Depression is the natural result of avoiding painful life issues, instead of facing them. Depression is something you do, not something you have. It is a signal that your life is out of balance. It’s a call to action, and as such, can help you create a better life. Depression involves a disruption in the ability to control attention and prevents us from taking a nonreactive and nonjudgmental stance. In essence, depression interferes with our ability to be mindful. When depressed, individuals lose control of attention (which happens as a by-product of daydreaming, mind wandering and rumination) and they unknowingly get caught up in the web of their mind’s judgments and evaluations. This leaves individuals vulnerable to socially instilled rules about dealing with emotions which then lead to the use of avoidance strategies. Being exposed to a constant barrage of messages that are depressing, individuals will gravitate to avoidance behaviours.
Depression develops because of two types of avoidance; experiential and behavioural. When practised repeatedly over time both avoidant types become enmeshed in the brains’ neural pathways and become habitual ways of responding to emotional distress.
Experiential Avoidance: refusing to make direct contact with unwanted distressing thoughts, emotions, memories or physical symptoms. This type of avoidance is done as a form of self-protection, based upon the mistaken belief that painful experiences are toxic or harmful.
Behavioral Avoidance: systematically avoiding, limiting time spent in, or escaping from situations, events or interactions that could potentially trigger distressing, unwanted experiences.
A logical question, “If I am feeling really down, how is avoiding that feeling bad? Why is avoidance such a toxic behaviour?”. The truth is that the life situations which trigger uncomfortable emotional reactions are the very same situations that matter to you. Issues that come with being alive such as intimacy, love, work and being part of a community are not threats to your emotional health, however much they may seem to be. Depression can be likened to the “check engine” light on your car’s dashboard. If ignored, you’ll be dealing with a bigger problem when your car eventually goes into the shop for repairs. Similarly, engaging in avoidance behaviours will worsen your depressive symptoms and eventually your life direction fades away. If you avoid the situations that matter in life or the emotional reactions they produce, you have little chance of addressing important growth-producing opportunities.