Nine Ways to Overcome Anxiety & Avoidance

anxiety-and-avoidance

Anxiety can lead to avoidance and what we commonly refer to as procrastination. This creates a catch 22 as avoidance creates stress and increases anxiety about whatever it is we may be avoiding.

When we feel overwhelmed we often procrastinate. We all have things we feel overwhelmed by whether it’s one big task or a series of small tasks that are piling up like a mountain. Sometimes willpower alone is not enough to motivate us to tackle what we have been avoiding. Anxiety and a pattern of avoidance can cause procrastination to get out of hand. Therefore, it is wise to develop a set of strategies to help you break through procrastination and avoidance.

Here are 9 strategies for overcoming anxiety, avoidance and procrastination:


1. Sort Tasks by Project Rather than Days

Save the space on your daily to-do list for things you truly need to do that day. Over cluttering your daily to-do lists can make you feel as though you are constantly falling behind as you run out of time and continue to have to bump tasks to the next day. Instead try creating a list of tasks around each project and outline all the actions you need to take so that you can tackle them when you have time.

2. Check Your Expectations

Sometimes we overestimate how much we can get done in a single day. When our expectations of ourselves are not in line with what we can actually accomplish it can lead to stress, anxiety, lower confidence levels and ultimately procrastination and avoidance.

A great way to assess what you can actually get done in a day is to see how much you manage to get through on your daily to-do list during an average week. By looking at what you have actually done rather than what you need to do you can create more realistic expectations for yourself in the future.

3. Watch Out for All-or-Nothing Thinking

All-or-Nothing thinking is very common among people who experience anxiety.  For example, if you need to reply to a couple dozen emails the task seems much bigger if you think you need to tackle all of them at once. Instead, just look at them as individual replies rather than something you have to do all at once.

4. Identify Tasks Where You Have Predicted a Negative Outcome

Sometimes we avoid doing something or seeking feedback because we fear getting negative information. If we do not feel confident that we can cope with negative outcomes we are more likely to avoid facing reality. Half of the battle is identifying that you are making negative predictions. Once you have, a good way to overcome this is to recognise that the outcome may not be negative, or that if it is you will be able to cope. It is a good exercise to think about how you will cope with any negative emotions associated with a task, such as dealing with debt. When you plan on how you will manage your feelings around a task it will make it a lot easier to take the steps you need to in order to get it done.

5. Adopt a Growth Mindset

Having a fixed mindset can lead to avoidance coping and a growth mindset can overcome it. Fixed mindsets affect our confidence and competence when approaching a task leading to thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I am not good at giving speeches’. A growth mindset can help us overcome anxiety and avoidance by increasing our confidence that we can learn new skill sets and improve on existing ones. Learn more about Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets.

6. Seek Support

Sometimes we experience anxiety and avoidance because a task is actually too much work or requires too much knowledge to tackle on our own.These difficulties are common for new tasks where the path is less clear. Sometimes we need help or advice on the best way to approach a task. Allow others to help you with difficult tasks.

7. Learn to Tolerate Uncertainty

Uncertainty can cause a lot of anxiety that ultimately manifests itself as avoidance. This is commonly referred to as feeling stuck or not knowing where to start. In many instances we spend a lot of time working through different scenarios rather than taking the first step. Learning to tolerate and accept uncertainty can help get us moving on a task.  

8. Clear Obstacles

If you have been avoiding a task for a long time and it is particularly important, such as choosing health insurance or filing a tax return, try setting aside an entire day dedicated to the task. While you may not need an entire day to get the task done, clearing your to-do list so there are no other options for procrastination can help you focus and tackle the tasks you have been putting off.

9. Reward Yourself

Some tasks are not enjoyable or have negative feelings associated with them, leading to greater anxiety and avoidance. Sometimes rewarding yourself for doing a task can make it easier to begin the process of knocking it off of your to-do list.