Avoidance or Distraction?
Which one is better to use when you are sad, angry, or anxious?
When we are experiencing intense or tough emotions, the first thing we tend to do is run away from them as fast as we can! And why do we? We do it in search of wanting to be in a calmer place than having to be in a place of facing our emotions. And sure, this works in the short-term but in the long run, it’s likely that those unattended emotions will come running back to you as fast as you ran away from them.. just like in the picture below!
This is called avoidance. The idea of it and the intention behind it is mostly to avoid feeling sad, hurt, angry, or any other emotion that makes us feel uncomfortable. Sara may use avoidance to avoid feeling anxious after voicing out her opinions in front of people. She does not want to revisit the anxiety that she feels; hence, whenever the thought of how she felt after speaking her mind, she pushes it away. This may help Sara to remain calm in the moment but it will not be good for her in the long term as she may feel even more anxious when such a situation comes up again, eventually leading her to not voice her opinions at all. This is the problem with using avoidance as a coping strategy.
It prevents people from moving forward and hinders growth.
Distraction, however, is an effective coping tool in the long run. When Sara voices out her opinions and feels anxious, she plays a game on her phone, reads one of her favorite books, and spends time with people who make her laugh. After getting done with this, Sara feels her anxiety to be of lesser intensity than before. She then goes back to revisit her emotions of anxiety. She realizes that this anxiety is a result of her past experiences of being laughed at when she’d say anything. Sara is now self-aware. She is now thinking that speaking her mind every time will not lead to the same consequences. And even if it did, Sara knows inside that her opinions are as important as anyone else’s and deserves to be voiced out. This is Sara using distraction.
It gives people the chance to move away from intensified emotions for a moment and think rationally and logically.
Avoidance may seem like the easier thing to do of course, which is why people want to use that more. It seems quicker and more efficient. But it is not an effective coping strategy for long term benefit. Knowing when to distract ourselves and when to confront our emotions can be a challenge and requires practice, but it is way better than using avoidance. Cheers and best of luck!