Fatigue and Avoidance (under 400 words)

By Alice Boyes, PhD. | Uncategorized

Let’s think about a bear. A bear hibernates in winter to avoid the dangers of winter. Humans have evolved a similar mechanism. Sometimes when we sense a threat, our bodies respond by making us want to sleep a lot.

This mechanism is based on the idea that if there is a threat, it might be good to hibernate away from the threat – to step back from life.

When people are feeling anxious or low in mood, sleeping helps them avoid difficult thoughts and feelings. The difficult thoughts and feelings are the threat that is being avoided. For example, someone who is unemployed might sleep alot because being awake triggers their “I need to find a job” thoughts and anxieties, and the pressure to do job seeking activities. Staying in bed lessens those triggers – temporarily.

The trap is that this strategy works a tiny bit, but causes problems and distress over the long term (just like how overeating works to soothe stress but ends up creating a lot more stress). By avoidant coping, the unemployed person doesn’t progress in solving their problem, their financial situation gets worse, and they end up experiencing far more of just the sorts of anxieties that they were avoiding.

Avoidant coping also tends to create self-fulfilling prophecies out of negative thoughts like “Getting a job is impossible” or “I’m not good enough”. When the person avoidant copes, those thoughts become true BECAUSE OF the avoidant coping.

What you can do.

Try saying to yourself (in a caring, peppy tone)

“Hey, thanks brain, I know you’re trying to protect me from danger.

Thanks for looking out for me, but being awake and out of bed doesn’t present a danger, because my own thoughts and feelings aren’t any threat to me.

It’s safe to get out of bed. The difficult thoughts and feelings might arrive but I’m going to move forward in my life with my anxieties, rather than trying to avoid them, since banishing them completely is not one of the realities available to me (or anyone), and trying to avoid them only creates more anxiety and more serious problems in the long run.”

Then ask yourself

“What’s a skillful action here?

Given where I am right now in this current moment, regardless of anything that has come before now, what’s a skillful action in this current moment?”

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