Why avoiding dealing with money doesn’t work (and what to do instead)

Many think that they can escape money stress through avoidance, but this can actually exacerbate stress. Here’s what you can do instead.

If there’s one thing I know about how people deal with money, it’s that they love to avoid it.

I see it in my personal life, of course, but I also see it in my clients, who are by far the most creative when coming up with ways to not do the work that they themselves said they needed to do.

I have even found that some people even find it easier to pay for sessions than they do to show up for them. It’s crazy.

And I don’t say this without compassion. I understand avoidance, since I experience it in other areas of my life too.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that avoidance doesn’t work. And I don’t just mean that avoidance doesn’t fix any problems (that’s kind of obvious), but that avoidance doesn’t actually let you avoid the stress that comes with the problem that you’re trying to avoid!

So what now?

Avoidance coping

If we’re talking on a clinical realm, the term we’re talking about is called “avoidance coping“, which is defined as:

[A]ny strategy for managing a stressful situation in which a person does not address the problem directly but instead disengages from the situation and averts attention from it.

Avoidance coping can come in different forms, such as procrastination, passive-aggressiveness, and rumination.

In the world of money wellness, what I see is primarily is procrastination:

“Yes, I know I said I’d write down what I spent, but then I just didn’t think about it.”
“Yes, I know I said I’d talk to my partner about our money plans, but we had a hard week.”
“Yes, I know I said I’d not use my credit card, but there was an amazing sale that I just couldn’t pass up.”

Sound at all like you? I wouldn’t be surprised.

It doesn’t work

Now we know that avoiding a problem doesn’t make the problem go away, as much as we might wish it did.

But isn’t the whole point of avoiding a problem that you can avoid the anxiety that the problem brings? Why else would we be doing this?

Alas, avoiding anxiety through avoiding a problem doesn’t work. An avoidance coping response to stress tends to exacerbate anxiety rather than alleviate it.

So if you’re avoiding focusing on your money situation, you are, in effect, getting the worst of all worlds: not getting the benefits of making positive financial behavioral changes, and not alleviating your anxiety.

What does work

So, how about a different approach? What can you do if you’re prone to avoidance coping?

  • Recognize that you’re doing it. Knowing that you’re prone to avoidance is the first step to overcoming it. Recognizing the signs, your thought patterns, even your physical responses (such as fidgeting, elevated heart rate, etc.). Know what puts you into avoidance.
  • Do small things. Sometimes it’s feelings of overwhelm that lead us into avoidance. So instead of tackling everything you need to do at once, pick one small thing and do just that. Come back to the rest tomorrow or next week. Use the Pomodoro Technique and work in short increments. Don’t try to do everything.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means the ability to remain in the present moment, being aware of yourself more completely. As a practice, mindfulness can help you more able to cope with stressful situations. And when you’re less in an activated state, the less likely you are to resort to avoidance.

My hope is that as you realize that avoidance of your money work isn’t actually reducing your stress, that it will spur you into ceasing the avoidance.

And, as I’ve found over and over again with everyone I work with, the fear of what you’ll find when you look at your money behaviors is never as bad as you fear it is.

Just don’t take my word for it.

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