Depression and Avoidance Behavior

For many, it can be tempting to effectively give up, and hide away from the world, but the truth is avoidance does nothing but fuel a life that is less enjoyable, less rewarding and more problematic.

If you know what your problems, or even your "perceived" problems, are, then it's much easier to change them. Answer these two questions related to your depression:

Do your problems fall into one specific category?

Do your problems overlap?

Chances are, you reached the same conclusion we did. Problems never simply fall into one category, because everyone has multiple problems in multiple aspects of their life. We can't be perfect in everything, and even if we were, we would still have to face many different problems. But, whilst our depression problems are all uniquely different, normally there is a degree of overlap. For example, one of the common problems people with depression suffer from is not being able to sleep. Another problem is that they worry about something. These two problems are different, yet you can see one is a follow-on from another. By looking at your problems, and seeing what leads to what in terms of your depression, you can start to do something about eliminating the great chain reaction of issues many people face and that way you can overcome depression.

For many people, depression is what happens when one of those "chain reactions" comes together and everything becomes too much. This is where online CBT comes in handy, because we can learn to separate our thoughts, emotions and behavior in order to rationalize what's happening and find a better way to deal with things. When we have too many problems, they tend to affect our thoughts, which in turn affects our emotions and then subsequently these "disturbed" emotions actually lead us down a twisting path of self-hate and negativity. This is part of avoidance and it's a well-known coping strategy for many when it comes to dealing with depression.

Unhealthy behaviors

Suffering from depression or any emotional disorder doesn't make you a bad person. But, the negative thoughts and emotions can drive us to behave differently. Our unhealthy behaviors work as coping strategies and whilst they may seem effective at first, they are actually just causing damage over the longer term by fueling the depression. Below are typical examples of various forms of negative, self-destructive behaviors that we're all known to get up to when the chips are down and we really are feeling depressed. Choose the ones that fit in with your unhealthy behavior.

Gambling or other reckless activities
2 Not sleeping or eating regularly
3 Having little disregard for others
4 Risk taking
5 Avoiding other people (isolation)
6 Ignoring responsibilities
7 Staying in bed
8 Not eating regularly
9 Not going outside
10 Not showering
11 Ignoring medication
12 Avoiding problems
13 Putting things off
14 Avoiding challenging environments
15 Not answering the phone, emails or reading the mail

Different types of negative behavior

There are three main types of negative behaviors: avoidance behavior, mood lowering behavior and self-destructive behavior. Different behaviors happen for different reasons. For example if you're suffering from depression, you may concentrate on avoidance behavior and mood lowering behavior. There are no clinical guidelines stating that someone with a depression will exhibit behaviors a, b and c; this is merely a way to try and get you to recognize your own negative behavior patterns.

Negative Behavior

The unhealthy behaviors can all be divided into these three types of negative behavior according to the figure below.

1 - 4 Self destructive
5 - 11 Mood lowering
12 - 15 Avoidance

By comparing your choice of unhealthy behavior with the division, you get a clearer picture of your behavioral patterns and therefore also a clearer picture of problems you need to address in overcoming depression. If your most common unhealthy behavior falls under the avoidance category, in the short term you are probably feeling that your unhealthy behavior is helping you since it helps you to avoid the situations that make you feel bad. In the long term, however, you are fueling your depression by not giving yourself a chance to discover that you can survive without all of your avoidance behaviors.

Looking at Avoidance

Avoidance plays a major part in dealing with depression and those who sink into major depression are in the grasps of serious avoidance. For many, it can be tempting to effectively give up, and hide away from the world, but the truth is avoidance does nothing but fuel a life that is less enjoyable, less rewarding and more problematic. One of the major signs of avoidance is when people start to avoid the things they normally enjoy, or even loathe, for that matter. Sometimes, we overindulge in activities we enjoy as well, in order to block out the outside world, so it's important to know when you are enjoying something and when you are relying on it as a blocker. Suffering from depression takes time to work through, but dealing with avoidance is one of the best ways to do it. Have a go at gauging your own personal level of avoidance.

