Avoidance is a coping mechanism used to avoid a stressor
It’s no secret I like to experience my world-wide cycling adventures with as little planning as possible. I don’t plan my routes; instead enjoying the freedom to experience and react to each moment as it comes, rather than responding with a pre-determined framework. So, when it came to organising my book tour, I was in uncharted territory.
Cycling the book tour required planning my route and daily mileage, but cycling it with my dog meant even more planning, to ensure it was an enjoyable experience for her too. I’ve done lots of public speaking, but I’ve always been invited to events, and haven’t ever contacted people, asking to do an event. Although I had zero experience, getting things wrong had potential for serious consequences, as I’d be doing a speaking event each evening in the days new destination, as well as pre-arranged media interviews along the way.
I sat down and opened google maps, alongside a spreadsheet and quickly realised this was a big task and having never done it before, I felt overwhelmed, which quietly turned to I can’t do this.
So I didn’t.
My avoidance coping mechanism kicked in, to avoid the stressor.
Avoidance has been one of the most detrimental coping mechanisms to my quality of life. I used to be queen of avoidance.
I remember when I was in a homeless unit for 16 – 18 year olds. Looking back I was too messed up to work, but jobseekers allowance was the only real option for people like me. To receive £45 a week and have my accommodation paid (which being a staffed unit was extortionate) all I had to do, was walk 1 mile to the Job Centre every two weeks to ‘sign-on’. But the way the staff used to speak to me was horrible. And I already felt so bad about myself from past events, the last thing I wanted was to walk into a situation that magnified how I already felt. So I avoided it.
Sure, I knew I had to ‘sign-on’ to eat and have a bed. But I point blank wouldn’t go. Time and time again my benefits would be cancelled and I’d go for days not eating; drinking lots of water instead to dampen the hunger. My housing benefit would stop and I’d risk eviction. That’s how strong my avoidance was; I’d go hungry and homeless rather than experience the stressor.
But I’ve learned since then and I’m achieving so much now, not because I don’t experience avoidance, but because I learned how to manage it. I want to share with you the ways I personally manage my avoidance so it doesn’t have a detrimental affect on my life.
I stopped rejecting myself and the negative behaviours I used and accepted that I would experience them and that was okay.
I know that when I have tasks to do but I’m not doing them, I am avoiding them to avoid a stressor. This awareness allows me to pinpoint the stressor and why I am experiencing anxiety, whilst making the commitment that I will not allow my avoidance coping skills to sabotage what I’m trying to achieve.
When avoidance is in play, I take a small action related to why I’m avoiding the task. For example; I was avoiding planning my book tour because I had never done it before and the thought of getting it wrong caused me anxiety. The action I took was to email asking for advice from someone who already does public speaking tours. As soon as I got the response, I was propelled out of avoidance and began planning, enjoying it straight away.
When written down, the above steps seem so simple but it’s amazing how many years I allowed negative coping skills to dictate my life. Sure, the puppet that is avoidance still dances in my life at times but now I know I can take hold of the strings and put it to sleep.
The World Bike Girl book tour coming soon!