Coping mechanisms: avoidance

Sergiy Danylov, Ph.D. in Neuroscience January 19, 2023

“Automat” by Edward Hopper, 1927

There’s a lot to be said for looking someone in the eyes when you’re having a conversation, but it turns out that not everyone shares this sentiment. In fact, some people may prefer to avoid eye contact altogether. The reasons for this behavior vary depending on the individual and can range from innate shyness to social anxiety issues [1]. For example, I might avoid making direct eye contact with someone because I’m worried about what they’ll think of me if they know who I am (weirdo!). But other times, it could be because something else is going on—like fear or anxiety—that causes us to look away from someone else’s gaze without even realizing it.

Focusing on a single stimulus can be a form of avoidance.

Focusing on a single stimulus can be a form of avoidance, which is a behavioral strategy that helps us cope with negative or threatening stimuli. People who avoid tend to focus their attention on one thing in order to block out other thoughts or feelings that may cause distress. This can be helpful at times when we need to get through something difficult, but over time it can lead us to feel depressed or anxious because the feelings we’ve been avoiding are still there just under the surface [2]. When you feel like you’re stuck in an unending cycle of avoidance and dread, it’s time for some coping skills!

Most people are not aware of their avoidance behaviors, and they may even be surprised to learn that they are doing it.

This is because the process of avoidance is complex; it involves many different parts of the brain and body working in concert. Neuroscientists know a lot about how this happens, but it’s still not clear exactly how we avoid things without realizing what we’re doing.

The first step in avoiding something is to recognize that you are doing it. This can be difficult, since the process happens on a subconscious level. The next step is to figure out what you’re avoiding. You may have to try different things until you find one that works.

Once you’ve figured out what you’re avoiding, it’s time to learn how to deal with it. This may seem like a simple step, but it can be difficult if your avoidance behaviors have been working for you in the past. When something goes wrong in our lives, we tend to focus on fixing whatever is broken rather than looking at why we did something that caused us problems in the first place.

The third step is to find a way to avoid your problem without doing it in a way that creates more problems. If you’re avoiding because you don’t want to deal with things that are difficult, then you need to learn how to do them anyway. If you’re avoiding because it’s too hard for you, then try finding someone else who can help out.

Visual avoidance can give away your inner state of mind more than you might expect

Visual avoidance is one of the most common forms of social communication. It’s a way to avoid conflict, it can be a way to avoid the negative emotions associated with a situation, and it can be used as a coping mechanism. When you see someone avoiding eye contact, they are likely trying to communicate that they don’t want to talk or get too involved in your conversation. To demonstrate this, try asking someone how they are doing while they are looking away from you—their response will probably be shorter than if they were looking directly at you.

Visual avoidance can also indicate that someone isn’t mentally present due to being lost in thought or overstimulated by their environment—maybe even stressed out [3]. If someone is exhibiting visual avoidance behaviors such as crossing their arms or legs, turning away from you, or fidgeting with something else nearby (like their phone), then chances are good that person isn’t 100 percent engaged in what’s happening around them at the moment even though outwardly he/she might seem attentive because she’s talking about things going on around him/herself right now.


We know that one of the most common ways people cope with anxiety and depression is by avoiding social situations [4]. But what if you’re not aware of your own avoidance, or if you don’t even realize that other people can detect it? These were some of the questions our study tried to answer. We found that people can subconsciously detect visual avoidance and infer messages like fear or danger from it. These findings could have important implications for understanding behavior related to anxiety and depression since many people with these disorders have difficulties interpreting social cues.

With Anima, you can take a neuroscientific test to determine whether or not you’re at risk for developing mental illness and get expert advice on improving your mental health.

Anima is designed to help people who have been exposed to peak stress or trauma. It also helps you learn how to get your avoidance under control so that you don’t end up developing other problems as a result of your experience. And it helps you build better coping strategies so that if something stressful happens again, you’ll be able to handle it with ease.


  1. Schneier, F. R., Rodebaugh, T. L., Blanco, C., Lewin, H., & Liebowitz, M. R. (2011). Fear and avoidance of eye contact in social anxiety disorder. Comprehensive psychiatry, 52(1), 81-87.
  2. Roth, S., & Cohen, L. J. (1986). Approach, avoidance, and coping with stress. American psychologist, 41(7), 813.
  3. Howell, A. N., Zibulsky, D. A., Srivastav, A., & Weeks, J. W. (2016). Relations among social anxiety, eye contact avoidance, state anxiety, and perception of interaction performance during a live conversation. Cognitive behaviour therapy, 45(2), 111-122.
  4. Blalock, J. A., & Joiner, T. E. (2000). Interaction of cognitive avoidance coping and stress in predicting depression/anxiety. Cognitive therapy and research, 24(1), 47-65.