Three Escape Routes that Feed Your Anxiety

March 28, 2020
We take escape routes before many different situations that unsettle us. Find out why, what they are, and what to do about them.

The human mind reacts in different ways when faced with high-impact negative experiences. From blocking to setting off a chain reaction of worrying thoughts, or, in some cases, creating escape routes from that unpleasant reality. The problem is that, most of the time, the escape doesn’t make the anxiety dissipate but strengthens it instead. This especially happens when it’s cemented in expectations and suppositions.

Sometimes, humans consider situations dangerous when they’re actually not. This happens because they associate high-impact experiences with the past, even though they have nothing to do with them. For example, they might be afraid of everyone because, in the past, some people were cruel or abusive.

What’s certain is that the mind creates these escape routes as protective mechanisms to control anguish. Here, we’ll look at three of these escape routes that, far from calming anxiety, end up increasing it.

1. Placing yourself in a threatening future

It’s reasonable that, if you find yourself in a threatening situation, you analyze it, face it, and overcome it to the degree that you’re able. However, when there are negative experiences from the past floating over your life, you might not get to that reasonable state.

But instead of identifying the threat, some people look for an escape route. One of them is to place themselves in a terrible future. Let’s look at an example. You lose your job and you have debts with the bank. The reasonable thing to do is to look for a new job or maybe try to renegotiate your loans with the bank.

However, if you’ve had a traumatic experience in the past with exclusion or unemployment, you might act differently. You might let anxiety take over and dedicate a lot of time to imagining a horrible future. You might see yourself begging on the street or in jail. Thus, you don’t take on the challenge before you. However, your escape routes don’t resolve your problem either.

A person walking on a pier in the fog.

2. Comparing yourself to ideal models, another escape route

Sometimes, people are really good at blaming themselves. And it isn’t rare that anguish can make you take one of those escape routes related to martyrdom. Instead of analyzing how to fix a mistake or learn from it, you begin to punish yourself by thinking about everything you might have done and didn’t. Or maybe in everything that you could be but aren’t.

One of the escape routes from anxiety is to compare yourself with ideal models. This might be the result of past experiences that impacted you emotionally, particularly rejection or punishment for not having done the right thing at some point. That reflects in the present, as exaggerated anxiety over some failure that you might have had.

3. Returning to the past to relive situations that are no longer real

Another escape route from anxiety drives you to the past. This happens when you’re in a frustrating or painful situation that you aren’t able to accept. The most common reason why this happens is when there’s a loss of connection, either through death or because a relationship ended. As a consequence, you might experience a lot of anxiety and try to get rid of it by going back, over and over again, to the memories of what once was but no longer is.

This way of behaving does nothing to dissipate the anguish of the situation. You might feel comforted when you go back to certain memories. However, sooner or later, you have to go back to the present and feel the anxiety in all its force. It’s an emotional drain. However, you can only get better if you spend more time trying to accept what happened instead of returning to the past again and again.

A surreal picture of a man being served tea from a mirror.

As you can see, it’s very important to work through traumatic experiences from the past. You might not ever forget them, but you might set them aside or repress them. But doing this won’t make them just disappear. They’ll still be there, lying in wait in the present. And that’s why it’s important to face these negative situations, work through them, and get rid of them. When you don’t do it, they manifest as anxiety.

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  • Sandín, B. (2005). Evitación interoceptiva: Nuevo constructo en el campo de los trastornos de ansiedad. Revista de Psicopatología y Psicología Clínica10(2), 103-114.
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