What the heck is ‘Experience Avoidance’? 

It’s the hidden epidemic no one knows about – and it’s creating suffering for us. It’s the unconscious reflex to escape discomfort when you’re vulnerable. Unrest spikes when your longing bumps into limits. When you want something and cannot make it happen, in that millisecond, your brain registers nervous sensations and (you probably don’t even notice it but) you make a quick exit from your inner life.

At that point, you usually just find yourself busy in some mental activity or behavior that distracts you from yourself, without noticing your exit. But sometimes you do realize you’ve left the building. In that case, it might sound like “I don’t want to feel, and you can’t make me!” Or sometimes it sounds more like, “What’s the point of feeling, it won’t change anything.” Or maybe it shows up as a disconnect between how good your life should feel and how much you actually can feel that… kind of like,  “Having a great life, wish I were here!”

Have you ever felt that way? It’s just human to push against things we wish were different or would just go away. Being a vulnerable human is uncomfortable. Don’t we all sometimes wish we felt differently? Don’t we all want some things never to change, knowing they inevitably will, and want other things to change how we want and in our timing? It’s so normal to resist the feeling. It’s automatic.

But everything we do to not feel our inner lives creates problems. We worry to avoid feeling the pain of life’s uncertainty and become anxious or controlling, we eat to avoid feeling angry and can’t fit into our jeans, we drink to shut down our sadness and it’s five o’clock somewhere every day, we take on more than we can handle because we don’t want to feel the pain of our limits and end up exhausted, we work long hours to avoid facing some pain in our home lives and end up isolated and alone, we compulsively shop to fill the emptiness inside and end up broke or bankrupt, we shut down our feelings altogether and become depressed or develop some chronic illness… the list could go on and on.

We deny longing and limits to avoid the discomfort of being vulnerable. But if we understand vulnerability as a fact of life we need to face, and unrest as a healthy signal calling us home to soothe the body in the optimal moment for growth, we can harness the power of vulnerability to become more authentic, resilient, and connected.

Dr. Sandra Parker

Use Little Moments of Vulnerability to Grow.
Tune into my latest podcast episode to learn more. 

Today, when unrest lets you know you want something and you cannot 100% control the outcome, tell yourself:

  • I am a vulnerable human.
  • I want things and reality puts up obstacles.
  • My unrest is healthy.
  • Resistance is normal.
  • I will make the counter-intuitive and brave choice to approach discomfort.
  • I will tune into the nervous sensations in my body with warm interest and non-judgment.
  • I will care about myself right here and now.
  • I matter even when I don’t feel good.
  • Especially then!


Do You Feel Like You are Trying to Do Your Life without Being There?
Click on the video below to learn more.

Do you push through and over-ride your body’s signals of fatigue, hunger, thirst? Do you try to control things, planning and anticipating every single possible variable? Do you blame yourself for not being able to nail the outcome at 100%? Do you threaten yourself with stories like, “Only a loser would stop now.” Or “I’ll die if it doesn’t work out.”

This is experience avoidance.

Experience avoidance is epidemic. We struggle to slow down and feel because unrest spikes when we’re faced with vulnerability. We don’t like uncertainty and limits. Unrest is a healthy signal calling us to soothe the body and feel and grow. Unfortunately our brains misread unrest as danger and, just when we most need to be present, we’re ejected from our inner lives.


My Beautiful New Website is Live! 

I am thrilled to announce my new website has just gone live! Big shout-out to Sharolyn Wandzura for her brilliant design and creative problem-solving and seamless implementation – thank you so much! The site has a detailed book page and useful links to resources and information about me and how I work. I hope you’ll come by and have a look!

A Brilliant Endorsement for my new book, Embracing Unrest

“Embracing Unrest is a fresh and excellent exploration of turning toward what is most difficult, scary, painful, to-be-avoided-at-all-costs as the most reliable path toward being fully alive and whole. Dr. Parker is a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide to listening deeply and patiently to our innermost vulnerabilities – little moments of unrest – that can reliably lead to big choices and genuine transformations. We recognize ourselves in the many stories of real people, struggling as we do, learning to work with unrest as our most powerful ally in healing and growth. The science is solid and sensible. The practices are embodied, doable exercises to change your way of being with yourself (WIN – warmth, interest, non-judgment) that become the doorway to deeper authenticity, resilience, and connection. The journey itself is the gift.”

Linda Graham, author of the best-selling books “Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-being”, and “Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty and even Disaster”

Wishing everyone a great summer with lots of small moments of pleasure!
-Dr. Sandra Parker & Adeline

Recent Blog Posts:

Embracing Unrest

I’m excited to announce my first book has a launch date! Out October 18th, 2022, Embracing Unrest: Harness Vulnerability to Tame Anxiety and Spark Growth answers the question: why is it so hard to “be here”?

View my “Embracing Unrest” column on Psychology Today!