How common is depression? At least 20 million Americans over the age of three will suffer from a major depressive disorder each year. It’s primarily adults. Women are more at risk than men. However, women are also far more likely to seek treatment than men. That’s where avoidance coping comes into play.

Surely you’ve witnessed someone opting to ignore a stressor rather than deal with it. Basically, that is avoidance coping. It is far more common for me to go to extremes to avoid thinking about or feeling something painful or uncomfortable. This trend can be especially dangerous when it comes to depression.

Men and Depression

Type “depression” into your nearest search engine and you’ll find references to symptoms like hopelessness, despair, and sadness. But this does not tell the full story. Men, perhaps for cultural reasons, tend to express their depression in less recognizable ways. For example, many depressed men present as more numb, irritable or prone to anger. Sometimes, that anger can be quite severe.

Some people might not look behind these symptoms to see what lies underneath. However, when a person’s pain, shame or fear is overlooked and minimized,  it can result in something as extreme as a suicide attempt.

Further complicating things is that many  men have a propensity to externalize their depression as a way to avoid dealing with it head on. This makes depression symptoms hard to detect.  Common methods includes workaholism, process addictions, drugs or alcohol. Generally speaking, these fall under the umbrella of avoidance coping.

What’s Wrong with Avoiding Stress?

Of course, there are instances when this can make sense in the short term. But, while it may seem counterintuitive, dodging stress only increases stress. The key lies in understanding that there’s a difference between avoidance and self-care.

Taking a break to meet with a friend or do a workout is a healthy way to balance out the stress in your life. Pretending that it is not happening is clearly maladaptive. Procrastination is not your friend.

Keep in mind:

  • Avoidance coping gives issues time to get worse.
  • It does nothing to address or solve the problem.
  • Avoidance coping has the potential to create anxiety.

In addition, avoidance coping often leads to conflict with the people in your life. It could be a co-worker or a romantic partner. But no one benefits from your avoidance strategies. They can appear disrespectful and counterproductive. This builds resentment and could end up costing you valuable social support.

The point here is not to give men with depression yet another reason to feel bad. People typically learn and develop coping skills at a young age. Without the support of a therapist, they are not easy to recognize or reverse in adulthood. But men with depression can practice some important self-help steps in the meantime.

Self-Help Tips for Men with Depression

  • Don’t pressure yourself to make big decisions when in the throes of a depressive episode.
  • Carve up your daily tasks into small, attainable goals.
  • Don’t choose isolation.
  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
  • Create daily routines, e.g. exercise, eating meals, bedtime, and more.
  • Keep yourself moving.
  • Eschew anything that can make things worse, e.g. alcohol, caffeine, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, catch yourself when you begin to fall into the comfort zone of avoidance coping. Keep a journal to monitor what tactics you use and when. What triggers the avoidance? What helps you stop avoiding what you need to feel?

Depression Requires Treatment

Self-help is a great start. Self-awareness is crucial. But depression cannot be fully addressed without the assistance of a skilled professional. Effective treatments exist and can guide you to a place of healing and recovery. Reach out to me if you are ready to face this and get the help you deserve.

It all begins when you choose to reject avoidance and instead choose to face your situation directly.