Avoidant Behaviour: What it is, and what you can do when anxiety holds you back


If you experience anxiety you have probably engaged in avoidant behaviour. Anxiety and panic attacks feel terrible and it is understandable and natural that you will often do whatever it takes to not feel this way. When we avoid those unpleasant sensations, feelings and thoughts, this is known as avoidant behaviour. 


If you experience relief from avoiding something that makes you feel anxious, your subconscious mind will perceive this as a success in protecting you from danger. The next time you are faced with the same situation or task, you are more likely to repeat what has worked before. Although avoiding a situation, person or event that increases feelings of anxiety or panic may bring temporary relief, the long term result is a world and life that becomes smaller and more restrictive. What begins as turning down one invitation to a party, may lead to avoiding social gatherings all together. Avoiding heavy traffic in peak hour, may turn into a refusal to drive anywhere.


Imagine experiencing anxiety about driving in busy traffic. It can begin by changing your work hours or activities so that you can avoid feeling anxious. So you only drive when the roads are quieter and you don’t feel anxious. It feels better for a while. Then, one day you go out in your car in what is normally a quiet time on the road, but you encounter a traffic jam. Perhaps there is road work, or some other incident that has created this unusual level of traffic. Anxiety is back. Now you are becoming anxious at the idea of driving your car at any time. From the beginning to the end of this example there is avoidant behaviour, your world becomes smaller, more restricted. Avoidant behaviour is understandable but it can begin to limit your life as it may begin to interfere with your ability to work and socialise.


Break it down into smaller steps:

Sometimes looking at the big picture is overwhelming. It can help to break it down into smaller steps. Smaller goals can feel more achievable than big ones. Instead of accepting an invitation to a large party or gathering, begin with meeting a friend for coffee. It will likely be more realistic to set a goal of driving around the block, or driving down to the quiet shops at the end of the road instead of hitting the freeway in peak hour traffic. This doesn’t mean there will be no anxiety. Working with smaller levels of anxiety may be more achievable than attempting to work through a panic attack. Small, manageable levels of anxiety are a natural part of life, and we need to be able to accept some feelings of discomfort. However, you know yourself better than anyone else ever can. You need to be the one who sets the goals. If you find that a small step creates high levels of anxiety, I encourage you to reach out for assistance.

Engage people that you trust to help you:

Is there someone who you trust and who is supportive that can help you? Would having someone like this with you when you begin be helpful? Perhaps someone to encourage you on your first drive, or to meet for a coffee.


The subconscious mind has the resources needed to become empowered and and to release old habits, behaviours and beliefs. Hypnotherapy is a powerful way to work with anxiety, panic and behaviours that may be holding you back. Working with an experienced and professional hypnotherapist can provide you with the tools you need to move forward.


A counsellor can provide you with confidential support and work with you in setting goals that are achievable and realistic for you. Talking through what you are experiencing with a counsellor may help you gain a different perspective and they may offer strategies that can assist you.


If you are experiencing challenges such as stress, anxiety, panic, trauma, grief or any emotions or feelings you need assistance with, do not think you have to work through things by yourself. Some things you may be able to address yourself. However, sometimes we can benefit from additional support and assistance. Can you reach out to a supportive friend or family member and talk things through? Or, talking with a counsellor or other helping professional may assist you in finding your own way to work with your challenges.

If there are issues and circumstances that you need support and assistance to work through, please contact me for an obligation free, confidential discussion as to how I may be able to assist you. I am a counsellor (Member ACA), a clinical hypnotherapist (Clinical member AHA), yoga and meditation teacher. I specialise in Stress, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and other related challenges. Online and phone sessions are available.


Allison Lord

Inner Mind Therapies

Ph 0403 357 656

Email allison@innermindtherapies.com.au