? Example
What are you avoiding? I'm avoiding my friends after my girlfriend dumped me.
I'm not talking to my parents.
I'm not taking care of myself.
How is this avoidance making you feel? I feel sad and depressed. I'm alone.
How are you avoiding things? I'm playing computer games all day and night. I'm not eating healthy food.
What are the side effects? I feel unhealthy, weak, lonely, afraid and hopeless. I have no-one to talk to.

Your most significant negative behavior

Previously, we have done something similar with our problems, ranking the top five problems so that we could look at how they were related to you and what importance they played in your depression. Now we are going to take a look at the same thing, but for your behavioral problems. Using what you have learned in the previous sections about unhealthy behaviors, think about the three categories we discussed (avoidance, self destructive and mood lowering) then think of the top five behaviors which you notice most in yourself.

Challenging your unhealthy behavior

When depressed you use a lot of different behavior strategies, like avoidance, to cope with your problems. Unfortunately these strategies will, in the long run, only prolong your depression. Very often, doing the exact opposite of what you feel like doing is the best way to overcome your depression, in the long run.

Now that you have identified your unhealthy behaviors which add to your depression you are going to challenge them so that you can start to behave in a way that will help you to overcome your depression. You're going to do this by looking at specific unhealthy behaviors, coming up with alternate healthy behaviors and scheduling time for these new positive behaviors. Look at the example below:

Unhealthy behavior: I'm not socializing
Reason for my behavior: My boyfriend just broke up with me. I don't want anyone to see that I mess up in my relationship.
Effects of my behavior: I isolate and haven't seen friend or family for weeks. I'm so alone and think too much.
Alternate healthy behavior: Start getting in touch with my friends and family.
Possible benefits of alternate healthy behavior: My friends and family will most likely be supportive and understanding. I will be less alone and have less time to focus on feeling depressed.
Schedule: At least twice a week I will see friends or family.

Now it's your turn! Remember, it won't be enough to just come up with and write down healthy behaviors and schedule time for these to be carried out. You have to take actions to overcome depression, so for the next couple of days really focus on getting the things done that you have scheduled. The power of overcoming your depression lies in your hands.

Let us know what you think!


Join the conversation! Click on the stars from above.

Truffles (September 01, 2018)

Rating: [5 out of 5 stars!]

"I am avoiding everything and just staying in bed watching films. Even showering is difficult. The article is very good but finding motivation impossible. Medication is making me not care about anything 😢"

HIKikomoriNEET (March 15, 2017)

Rating: [5 out of 5 stars!]

"I know in my mind that playing games, avoiding all my classes, exams etc is very stupid, but I still do it. Then after a while will I only start regretting and worrying a lot so I go back to playing again. I want to stop this but whenever I look back at the ever growing problems I create I autopilot back to my bed with my phone. I will try this, hope it will work. Great article"

Sad Girl (April 30, 2013)

Rating: [5 out of 5 stars!]

"Excellent place to learn about my self. I checked off 12 out of the 15. I thought I was doing good by avoiding things people that would upset me but I realize it making it worse. I'm avoiding life period. No amount of routine is helping me. I collect and shop but its so temporary to what I'm missing. I'm so lonely it hurts I'm beautiful intelligent woman but still no friends no boy friend no real connection to family or outside world. I'm going to try hard to change my life. I have to fight to enjoy and live. I hope things change I'm going to take it one day at a time. God knows I want to be better!"

Ocean (August 10, 2010)

Rating: [4 out of 5 stars!]

"I have borderline personality traits with cptsd. I find it difficult to know any where near how I'll feel on any given day. But your site helped me understand that i am not so much a bad person as i am reacting to my various states of feelings and depression by acting out. I guess I need to sway heavily to inputing routines that may and hopefully do change some very negative ones. It's difficult though."

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