-esteem and self-worth.


    How to Break the Avoidance Cycle

    The more one uses avoidance coping, the more it becomes a habit and the more difficult it is to break the cycle.

    But I have a method for identifying it based on its default thought pattern:

    Step 1: Think of a goal that you want to achieve.

    What is a goal that you’ve been trying to achieve? What are the first 3 actions that you need to take?

    For example, your goal might be to start running regularly. Your first 3 actions may be:

    1. Invest in a pair of running shoes and comfortable clothing.
    2. Map out a running route near your home.
    3. Plan a running schedule and stick to it by setting reminders

    If you haven’t already started taking action. There is undoubtedly an avoidance cycle that has brought you to a halt.

    Step 2: Write down what’s stopping you from doing it.

    For each of these actions, what’s stopping you from doing it right now?

    Try one of these statements:

    “I have to _________ before I can _________”.

    “I can’t _________ until _________”.

    Take starting running regularly as an example:

    “I can’t start running until I get the perfect pair of running shoes.”

    “I can’t start running until I find a good running route.”

    “I can’t start running until I have time to plan for my schedule.”

    Don’t worry if you discover that you have a lot of these statements. In fact, the more you discover, the better. You want to get them all because as long as one avoidance cycle remains, it will be one more impediment to your progress.


    Step 3: Turn the avoidance cycle into an opportunity statement.

    Now it’s the key step to break the avoidance cycle.

    I’m going to introduce to you a super simple method to turn each avoidance cycle into an opportunity statement.

    All you have to do is turn the avoidance cycle into this statement instead:

    “All I need is _________ and I can start _________”.

    For example, instead of saying:

    “I can’t start running until I get the perfect pair of running shoes.”

    You can turn it into an opportunity statement like this:

    “All I need is … to try on some running shoes and get one at the sports store near home… and I can start …running today…”

    The power of an opportunity statement is that it shows you how to take the first step. You don’t have to have the full solution. All you have to do is get started.

    You’ll know how to keep going once you get started. That first obstacle is usually just a giant illusion.

    When Should You Seek Professional Help?

    If you’ve tried and failed to break the avoidance cycle, and the cycle is making you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed to the point where it’s interfering with your daily life, consider seeking professional help.

    Furthermore, if you believe your avoidance coping is related to underlying mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or trauma, you should seek out professional assistance.


    A mental health professional, such as a psychologist or counselor, can help you in understanding your coping strategies and developing alternatives that directly address the source of your problems and stressors.

    A mental health professional can also offer you advice, support, and tools to help you break the avoidance cycle and improve your overall well-being.

    To find a therapist who meets your needs, try Good Therapy or Psychology Today.

    What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle

    Breaking the Avoidance Cycle

    5 Actions
    What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle
    Think of the the first 3 actions you need to take for a goal you’re trying to achieve.
    What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle
    Write down what’s stopping you from taking these actions in one of these statements: “I have to _________ before I can _________”. or “I can’t _________ until _________”. 
    What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle
    Rephrase the Avoidance Statement into an Opportunity Statement like this: “All I need is _________ and I can start _________”. 
    What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle
    Simply get started by doing what is specified in the Opportunity Statement.
    What Is Avoidance Coping & How to Break the Avoidance Cycle
    Seek help from a mental health professional if you believe your avoidance coping is related to underlying mental health conditions, or if the avoidance cycle is interfering your daily life.


    Avoidance coping may provide temporary stress relief, but it can lead to increased stress, lower self-esteem, and negative consequences over time.

    Breaking the avoidance cycle by developing alternative coping strategies that directly address problems and stressors is essential for living a more productive and happier life.

    You can improve your well-being, increase your feelings of control and competence, and live a more fulfilling life by confronting problems head on and developing effective coping strategies.

    If you are unable to break the avoidance cycle on your own, seeking professional support can be beneficial.


    ⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄
    ⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄
    ⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄
    ⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄
    ⌄ Scroll down to continue ⌄