Avoidance or Self-care?

So, you get a message on a Friday afternoon.

A few of your friends are going out for drinks after work and do you want to come along? These are friends you like, people you've been meaning to catch up with but are never usually free at the same time.

 Still your whole body says no, no thank you, absolutely not.

However, you know that you're prone to avoiding social situations because of personal fears, whatever those might be. Fear that some disaster might happen, fear that you'll get sick from a different environment, fear of having to engage in conversations, and any other anxious/obsessive compulsive/catastrophic thoughts you may be mulling over. You know that, sometimes, when you force yourself to be social when don't want to be you end up having a great time. But you still really don't want to go, and sometimes trusting your instincts has worked well in your favour. So how do you make the decision? How do you figure out whether this is avoidance behaviour in connection with your mental illness or if staying in may actually be beneficial to you.

 For me, it's all about what specific thing you are avoiding. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean more clearly:

"I'm already exhausted." = Self-care

Maybe you've had a long and arduous work week, maybe you haven't been getting enough sleep recently, or maybe you're a naturally introverted person and you've spent all the energy you have for interacting with other people. It's perfectly fine to say "no" to something because of exhaustion be it physical, mental, or emotional. To push yourself further may make you ill, cause stress or panic, or just make you irritable and no longer fun to be around. If you know your body and know that going out, even for a quiet drink, would have a detrimental effect on your body then it's best to stay home and take care of yourself.

"I'd just rather not talk to anyone." = Avoidance 

There is a difference between already being depleted before engaging in a new activity, and not engaging in something because you "probably might possibly" end up feeling bad. The key to this is knowing when to stop and having an escape plan if necessary. If you're not feeling so certain about a social event, give yourself a time frame of, for example, one hour. If, after that time you still want to leave, you are able to make your excuses and go while knowing that you tried your best. Also, try to avoid depending on other people for getting home and have a route home figured out for yourself before you even get to the event. Don't give yourself excuses and don't catastrophize when thinking about how the night may go because it may turn out to be much better than you thought. But, of course, be prepared in case things don't go well.

"I really want to avoid a specific person/situation" = It depends

This depends on the person and the situation very heavily. Maybe you've been invited out for a drink but being around alcohol or drunk people makes you extremely uncomfortable and panicky. In that instance, you are acknowledging your boundaries and acting in a way that benefits your mental health by not attending. If there is going to be someone at the event that you've had an altercation with in the past, or someone that you are unable to interact with without either feeling awful or having some kind of problem, then it may be in the best interests of all involved if you stay home. However, not going because you know someone who went to the same pub and found it kind of boring isn't a real reason. Not going because you're afraid that maybe someone doesn't want you there, with no facts to back up this fear, isn't a real reason.


"If I go I'' end up drinking too much and end up with a hangover." = Avoidance

Of course, you want to avoid making yourself sick, but you can do that and still go out and have fun by practising self-control. Limit the amount you drink, keep yourself hydrated, and don't succumb to peer pressure. If you're in an environment where people may force you to binge drink, that can be an instance in which you want to avoid the event, but that brings up a whole other issue. Take a good look at the kinds of people you're friends with, in a situation like that, It's important to have friends who respect your boundaries.

"I have something very important planned for the next day." = Self-care

Prioritising! Absolutely! If you have plans that will be negatively effected by going out and socialisinf the day before, it's responsible to stay at home. 

"I hate small talk." = Avoidance

We all do, friend. It's everyone's job to make the conversation more interesting and engaging, which is a very difficult but achievable task. Be a daredevil and drive the conversation, make your heart race and your breathing quicken. Or, if you find it impossible right away, be an excellent listener and ask the questions that will allow people to speak so you don't much have to. People know me as a good  listener, and it's a skill I developed through not being very good at talking.

So, in the upcoming few weeks, be a little mindful of what's going on when you say yes or no to an opportunity or an event. Really take a moment to think about your gut reaction an analyse it before you commit. If you changed your mind, what would happen? Are you catastrophizing when you think about what could happen? Are you bowing to pressure rather than going somewhere of your own will?

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"Hiding" by Kristin Schmit via Flickr

Jacqueline Atta-Hayford