Coping vs. Avoiding
Written by Megan Allegretti
2020 has been a year to remember! Maybe not for the reasons we initially set out to remember - but one we will never forget. Think back to January and what plans or resolutions you had set for yourself. Was learning how to manage when your life gets flipped, turned upside down one of them? I am going to say with confidence that most of us had no idea what this year would look like. So, I wanted to start by congratulating you on doing what you needed to do to get through! The object of this post is not to make us feel bad about what we are doing or not doing, but rather increase our intentionality in the behaviors we are using. By being aware, we can see if we are in fact coping or avoiding a situation, and then observe to see if our actions are serving us well, or maybe not so much.
Coping is a big buzz word currently, particularly in the COVID-19 world of uncertainty. In the context of this article a coping skill will be defined as techniques that an individual applies to manage difficult emotions. Coping is different from avoidance. They look so similar! Both reduce distress, but there is a curtail difference- avoidance does not address why you are feeling the way you are. Instead it pushes the uncomfortable feeling away or deep down. This might be rewarding in the short term, because there is a good chance you will feel better by not engaging in whatever thought or behavior that triggered the distressing emotion. But by not confronting the situation or avoiding it, that emotion will find a way to come back out. Often it will leak out when you are least expecting it.
For all of my metaphor learners out there, this one's for you! Say you have a beach ball and you try to shove it down as far as it can go underwater. You can hold it there for some time but eventually your body gets tired, and it comes shooting out of the water with explosive force. This looks a lot different than holding the beach ball where it is at, instead of shoving it down, and then slowly bringing the ball back to the surface. This way you have more control over when you do want to bring the emotions back up to be addressed. That is the difference between avoiding and coping. The following tips are aimed at helping draw our awareness to our behaviors and choosing them with more intention.
We are all doing our best given the current state of our environment. The above tips are designed to help you identify if your difficult emotions are being coped with or not addressed. This is all subjective too! The beauty of human nature is there are many factors that influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The goal is to bring awareness to the unique behaviors being used when our thoughts and emotions are distressing. The practice of using coping skills over avoidance may create some discomfort in the short term but it is allowing you more regulation of your emotions in the long term.
Stay safe, and know you are enough.