Depressed behaviour

When we feel stressed, anxious or low, it is understandable that we automatically do what we can to try to avoid these unpleasant feelings and the things we think have caused them. Unfortunately, avoidance is one of the key things that often makes things much worse.

Flight not fight

Unfortunately, unlike running away from a hungry lion, many of the situations that we find challenging in modern life are not solved by avoidance. Indeed, avoidance often makes the situation worse.The ‘fight or flight’ nature of our programmed stress response system means that one of our main behavioural coping strategies in the face of threats or challenges is to ‘run away’ or avoid the situation that we see as a threat.

The trouble with avoidance

If we avoid situations that we find difficult, we don’t give ourselves a chance to tackle the problem and meet the challenge.

Instead, we give ourselves a kind of ‘evidence’ that the situation is indeed too difficult or stressful for us to manage.

The next time we are faced by the same challenge we remember our ‘inability’ to cope the previous time and feel even more anxious or overwhelmed.The situation feels even more stressful and we are even more tempted to use avoidance to deal with it. In this way it spirals into a worse and worse problem.

Putting things off, or procrastination, is a classic example of how this approach can make things worse. The closer to a deadline it comes before you start working on something the higher your stress and anxiety while you are doing it.

Depressed thinking

Avoidance is often fuelled by a range of unhelpful depressed thinking habits, like seeing things in all-or-nothing terms or ‘catastrophising’ about stressful situations or anxious feelings. See more about this on the ‘Depressed thinking’ and ‘Anxiety & anger’ pages

Next: Depressed thinking

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