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Navigate ADHD - Therapeutic Audios to Enhance Your Day

Steve Shave
Clinical Lead

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Tackling Avoidance
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So in today's audio, I want to tackle the topic of emotional avoidance. We touched upon it in other audios when looking at procrastination. But I want to talk about avoidance more broadly, specifically, emotional avoidance, as it can cause lots of problems. And so many people have difficulties avoiding emotional responses. And we do that in many different ways. If you think about it in relation to procrastination as a behaviour, if you think about the five areas model, if we procrastinate, we're going to generate more negative thoughts, aren't we, which lead to secondary emotions, shame or guilt, low-mood anxiety. And that might lead to further behaviours, which lead to sort of spirals, which can be really quite unhelpful.

So that's quite obvious. But what other forms of avoidance are there, in relation to negative emotions. A really common one is cognitive avoidance, and that is trying to suppress negative or scary or unhelpful thoughts in some way. I'd like you to, outside of this audio, engage in a little experiment with yourself, just take a moment and sit quietly, and close your eyes and say to yourself, for the next minute, I'm going to think about whatever I want. But I must not think about white elephants. And just take a moment to see how possible that is.

Now, probably what you're going to realise apart from a stubborn few of you who no doubt will have found a way to sort of block it all out, most of you will find that you'll think about nothing other than white elephants, or you'll be thinking about something and white elephants will pop in. That's because there's a huge body of research, which tells us that the more we suppress a thought, the stronger it comes back, which is why CBT has made its name really off trying to invite thoughts, learning to accept them, like leaves on a stream they're just flowing on through. Rather than trying to suppress them where of course we'll build a dam of leaves, won't we, which will clog us up in some way. So thought suppression is really common as an avoidance strategy. And usually very unhelpful and detrimental in some way.

Then there's physical avoidance isn't there? I mentioned it earlier in relation to procrastination. But there are many ways we physically avoid. So let's say I'm feeling low and my friends keep going out. And I keep avoiding going out. Now, yeah, that might reduce my anxiety in the moment. But it's going to, as a behaviour, it's going to feed negative thoughts about the behaviour, isn't it? So I might then feel guilty or feel ashamed, or have anxiety about, you know, maybe some fears around what people think about the fact that I'm not going. So avoidance, generally, as a behaviour is very likely to lead to more negative thinking.

So it's like a false economy, it might feel like it helps in the moment. And we need to be careful about that, because as a pattern because our brain can learn, oh, that's how I stop anxiety. That's how I stop those negative feelings, I can stop it by just not doing it. But hopefully, you've realised that that's really unhelpful and usually comes to bite us on the backside later down the line somewhere. And another form of avoidance, emotional avoidance is dissociation, where we learn to disconnect from our emotions.

I'm going to do a series of audios on that so I'm not going to touch on that much now, other than to say that if you dissociate from your feelings, you're less likely to process the information. And again, it tends to come back to bite you in some way. So, yeah, I just wanted to get you thinking about all of that. And remember to try and do the exercise for a moment to think about wherever you like, just don't think about white elephants.

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