Nine ways to overcome anxiety and avoidance

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Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. In this time of great uncertainty, anxiety can lead to avoidance and procrastination – it’s a catch 22 because avoidance creates stress and anxiety about whatever it is you’re avoiding. We all need strategies to break this cycle and move from avoidance and anxiety to empowered action.

Here are nine strategies to help you to overcome anxiety, avoidance and procrastination:

1. Schedule Your Day

Can you prioritise doing three things in your day, rather than trying to get through your entire to do list? By focussing on getting three key things done, you can bring some focus to your day. If you’re trying to do everything on your list, you can feel like you’re constantly falling behind so instead, try focussing on the three things and in doing so it will remove the clutter in your mind including everything else that is on your to-do list.

2. Check Your Expectations

To quote Bill Gates, “Most of us overestimate how much we can get done and underestimate what we can do in ten years.” When our expectations 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 track how long things actually take you, so you can be more realistic about planning tomorrow and the next day. By looking at what you have actually done rather than what you need to do you can create more realistic expectations for yourself.

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 public speaking. 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.

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.

Find out more about building Mind Strength in my book, The Mind Strength Method: Four Steps to Curb Anxiety, Conquer Worry and Build Resilience.