Are You an Avoider? That Can Increase Anxiety

Posted on June 13th, 2013
Posted in Mental Health

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses in the United States. Nearly 40 million American adults have some form of an anxiety disorder and most of those are women. Why women suffer more with anxiety is not fully understood. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. There are individual differences between these disorders, but all are characterized by feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, tension, worry and other related emotions.

If you are one of the many women struggling with a type of anxiety disorder, you know how hard it can be just to face the day. You often feel overwhelmed, nervous, and even scared about things that do not bother other people. There is hope, though. New research is revealing ways in which you can cope with your emotions that reduce your feelings of anxiety.

Emotional Strategies

When you are faced with a difficult situation, you have a characteristic way of coping with both the challenge and your own emotions. All women’s strategies in such situations can be classified in two main categories: facing the challenge with positive solutions and avoiding situations by ignoring them and the emotions they stir.

In other words, some women seem to face problems head-on. In fact, they don’t always consider such situations to be problems. They view them more as challenges to be met, thought about, and solved. These women devise positive strategies for finding a solution to the challenge and recognize their emotions in the face of that challenge.

Other women are avoiders. They see difficult situations as problems rather than challenges to be solved. They tend to avoid the problem as much as possible. They also avoid their emotions with respect to the problems they face. They suppress those negative and unpleasant feelings and push them back inside.

Emotional Strategies and Anxiety

Women who avoid problematic situations and view them as negatives rather than challenges to be overcome, often do so in the hopes of avoiding the anxiety they believe the problem will cause them to feel. As it turns out, this strategy backfires. It may seem scary to face up to a challenge, but doing so actually helps to relieve anxiety. This connection has been backed up by evidence from research into the sources of anxiety and those who are at risk for anxiety disorders.

Researchers at the University of Illinois investigated the connection between emotional strategies and anxiety by questioning nearly 200 participants about their coping mechanisms and their anxiety levels. The participants were asked questions about how they deal with challenges, how they handle their emotions in different situations, and how much anxiety they feel in different situations. An important aspect of the questionnaire had to do with a strategy called reappraisal. Those who use reappraisal reframe the way they view challenging situations. Instead of seeing a problem as a negative thing, they turn it into something more positive and try to view it as a challenge to be overcome.

People who engage in reappraisal, according to the study, were generally less anxious than those who do not. These are people who have more flexible thinking. They are able to reconsider a situation in a different light and turn setbacks into opportunities. These people are also more goal-oriented in general and are good at putting things in perspective.

On the other hand, the people in the study who said that they avoid problematic situations end up feeling more anxious and stressed. They feel they are being proactive in avoiding a problem, but by not facing up to it, they are keeping emotions inside and causing negative feelings to build up. These people are much more vulnerable to anxiety because of how they cope, or fail to cope, with challenges and the negative feelings they create.

The researchers point out that not all anxiety is bad. A small amount can motivate you and push you to do better. They also stress that an avoidance strategy does have its place. It is important to know when avoiding a situation will help you. For instance, at work, avoiding a difficult situation could mean saving your job or a friendship. It is also important to understand that those who cope poorly with problems are not lost causes. If you tend to avoid, you can learn to better manage your emotions. The next time you are faced with a problem, try to change the way you view it. Turn it into a positive challenge and an opportunity for growth. You may just help alleviate your anxiety levels.

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