Avoidance coping

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In psychology, avoidance coping or avoidant coping, also known as escape coping, is a maladaptive coping mechanism[1] characterized by a person's efforts, conscious or unconscious, to avoid dealing with a stressor.[2] Coping refers to behaviors that attempt to protect oneself from psychological damage.[3] The avoidant form of coping is part of the approach-avoidance conflict theory introduced by psychologist Kurt Lewin. Alternatives to 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.[3]

Avoidance coping is tied to substance abuse,[4][5] social withdrawal, and other forms of escapism, such as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD).[6] Extreme levels of avoidance coping can lead to a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder, though not everyone who displays such behaviors meets the definition of having a personality disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder may include avoidance coping behavior: PTSD sufferers may draw into themselves, avoiding the trauma and partaking in cognitive or behavioral avoidance coping.[7] Avoidance coping has also been found to be related to symptoms of depression and anxiety.[8]

Like other issues of behavior and mental health, maladaptive coping mechanisms such as avoidance coping can be treated by way of cognitive behavioral and psychoanalytic therapy. While some passive forms of coping can be useful as they serve to regulate stress, it is best to develop a habit of approaching and actively working against stressors, which can be done with the help of a licensed mental health professional.

Maladaptive characteristics[edit]

Avoidant behaviors are maladaptive in the sense that they only reduce the symptoms of stress rather than addressing the stressor itself, therefore perpetuating, and sometimes strengthening, the presence and effects of the stressor. Maladaptive coping strategies create a habit of avoiding stress, preventing an individual from strengthening their coping skills/stress regulation abilities, and have been found to be damaging to long-term physical and psychological health.[9] Avoidance can lead to both substance and behavioral addictions,[6] which serves to compound the problem rather than remedy it.


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.[10]

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.[11]

Beneficial forms of avoidance coping[edit]

Literature on coping often classifies coping strategies into two broad categories: approach/active coping and avoidance/passive coping.[12][13] 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.[14] 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.[15] However, research has shown that some types of avoidance coping have beneficial outcomes.[16][17] A study by Long and Haney found that both jogging and relaxation techniques were equally successful at reducing anxiety and increasing feelings of self-efficacy.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Moshe Zeidner, Norman S. Endler, ed. (1995). Handbook of coping: theory, research, applications. Wiley. p. 514. ISBN 978-0-471-59946-3.
  2. ^ Friedman, Howard S.; Silver, Roxane Cohen (2006). Foundations of Health Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-19-513959-4.
  3. ^ a b Pearlin, LI; Schooler, C (1978). "The structure of coping". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 19 (1): 2–21. doi:10.2307/2136319. JSTOR 2136319. PMID 649936. S2CID 33237602.
  4. ^ Lyness, KP; Koehler, AN (2016). "Effect of coping on substance use in adolescent girls: a dyadic analysis of parent and adolescent perceptions." International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 21. (4): 449-461. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02673843.2013.866146
  5. ^ Digdon, N., & Landry, K. (2013). University students’ motives for drinking alcohol are related to evening preference, poor sleep, and ways of coping with stress.Biological Rhythm Research,44,1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/09291016.2011.632235
  6. ^ a b Melodia, Fiordalisa; Canale, Natale; Griffiths, Mark D. (2020-11-30). "The Role of Avoidance Coping and Escape Motives in Problematic Online Gaming: A Systematic Literature Review". International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. doi:10.1007/s11469-020-00422-w. ISSN 1557-1882.
  7. ^ Tiet, Quyen Q.; Rosen, Craig; Cavella, Steven; Moos, Rudolf H.; Finney, John W.; Yesavage, Jerome (2006). "Coping, symptoms, and functioning outcomes of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 19 (6): 799–811. doi:10.1002/jts.20185. PMID 17195979.
  8. ^ Blalock, Janice A.; Joiner, Thomas E. (2000-02-01). "Interaction of Cognitive Avoidance Coping and Stress in Predicting Depression/Anxiety". Cognitive Therapy and Research. 24 (1): 47–65. doi:10.1023/A:1005450908245. ISSN 1573-2819.
  9. ^ Elliot, Andrew J.; Thrash, Todd M.; Murayama, Kou (2011). "A Longitudinal Analysis of Self-Regulation and Well-Being: Avoidance Personal Goals, Avoidance Coping, Stress Generation, and Subjective Well-Being". Journal of Personality. 79 (3): 643–674. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00694.x. ISSN 1467-6494.
  10. ^ Tull, Dr.Matthew. "PTSD and Emotional Avoidance". About.com Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  11. ^ Billings, Andrew G.; Moos, Rudolf H. (1981). "The role of coping responses and social resources in attenuating the stress of life events". Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 4 (2): 139–57. doi:10.1007/BF00844267. PMID 7321033. S2CID 206785490.
  12. ^ Roth, S; Cohen, L (1986). "Approach, avoidance, and coping with stress". American Psychologist. 813-819. 41 (7): 813–819. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.41.7.813. PMID 3740641.
  13. ^ Kleinke, C (2007). What does it mean to cope. Westport: The Praeger Handbook on Stress and Coping.
  14. ^ Carver, C; Scheier, M; Weintraub, J (1989). "Assessing coping strategies: a theoretically based approach". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 56 (2): 267–283. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/0022-3514.56.2.267. PMID 2926629.
  15. ^ Holahan, C; Moos, R (1985). "Life stress and health: Personality, coping, and family support in stress resistance". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 49 (3): 739–747. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.49.3.739. PMID 4045701.
  16. ^ McCaul, K; Malott, J (1984). "Distraction and coping with pain". Psychological Bulletin. 95 (3): 516–533. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.95.3.516. PMID 6399756.
  17. ^ Seidman, S; Zager, J (1991). "A study of coping behaviours and teacher burnout". Work and Stress. 5 (3): 205–216. doi:10.1080/02678379108257019.
  18. ^ Long, B; Haney, C (1988). "Long-term follow-up of stressed working women: a comparison of aerobic exercise and progressive relaxation". Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 10 (4): 461–470. doi:10.1123/jsep.10.4.461.
  19. ^ Lindquist, T; Beilin, J; Knuiman, M (1997). "Influence of lifestyle, coping, and job stress on blood pressure in men and women". Hypertension. 29 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1161/01.hyp.29.1.1. PMID 9039072.
  20. ^ Carver, C; Connor-Smith, J (2010). "Personality and coping". Annual Review of Psychology. 61: 679–704. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100352. PMID 19572784. S2CID 6351970.