When you’re dealing with depression, it can be difficult to get through the day. One of the most challenging symptoms of this mood disorder is reduced activity; people who are feeling low may be less likely to do the things that cheer them up. This results in increased isolation, higher levels of anxiety, and a worsened mental state. Whether it’s volunteering, helping a friend, or just calling your parents, simply doing something can boost your mood. Today, we’ll discuss how behavioral activation can help you to overcome a depressive episode.
What is Behavioral Activation?
The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy describes behavioral activation (often abbreviated BA) as a process which “gets clients more active and involved in life by scheduling activities that have potential to improve their mood.” This theory emerged from an analysis of cognitive behavioral therapy, which identified behavioral steps as enormously impactful for those suffering with depression.
A person practicing behavioral activation would work to increase their enjoyment of activities which improve their mood. These would replace self-destructive behaviors like drinking, drugging, or ruminating. Examples of BA include exercising, setting work-related goals, learning a new skill, showering, or cleaning the house.
Why Does BA Work?
Losing interest in activities, isolating from loved ones, and failing to get motivated are all common symptoms of depression and dysthymia. Often, people with mood disorders have a difficult time exerting control over their lives; they may feel helpless, overwhelmed, or paralyzed. This can result in a pattern of destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, negative self-talk, or even self-harm.
The goal of behavioral activation is to develop an understanding of the link between actions and emotions. Instead of avoiding important aspects of life, like self-care and socializing, people practicing BA are encouraged to take control and take action.
In fact, this approach to depression treatment is summed up by the acronym ACTION:
- Assess behavior and mood
- Choose alternate responses
- Try out those alternatives
- Integrate the alternatives
- Observe results
- Now evaluate
By taking ACTION, participants are able to realize just how much power they have over their moods. BA reduces feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; instead, it encourages people to track how certain activities – dinner with a friend, running a mile – make them feel. As a result, they will complete the therapy with a list of coping mechanisms that they know are proven to improve their moods.
How You Can Practice Behavioral Activation
This therapy is unique because you can practice a version of it at home. In the midst of a chilly January in COVID-19, there’s never been a better time to increase your motivation and focus on self-care. Here are a few of our favorite tips for finding your own BA breakthrough.
Create a list & rank positive activities. Grab a sheet of paper and write down eight activities off the top of your head. The only criterion is that each one should be something you find rewarding. Then, rate each activity in two ways. On a scale from one to ten, how easy will it be for you to complete? On the same scale, how rewarding will it be for you? This worksheet will help you to identify which activities are a good starting point for your behavioral activation.
Manage depression symptoms. This packet contains helpful information about using behavioral techniques to alleviate depression symptoms. Among these pages are ideas for coping mechanisms and further behavioral activation strategies. As always, if you are experiencing depression, we encourage you to seek professional help from a licensed clinician.
Schedule your activities. Creating a schedule helps you to follow through on your daily obligations, and it can also be very helpful for planning positive activities. Use this worksheet from the Government of Western Australia’s Centre for Clinical Interventions to set up a week that balances fun and obligation.
Feel Better Now
Depression and substance abuse often go hand in hand. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 7.9 million adults have both a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental illness. When these issues are comorbid, individuals should seek help for both at the same time.
At Lakeside-Milam, we understand the importance of simultaneously treating addiction and trauma, mood disorders, and other concerns. Our clinicians are experts in the fields of mental and behavioral health, and we offer individual and combined programs for these diagnoses.
For more information about our addiction treatment services or outpatient mental health services, please contact Lakeside-Milam today. Our team members are standing by to provide your customized treatment plan.