• Cristy Martinez, MA, LPC

Stop Running Away!: How Avoidance Could be Harming Your Mental Health

Avoidance.

We’ve all been there-walking the other way when we see someone from the office we don’t particularly like or not answering the phone when those pesky bill collectors call. What about working 60+ hours a week to avoid going home because you struggle with understanding your wife or the kids really drive you nuts. Avoidance can take on many different forms and while some of those aren’t detrimental to your mental health there are other types that can have long-lasting impacts. Avoidance coping can be a key indicator of depression and I tend to see it often in my male clients.

So what is avoidance coping?

Why do we default to it, and what can we do to work on this? Avoidance coping is when a person changes or modifies their behavior to avoid feeling, thinking about, or doing difficult tasks. This is a maladaptive way of coping and you may even know some of avoidance’s cousins-escape and running from problems. As previously mentioned, avoidance can start small, but if we make a habit out of avoiding small, uncomfortable tasks then we are inadvertently setting ourselves up to go into full blown avoidance when life becomes too much.


Let’s play out the previous example.

You are experiencing stress at work and home, eventually the stress becomes overwhelming, depression is kicking in, and you are feeling like you are losing control in your world. Instead of talking to your wife, family, or close friends you decide to NOT communicate (avoid) this stress and instead you throw yourself more into work. Working more means less time at home (avoidance), which is perfect because you cannot possibly handle your wife and kid’s “issues” on top of your own… except this is making life at home worse and making your depression worse.


Time after time, the men who come into my office tell me “well I didn’t know what to do, so I worked”. Doesn’t this perfectly sum up the expectation we place on men? Your value is in your work and when all else fails, just work some more and eventually everything will work out. Except now we have men with depression, self-esteem issues, questioning their role and value in their family, and men who turn to maladaptive coping skills to ease the pain of it all.


What can you do to navigate past this default setting?

First, work on recognizing when you are becoming overworked and stressed. When you think about it, I bet there are some key indicators for you; easily agitated or annoyed, decreased sex drive, craving sugar or alcohol, loss of enjoyment, etc. Being honest with yourself is key and it costs you nothing to do it.


Second, identify some ways to work through the stress. Physical activity is a great way to clear the mind and get those feel-good chemicals running through your body. Writing out your thoughts, doing something fun, and participating in an engaging activity are all great ways to decrease stress.


Third, communicate this with someone; I like to refer to these people as accountability partners. Accountability partners are the support people in our life that check in with us, who we can trust to give it to us straight and not sugar-coat anything. Of course, therapy is also an option for those who do not currently go.


At Mind Works Counseling Services in Lubbock, TX we specialize in depression therapy for men, just like you, who may be struggling to change bad habits like avoidance.


Learn more about the Depression Therapy services we offer.


Contact us to make an appointment or to let us answer any questions you may have.


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