Have you ever tried to blend in to avoid being seen or having to talk to someone?

A man with cardboard boxes attached to him, using the boxes to camouflage with a tree.

At some point, we've all avoided an uncomfortable person, place, or situation. If you find that you're constantly avoiding certain things in your life, you may have avoidance anxiety.

What Is Avoidance?

A person covering their face with their hands. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Avoidance is a way to cope with feelings, thoughts, or situations that may be difficult and is often a sign of anxiety.

A circle with a line through it signifying

Things teens may avoid as a result of avoidance anxiety:

  • social situations

  • extracurricular activities

  • school

  • certain foods

  • family members

  • dating

  • work

  • travel

Avoidance is appropriate when... 👍

  • there is a dangerous situation.

  • you're experiencing peer pressure.

Avoidance is concerning when... 🚩

  • it impacts your academic, career, or personal growth.

  • it costs you time in your daily life.

1. Situational Avoidance

Homer Simpson backs up too hide in a bush.

Situational avoidance is the most common type of avoidance in teens.

An It involves:

  • avoiding people, places, objects, or activities that make you feel anxious.

  • avoiding new or unfamiliar situations where you don't know what to expect.

In teens, situational avoidance could look like:

  • Driving a longer route to avoid having to drive over a bridge. 🌉

  • Quitting the basketball team to avoid having to be around an ex-friend. 🏀

  • Cleaning the house to avoid working on the big assignment that is due the next day. 🧹

2. Cognitive Avoidance

A bunch of

Cognitive avoidance happens internally when a person deliberately turns their attention away from upsetting ideas or memories. It can be intentional or unintentional.

A colorful brain

In teens, cognitive avoidance could look like:

  • chronic worrying and/or obsessive thoughts.

  • constantly thinking about the "what ifs?"

  • rituals intended to avoid or drown out thoughts or feelings.

3. Protective Avoidance

A bottle of disinfectant floating over a message that says,

This type of avoidance is often called obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD. A person with OCD performs time-consuming rituals in an effort to create a feeling of safety and avoid feelings of anxiety.

A clock

In teens, protective avoidance could look like:

  • compulsively cleaning

  • counting objects, time, steps, etc

  • using good luck charms

  • checking locks or doors

  • perfectionism

  • only eating certain foods

4. Somatic Avoidance

Homer Simpson is walking down the street while having stomach pain.

This type of avoidance includes avoiding events that cause a physical reaction similar to that of worry, fear, or anxiety.

A heart with various emotions. Many situations that a person avoids could be a positive experience, but because they produced a physical response in the person, they're often avoided.

In teens, somatic avoidance could include avoiding:

  • falling in love ❤️

  • speaking in front of people 🗣

  • being in new situations 🏫

  • intense workouts 💪

  • exciting events 💐

  • driving a car 🚙

5. Substitution Avoidance

A woman drinking a can of beer or soda, letting it flow from the air into her mouth.

Substitution avoidance is when a person replaces an unwanted feeling with something they believe will make them feel better.

This type of avoidance can either be internal or external.

In teens, substitution avoidance could look like:

Arrows from all directions pointing inside a person. Internal

  • replacing one feeling with another that is easier to deal with at the time

  • the replacement could be grief instead of anger

Arrows from different directions pointing outside of a person. External

  • replacing a feeling with something that allows the person to cope with emotional pain

  • the replacement could be drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, risky behaviors, sex, internet gaming, etc.

Meet Junie

Junie is a junior in high school who has always been social. Recently, Junie's mom noticed that she hasn't been going out with her friends. Instead, Junie stays in her room and cleans.

When Junie's mom asked her why she isn't going out with friends, Junie shared that she "just likes to have a clean room" so she can find things, be organized for school, and sleep well.

Junie's mom wondered if there was more to the situation so she continued asking questions. She learned that Junie had also recently had an argument with her friend group. They're upset with Junie for "ditching" them all the time, even though she is just staying home. They don't believe her and Junie just doesn't want to deal with it.


What type(s) of avoidance might Junie be displaying?

Take Action

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Do you think you might have avoidance anxiety?


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