How to Break the Cycle of Avoidance and Anxious Feelings

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
March 13, 2023

Have you ever found yourself dealing with a stressful task by simply putting it off? It could be anything from a work project to a dreaded phone call. When you put off a task that you find unpleasant or distressing, that’s a type of behavior known as avoidance.

“For a lot of people, this might look like procrastination,” says Alice Connors-Kellgren, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston. At first, procrastination or another form of avoidance often feels good. “People tend to use avoidance to reduce feelings of anxiety,” Connors-Kellgren says.

However, the desired effect is short-lived, and it may actually increase anxious feelings. Here’s how—and what you can do instead to stop avoiding important tasks.