Are You an Anxiety Approacher or Anxiety Avoider?


Anxiety is such a strange construct. While it drives us all crazy, it is necessary for survival. It gives us energy to face what threatens us and solve problems, but too much of it can be overwhelming. Too much can cause us to shut down. Anxiety is good in the right dose, but it is also very easy to overdose. The therapeutic window is narrow.

Anxiety is exciting — like butterflies in the stomach when we are doing something novel. It is energizing when we need to prepare for something new. It is crazy making when we are waiting for an answer about something life altering.

Sometimes the hardest part of managing anxiety is identifying it and understanding what to do about it. Too often, we just act on it without fully digesting what it is telling us.

What does anxiety feel like exactly?

Here is my personal description of anxiety:

Anxiety is feeling “off.” It can be a sensation in the body like a stomachache or fluttering in the chest. I can be a body restlessness. The emotional sensation of being “off” feels like something just isn’t right, and we often don’t know exactly what it is. Anxiety may also be extreme worry that something bad will happen or overwhelming and unexplainable guilt. Something just feels not right, and as a result, we may want to be at home, where we feel safe, predicable, secure.

I’ve been wondering in this time of pandemic and unrest how anxiety will ultimately affect people. I have specifically wondered if increased anxiety will lead to more relationship breakups.

Will we all get on each other’s nerves one too many times? Will we have the patience to not react? Will there be too much togetherness and not enough to do?

I wonder this — specifically — because I tend to see people with anxiety as approachers or avoiders, and if you put the approachers and avoiders together, there can be a real problem.

Anxiety approachers want to fix problems now. They struggle to tolerate something being undone so there is a real drive for closure even if they don’t know the “right” solution. There is just a need to solve the problem to reduce anxiety. Anxiety approachers are okay if the solution doesn’t work because the initial anxiety will have decreased somewhat. Anxiety approachers can be a little impulsive in the sense that they want so badly to be past an issue that they act before thinking it through.

If there is conflict, anxiety approachers want to face it. If there is a question, anxiety approachers want to answer it. If there is an unfinished project, they want it completed yesterday. Approaching reduces anxiety. (Yes, this is called controlling.)

Here is another thing that anxiety approachers like to do — clean. No matter how chaotic and crazy things are, if approachers have a clean house, car, area, it just feels a little more in control, orderly, safe.

The opposite of anxiety approacher is an anxiety avoider.

Anxiety avoiders procrastinate. When they face the unknown, it is so overwhelming they retreat. They are masters of ignoring, procrastinating, and acting as if the problem will just go away. Because they don’t know how to fix it, they avoid it. Yet, it lingers in the background looming heavily over the present and future. It is a drag because it is inescapable.

Anxiety avoiders run from conflict. They put off questions for another day, and projects are fine to wait another day, week, month. Avoiders are more comfortable with disorder and will often refuse help because that would mean facing what is causing anxiety. (Yes, this is also controlling.)

Pair an anxiety approacher with an anxiety avoider, and conflict arises. I see it all the time. Pandemic and unrest are like extreme agitators. It feels kind of like a powder keg sometimes.

Whether you are an approacher or avoider, your style won’t change just because you label it. It is understanding your natural tendencies so you can actively working to challenge yourself to be more flexible.

Survival during these times is also about reminding yourself that other people aren’t just being lazy or controlling assholes. We are all trying to manage our own anxiety, and during extreme stress, we tend to revert back to our most basic survival responses with some rigidity.

Understanding yourself, as well as a partner or friend who is opposite of you, can help in being less reactive when the other person is doing something that seems insane to you.

This is why we call it anxiety management — not anxiety eradication. It’s all about being aware, being responsible for our own bullshit, and not allowing others’ bullshit to drive us wild. It’s all about MOMF’ing.

To find out more about how to MOMF and live your best life, check out Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, New Harbinger, or your local bookstore.



Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Health Psychologist, executive coach, author, wellness strategist. Using MBCT and humor to feel better.