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In psychology, avoidance coping, or escape coping, is a maladaptive coping mechanism characterized by the effort to avoid dealing with a stressor. Coping refers to behaviors that attempt to protect oneself from psychological damage. Variations of avoidance coping include modifying or eliminating the conditions that gave rise to the problem and changing the perception of an experience in a way that neutralizes the problem.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are thought to be precursors to avoidance coping: PTSD sufferers draw into themselves, avoiding the trauma and partaking in cognitive or behavioral avoidance coping.
Individuals suffering from avoidance coping display symptoms similar to those of avoidant personality disorder, including drawing into oneself (avoiding relationships or social activities) and fearing commitment due to a fear of rejection. Such withdrawal behaviors manifest themselves in the personality as indecision and lack of confidence.
Caring for the elderly
Those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias demonstrate symptoms of depression and stress that can lead to signs of avoidance coping. Closer relationships to the patient may lead to greater avoidance coping. This strategy may be used to alleviate stress caused by caring for the patient, such as financial burdens and feelings of guilt for resenting the patient. Factors that may lead to avoidance coping include low self-rated health, chronic medical conditions, and a history of psychiatric illness.
Cognitive behavioral and psychoanalytic therapy are used to help those coping by avoidance to acknowledge, comprehend, and express their emotions. Acceptance and commitment therapy, a behavioral therapy that focuses on breaking down avoidance coping and showing it to be an unhealthy method for dealing with traumatic experiences, is also sometimes used.
Both active-cognitive and active-behavioral coping are used as replacement techniques for avoidance coping. Active-cognitive coping includes changing one's attitude towards a stressful event and looking for any positive impacts. Active-behavioral coping refers taking positive actions after finding out more about the situation.
Beneficial forms of avoidance coping
Literature on coping often distinguishes coping avenues into two broad categories: approach/active coping and avoidance/passive coping. Approach coping includes behaviors that attempt to reduce stress by alleviating the problem directly, and avoidance coping includes behaviors that reduce stress by distancing oneself from the problem. Traditionally, approach coping has been seen as the healthiest and most beneficial way to reduce stress, while avoidance coping has been associated with negative personality traits, potentially harmful activities, and generally poorer outcomes. However, research has shown that some types of avoidance coping have beneficial outcomes. A study by Long and Haney found that both jogging and relaxation techniques were equally successful at lessening anxiety and increasing feelings of self-efficacy. Therefore, it seems that positive forms of passive coping such as exercise and meditation have qualitatively different outcomes from negative forms such as binge eating and drug use. These positive forms of passive coping may be particularly beneficial for alleviating stress when the individual does not currently have the resources to eliminate the problem directly, indicating the advantage of flexibility when engaging in coping behaviors.
- Experiential avoidance
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Coping (psychology)
- Mindfulness meditation
- Stress management
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