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 Canadian Women's Wellness Network              Réseau Canadien du Bien-Etre des Femmes

Avoidance: a Temporary Solution

By Shatyra Williams, MSW, RSW
Traumatic events or difficult life challenges can have significant impacts on our mental well being. They can cause anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress, and much more. These mental health issues can be very difficult to confront and manage. 

When seeking to deal with these difficulties we may dread the thought of the discomfort, unwanted memories, challenges or even embarrassment it may bring to ask for help. In response to this discomfort sometimes we choose to avoid facing these problems.

Avoidance can be exhibited uniquely by different individuals. Avoidance could include remaining silent, self-isolation, use of substances, acting out in rage or constant anger, or ignoring offers for support. These traits may present themselves as general problems or isolated characteristics of an individual, when in fact sometimes these are signs that the individual has a deeply rooted mental health concern which leads them towards these tactics of avoidance. Avoidance also includes the obvious form: avoiding all discussions or reminders of the traumatic event you have been impacted by. What is important to recognize is that avoiding reminders of the trauma is to avoid dealing with the effects the trauma has had on your life and well being. Although it is understandable why you may chose to avoid certain reminders of trauma, the reality is there are times when avoidance is impossible, such as instances when reminders are uncontrollable, surprising, or overbearing.

Avoidance is a temporary solution. It is important to learn how to deal with the emotions that accompany reminders of trauma in order to prepare for the event that avoidance is impossible.

Beyond learning to deal with reminders, the goal is to ultimately get to the root of these feelings and address why you are feeling the way you do, and how you can take action towards mental wellness.

Exploring Resources and Support 

As we first begin to confront troubling memories and reminders of past trauma, the feelings and emotions can be overwhelming. Discussions of hurtful memories may bring unwanted emotions and feelings. That is okay. Each life transition or traumatic experience calls for a time of healing.

If this means you need to cry your way to a friend’s house or counsellor’s office, so be it. Tears are part of healing. They are a release of pent up stress chemicals in the body.

The goal of overcoming avoidance is to release the inner tension and allow yourself to feel the scary feelings you are trying to avoid- as part of your healing process. The longer you hold onto your feelings the more difficult it will be to release them. Take steps towards healing by tapping into available resources and support. If you are a private person dealing with a mental health concern, begin with reading self-help books which address some of your symptoms. You could then begin journaling or tracking your symptoms and progress. Work yourself up to confiding in a friend or counsellor for support. Whichever type of resource you consult be sure it provides some outlet for you to express the troubles you are facing and eventually learn healthier ways of coping with these problems.

Consider the following list of healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with pent up emotions

Speak your mind – If someone has hurt you, let them know how you feel. You may not change the person or the past but you will feel a sense of release by doing your part in voicing your feelings.

Get Physical – Instead of resorting to screaming, fighting, or violence, exert your pent up tension by engaging in healthier options such as yoga, meditation, running, exercise, kickboxing, or any other active sport. This will help to reduce both physiological and emotional stress.

Learn New Things – Sometimes it is easy to focus on the past when we don’t truly value our present. Find happiness and excitement in learning a new skill, activity, or subject. If you are suffering from anxiety, take an opportunity to fill your mind with peaceful messages by learning how to write positive affirmations, or learning new coping skills from an empowering self-help book.

Explore Professional Help - You may be suffering from "minor" mental health concerns and feel that a psychologist or therapist is not for you. Explore alternative therapies such as art therapy, music therapy, culinary art therapy, and even spiritual therapy as alternatives for guided support. Healing doesn’t have to be a dreadful process. Discover what you are comfortable doing and use it to help you improve your mental wellness.

For more information and mental help support, visit our Resources page for links to other helpful support services.

About the Author

Shatyra Williams MSW, RSW is a Toronto-based Social Worker with a passion for women's wellness. As Program Manager of RWRJ's Artistic Healing Group, Shatyra teaches healthy coping strategies to women survivors of trauma. Through a variety of creative educational techniques Shatyra helps women to challenge themselves, to embrace their imperfections, and to love their journey. 

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