Nine Psychology Strategies For Avoidance Coping

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Feel like you’re avoiding something? Many of us have experienced various situations in life that have been uncomfortable. These experiences, if left unaddressed, can lead to a behavior known to many as “avoidance coping.” 

The American Psychological Association defines avoidance coping as any kind of strategy that may help someone manage stressful circumstances by disengaging from the situation, possibly driving attention away from it rather than addressing the problem directly.

Examples of avoidance coping can include “escaping” from stress, wishful thinking, isolating restraining emotions, or self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Online therapy and other supportive strategies can help people who may be engaging in avoidant behaviors, possibly elevating their quality of life. Read on to learn more. 

Getty/Vadym Pastuk
Avoiding tough conversations can create more long-term stress

What is the long-term effect of avoidance coping?

We’ve given examples of avoidance coping above—but you may be wondering what the true long-term effects of avoidance coping might be. 

People might think avoidance coping can be helpful, because they believe that it might reduce stress and overwhelm. Unfortunately, however, many sources note that these behaviors can create stress and nervousness—possibly breaking down self-confidence.  

Eventually, over time, your feelings will likely rise to the surface, and the longer and deeper you push them down, the more explosive and harmful they may be when they emerge. Online therapy and other supportive strategies can be integral to avoiding this outcome. 

Healthy versus unhealthy coping strategies: alternatives to avoidance coping

Below, we’ve listed some common examples of avoidance coping strategies:

  • Refraining from taking actions that trigger painful memories, like not calling someone back if you think the conversation will be uncomfortable
  • Keeping a low-profile, or not striving to be the best—possibly so that you don’t call attention to yourself
  • Putting things off because you don’t want to know the truth, like not going to the dentist when you have a toothache
  • Steering clear of situations that might make someone mad at you
  • Starting to pursue something and then backpedaling when nervousness sets in

Now that we know what to look for, it can be easier to identify possible alternatives. For example: Something you can do to make it easier to leave an avoidance coping strategy behind is to replace avoidant (or passive) coping with an assertive (or active) coping strategy. An active coping strategy is not generally considered to be maladaptive—in fact, it can be the opposite. Active coping strategies can be both healthy and effective in both the short term and the long term. 

Below, we’ve listed nine (more) active coping strategies that can help you replace your avoidance coping habits—possibly helping you to manage stress and uncomfortable situations in healthier ways.

Identify avoidance coping habits and understand why they’re maladaptive

You may already know what these are for you—and if not, the next best step for you to take may be to schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist. By putting a name to these strategies, you may be able to take your goals seriously and try some active coping strategies instead. 

Note situations that preclude your avoidance coping strategies

Do certain situations always make you anxious? Do you dismiss them and try to get your mind off them? Instead of having a knee-jerk avoidance response for short-term stress relief, you can learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, create healthy habits, and reduce stress in the long term. 

Practice stress-reducing exercises

Often, the biggest struggle for people who use avoidance coping face can be getting their stress under control. There are many ways to quiet your mind and your body to reduce stress. You can choose a calming activity like yoga, mindfulness, or listening to music or relaxing sounds to get your body into a relaxed state. 

When you use only passive coping strategies and avoidance behaviors, you can exacerbate stress. But, if you approach coping with more proactive strategies and healthy habits like meditation, yoga, walking or other relaxation techniques, you may find that the behaviors positively affect your mental health.

Getty/Halfpoint Images

Establish an emotional outlet

One of the most harmful things that you can do if you’re stressed is to bottle up your emotions. You may find that you’ll feel better if you can find a release for them. Depending on your personality and your emotional makeup, you can do this using either a physical or non-physical outlet. You may benefit from engaging in some aerobic activity, like taking a walk or run, or performing some type of physical activity to release your emotions. For some people, meditating or journaling is a good emotional outlet.

Develop better ways of communicating about conflict

You may have ideas about how to resolve potential conflicts—but actually putting your ideas into words that other people are receptive to can be challenging, even for people who are naturally good communicators. During these times, it can help to remember the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. When you use the right words, you can often come to a meaningful agreement that works in everyone’s favor.

Think small

If you don’t feel up to tackling a stressful situation, you might first try tackling part of it. Having a small success can easily lead you to a larger one. If you avoid many different uncomfortable situations, you may choose to pick an easier one to tackle and implement some active coping strategies.

Try to find an accountability partner

If you regularly feel an avoidance toward certain things, you may lose your confidence to follow through on using active coping strategies even when you’ve planned everything in advance. If you don’t do so well, it may help to have a support partner who will encourage you to try again. It may be easier to stick with your plan when you know someone supportive is waiting in the wings to hear all about it. 

Enlist the help of a licensed professional therapist

Even when you know what to do, it can be difficult to follow through on getting rid of your old avoidance coping habits completely on your own. An online therapist can help keep you accountable. 

How can online therapy help those experiencing avoidance?

Licensed therapists are generally prepared to help you find active ways of handling situations that are troubling you in an efficient way, such as the ability to identify active coping options, practice communication skills and learn techniques to control the body’s stress response. 

Online therapy with BetterHelp can be an effective and convenient option so you can schedule your sessions in the comfort of your own home—which can make therapy more convenient for those who feel overwhelmed or avoidant at the prospect of leaving home or a safe space for therapy and support. 

Avoiding tough conversations can create more long-term stress

Is online therapy effective?

Many studies have yielded results affirming the effectiveness of online therapy in helping people who use avoidance coping tactics to both face their fears or uncomfortable emotions and develop active coping strategies.

In a meta-analysis of virtual reality exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy (VRE-CBT), researchers found that the intervention was just as successful as in-person CBT in treating more severe anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

A separate study aimed to test an online CBT model’s efficacy of supporting college students in developing active coping strategies to treat depression, stress, anxiety, and/or insomnia. Conclusions indicated that the method was promising as a supplement to traditional face-to-face counseling.


When we avoid initiating important conversations or taking necessary steps to solve the challenges in our lives, we can invite significantly more stress into our worlds. This can be resolved by directly addressing avoidant behaviors in our lives. 

If you feel scared, that’s okay. The important thing to remember is that our humanness can allow us to reason past basic responses. We can acknowledge our fear while stepping confidently into the future. 

You can take that first step today by reaching out to a licensed support therapist at BetterHelp.

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