Depression is sneaky. It makes you do things which exacerbate your depressed mood, despite feeling like the right thing to do. This article looks at what these behaviours are and how to overcome them.
Depressive activity (or in some cases the lack of it)
What we do when depressed can been seen as avoiding aversive thoughts, emotions and situations. The trouble is that these often exacerbate the way we feel. View the examples at the bottom of the page…
And there are more…like ruminating (trying to make sense of our depression), asking ourselves questions with no answers, like “why is this happening to me?”, and becoming angry with ourselves for not being able to “pull ourselves together” or “snap out of it”.
So we need to break this vicious cycle of behaviours…but how?
How to change unhelpful depressive behaviour
Here are some ideas:
- Work out what lifts your mood – this can be done by listing activities that you used to enjoy or look forward to. You can also log your weekly activities and their affect on your mood levels. There’s a good example of an activity log here which lets you log your activities and rate your mood, sense of closeness, level of achievement and enjoyment. You are likely to see some improvements with certain activities, even if the improvement are small.
- Work out what activities fit with your “goals” and with your “value directions”. Value directions are how we want to live our lives and are therefore never ending and we can ensure we feel we are heading the right direction by setting goals in line with our values.
For example, a value direction might be wanting to be a good parent and a related goal might be to spend half an hour each day reading a bed-time story and talking to your child.
- Work out what you are avoiding in your current actions, such as social interactions, physical activity and getting back to work.
- Now use another activity log but this time, instead of recording what you’ve done, schedule what you’re going to do, i.e. “making a date” with yourself. Activities should be meaningful to you, in line with your short term goals, which should in turn be in line with your longer term goals, which should be in line with your values. They won’t all necessarily be pleasurable but you should include rewarding activities, too. For example, doing the ironing (a short term goal) might not be your idea of fun, but it might be in line with a longer term goal of increasing your contribution to the household, and with your value direction of being a good partner. Your reward could be an hour of guilt free gaming, a nice bath or a cappuccino etc.
- Now the trickiest bit – putting this into action. Remember that the reason we fall into unhelpful behaviours in the first place is because, being depressed, that’s what we feel like doing. So the secret to success is to do the activities at the time you have scheduled them regardless of how much you feel like doing them (this is vital).
- You may find doing the activities is hard work and you might not even see much of an improvement in your mood to start with. But if you consistently “make a date” with yourself and keep to it, doing the activities as planned, you will find your levels of motivation and mood will slowly but surely catch up with and match your new behaviour.
- One last tip: set yourself up for success – i.e. don’t start too big. Begin with smaller and more manageable tasks, slowly building up to bigger tasks. Making your living room more habitable may therefore start with 5 minutes of tidying small areas, then 10 minutes of vacuuming, then half an hour of cleaning. Redecorating may have to wait until a little later!
Changes in unhelpful depressive behaviour will, over time, change the way we perceive our situation and can greatly improve our mood. In fact, it has proven so effective that it is sometimes used as a stand-alone treatment, called Behavioural Activation.
If you have any questions about managing depression, or anything else in relation to the Achieving Balance therapy practice, please contact Martin who will be happy to discuss these with you.