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How to Deal With Avoidance Behaviors During Job Loss

When our purpose becomes avoidance, our life becomes a void. - Bill Crawford

People who are anxious and depressed frequently engage in the avoidance behavior. For these individuals, avoidance of taking certain actions to change their circumstances becomes a coping strategy. They can falsely and out of fear assume that if they do a certain activity, the outcome will not bring a positive result.

Image Credit: Wix Media

If individuals lost jobs and are now looking for new employment, they might be feeling high levels of stress and anxiety, which could bring immense sadness and hopelessness. Although, these feelings are the result of a very natural survival mode process initiated in our brain, this mode can put a person in a chronic mental health illness state, if not dealt with correctly and in timely fashion. And in the current state of the world ridden by the images and messages of pain, violence, and life losses, the mental health issues are increasing.

How To Address Avoidance During A Job Loss

Let’s say that Jane lost a job due to a layoff or workforce reduction. Being in this position, she learned that one of the most effective methods to gain new employment is networking with former colleagues, friends, family or even total strangers, such as recruiters or hiring managers. Jane is extremely nervous and uncertain about her future. The loss of employment has created the sense of insecurity and the feelings of hopelessness have been extremely persistent and painful.

Typically, an anxious individual is not going to feel comfortable to jump on this opportunity, as their first thought might be, “If I do this activity, something bad might happen.” This could mean, "I will get rejected, ignored, or seem as I am not good enough to keep a job." If these thoughts and reasoning come to mind, an individual can easily fall in the avoidance behavior pattern. Some examples of obvious avoidance are staying in bed, not taking care of their basic health needs, not socializing, etc. While avoidance can bring a temporary relief, it perpetuates the problem.

One of the ways to conquer the avoidance coping approach is to test your automatic thoughts by trying to take small steps towards a bigger goal. It is also known as an Exposure method. Some of the techniques or steps to address avoidance of the feared situations would include:

1. Identify an activity that is associated with low to moderate discomfort. Then, engage in this activity every day; even a few times a day if needed to reach a desired outcome. Do this activity until you feel less anxious. For example, you are avoiding to contact your former boss or co-workers to ask for help with the job search out of fear that they might think you are worthless or unworthy of their attention. Ask yourself the following questions.

- What would be a small step that I can take in oppose to avoiding looking for a job using alternative methods such as networking?

- Would I be willing to start with creating a list of people to contact and starting with the friends who might work for companies of your potential interest?

Think of other small steps and gradually increase their complexity.

2. Monitor each activity by keeping track of “Predicted Level of Anxiety” on a scale from 0-100, then, documenting the “Actual Level of Anxiety” on the same scale.

3. To test your automatic beliefs that the worst is going to happen, you can track your predictions about the outcome of this small step.

- In addition to the rating scale, add the description of your “Predictions” based on core beliefs. Example of the prediction could be, “I will be rejected and make the fool out of myself.” If the prediction doesn’t come true and the actual level of anxiety is much lower after several attempts, cross this activity off and move on to a more complicated or uncomfortable step.

This and other more elaborate methods could be found in various sources (such as Goldstein & Stainback, 1987 or Judith Beck, Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 2011, etc.)

Try this method out. It might be a life-saving way to get yourself out of intense anxiety and prevent avoiding the best possible outcomes.


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