Although all of us experience some amount of healthy anxiety, procrastination and avoidance can sometimes indicate a larger problem, especially if this causes relationship issues. You avoid things out of habit or routinely outsource tasks you could theoretically do yourself. If you feel you’re getting in your own way, you might be experiencing avoidant behavior.

Avoidance can often create stress, increase anxiety, and sap your self-esteem. Avoidance creates a paradoxical situation, much like perfectionism. It can cause self-sabotage and prevent you from overcoming it. We all feel overwhelmed sometimes, but if you feel like you need a toolkit for breaking through procrastination and avoidance, read on.

How to Overcome Avoidance

Avoidance is what we call a maladaptive coping mechanism. Procrastination is just one example of this. We call it maladaptive because we’re trying to cope with stress by procrastinating. Procrastination instead has the opposite effect, causing us to further focus on what we’re not doing and thus waste more energy not doing it.

Here are some tips for overcoming avoidance:

Find a “Should”

Do you know how many times a day you tell yourself that you “should” do something? We often have a misconception about the things we “have” to do. Take a step back from your daily routine and habits. Which of these things are you imposing on yourself, and which ones are an actual steadfast rule?

For example, if you procrastinate meal prep, let’s look at how a maladaptive behavior can cause avoidance. You might have in mind that you want to prep meals for the entire week. You might think “I should prep breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.” But you let yourself wonder what would happen if you just prepared two days in advance. Simplify your expectations and see if that reduces your stress.

Play Pretend Delegation

This is a trick that might sound strange at first. Imagine that you’re going to delegate a task you’ve been dreading. You need to explain to someone else how to do the task properly. Let’s look at a few ways this strategy can help you overcome your procrastination:

  • By visualizing and writing down the steps of a task, you might realize you’re perfectly capable of each of those things.
  • Thinking through how you might outsource something can give you a semblance of distance from the project that allows you to escape the dread.
  • Your expectations of yourself differ from your expectations of others. You’re more likely to simplify the task for someone else, so by imagining this, you can simplify it for yourself instead.
  • When you take the time to break a larger task down into smaller steps, it can make the task feel more manageable. This is a wonderful exercise for creating a plan of action without feeling like you have to take on the entire task at one time.
  • The cognitive effort you’ll put into planning out the task is usually the hard work. Once that’s out of the way, the implementation might look easier.

Identify Your Avoidance

Learning to identify when you’re avoiding something is an enormous step toward overcoming avoidance and procrastination. By understanding the types of things you’re avoiding, you can start identifying your triggers. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can address them. It’s a possibility, too, that your avoidance might be the cause of another underlying issue.

If you struggle with frequent mood changes or disturbing thoughts, it might be time to talk to a therapist. Mental health is just as important as your physical health. Just like you need physical checkups to stay healthy, mental checkups keep you stable. It’s okay to reach out to a therapist even if you’re otherwise healthy.