Blocking What We Can’t Deal With

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For a few days last week, I spent a lot of time reading and playing video games. It was kind of out of the blue for me, so it didn’t take long for me to start asking myself why I was doing these things.

What was triggering it was an avoidance of thinking about the pain in my lower legs. For several days, both of my ankles and calves were hurting quite a bit and, rather than addressing it head on, I tried to avoid it. I would get sucked into a story or into a game and then that nagging pain would go away or at least be reduced for a while.

I didn’t consciously realize what was going on, but after a few days, I really began to notice my change in routine. Why was I drawn to reading and playing video games so much?

Whenever I am struggling with something in my life, I usually find myself drawn more towards reading and playing video games. I do both of these things a little bit ordinarily (I read more than I play video games, by far), but when I’m finding some aspect of my life difficult to deal with, I usually accelerate on both of these things. I’ll find reasons to spend whole afternoons reading, or I’ll stay up half the night playing a game against a friend halfway across the country.

For the longest time, I didn’t recognize the things I would do to “block out” the problems I was having. I viewed such activities as a sign that I was “down,” not necessarily that I was trying to avoid facing a specific problem in my life.

Today, though, I recognize that response. I know that when I’m drawn to spend a significant chunk of my spare time playing video games or most of my spare time reading, I’m trying to avoid something in my life.

Sarah has a response, too. She reads voraciously. If something’s bothering her, she digs into a book.

My oldest son even has a response like this. When something’s bothering him, he’ll play by himself almost exclusively. When he’s feeling good about things, he’ll play heavily with his siblings and with his parents.

From what I’ve seen, most people have some sort of “escape mode” that they fall into when they’re trying to avoid a problem in their life. Some people eat. Some people watch tons of television. Other people play games. Some people read. Some people get drunk. Others weed their garden obsessively.

We do it to “escape” for a moment, to blot out whatever it is in our life that’s stressing us out. Often, we don’t even know what we’re escaping from. It might not have even clicked in our conscious mind. I know that’s often the case for me.

The key is to recognize when we’re trying to escape. What kind of patterns do we fall into when we’re trying to avoid something? Keep an eye out for those patterns in your life and you see the warning signs of something going on, even if it’s not something you’re consciously aware of.

When you see yourself lapsing into that pattern, even if you don’t see anything wrong, stop yourself. Spend some time figuring out what the problem is.

Often, when you face a challenge in your life head-on, you’ll find that it’s easily solvable.

So, how did I deal with the leg pain? I started carefully watching my behavior each day. I noticed pretty quickly that I didn’t usually wake up with the pain, but that it grew throughout the day on a typical workday.

Eventually, after examining what I was doing, I figured out the problem. My work chair has been having some mechanical difficulties lately and it doesn’t rise up as high as it once did. The maximum height adjustment simply isn’t as high as it used to be, which is a bit of a problem for me.

So, to compensate, I migrated to sitting in a bit of a cross-legged pattern, with my feet crossed under me while working. During the day, I’d adjust my legs little by little until my feet were tightly interlocked, and if I held that position for very long, my ankles and calves would start getting mighty sore.

The problem wasn’t some nasty injury. It was merely that I needed a different chair for my work.

Often, when I find myself regressing into “blocking” behaviors, I’m avoiding something worrisome that turns out to not be all that big of a deal. I can usually solve that problem pretty easily if I just focus on it. The challenge is noticing the problem consciously before I’ve wasted too much time and energy on avoidance behaviors.

What are your avoidance behaviors? What do you unconsciously or automatically do in the face of something stressful that you don’t want to deal with? What do you do when you catch yourself falling into those patterns?

Keep an eye out for those behaviors. When you see them, start asking yourself questions about it and look for the problems in your life, then focus on addressing those problems. They might be easy problems or they might be hard ones, but avoiding them is just going to cause you to continue to waste time, energy, and money on whatever you do to avoid them. On the other hand, if you start addressing the problem head on, you might just find that those avoidance behaviors melt away, leaving you with a clean slate and a problem solved.

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