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Health correlates of experiential and behavioral avoidance among trauma-exposed veterans.

INTRODUCTION: Avoidance is a well-documented risk factor for poor mental and physical health outcomes. However, limited research has explored this relationship specifically among trauma-exposed veterans, a population known to be particularly prone to avoidance behavior. Conceptually, avoidance is often divided into two distinct but overlapping constructs - experiential avoidance (resisting distressing internal states) and behavioral avoidance (avoiding or changing experiences that elicit distress). In this exploratory survey study, we examined associations between behavioral and experiential avoidance and mental, physical, and cognitive functioning, as well as quality of life.

METHODS: Veterans with a trauma history (N = 89) completed a 121-item survey containing validated assessments to examine several mental and physical health and wellness-related variables. Correlations between experiential avoidance and outcome measures, and behavioral avoidance and outcome measures, were explored. Multivariable linear regression analyses were conducted to explore the association between experiential and behavioral avoidance on mental health outcomes. In addition, we conducted exploratory analyses in which we investigated these correlations in those who screened positive for PTSD versus those who did not, and between different types of behavioral avoidance and major outcomes.

RESULTS: Experiential avoidance was moderately correlated with distress from depressive symptoms, distress related to past trauma, and health-related and cognitive dysfunction. Experiential Avoidance was weakly correlated with distress from anxiety symptoms and poorer quality of life. Behavioral avoidance was moderately correlated with distress from depressive and anxiety symptoms, distress related to past trauma, and cognitive dysfunction, and was weakly correlated with health-related dysfunction and poorer quality of life. Results from multivariable analyses revealed that experiential avoidance was associated with greater distress related to depressive symptoms and past trauma, and behavioral avoidance was associated with greater distress related to anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and past trauma.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that avoidance negatively influences major domains of mental and physical health as well as functioning and health-related quality of life in trauma-exposed veterans. They further indicate that behavioral and experiential avoidance may be differentially linked to mental health outcomes. The results support the idea that avoidance may be an important marker for psychosocial functioning and may serve as a treatment target in trauma-exposed veterans.

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