How to help ease symptoms of depression
Behavioural Activation and the Cycle of Depression
When people are depressed they can feel physically tired and lack motivation which might make them stop doing things they used to enjoy. They may also end up neglecting their daily tasks. Initially when we avoid things, we feel relief; we kick back and relax which is why we keep doing it. This is known as negative reinforcement. The disadvantage of this, is that we then get into a vicious cycle, the less we do and the more we avoid things, the less we want to do and our bodies can experience more tiredness. Due to feeling more tired, we avoid more.
Another impact of low mood is that we might start thinking badly about ourselves, we might find ourselves thinking “what’s the point”, “I won’t enjoy myself anyway” or “I’m useless/failure so there’s no point even trying”. Sadly, this makes us feel even lower and want to withdraw even more.
When we stop doing the things that we love, we miss out on feeling a sense of enjoyment and when we stop doing the things we need to do, we stop feeling a sense of purpose and achievement.
Our thoughts and our behaviour keep the cycle of depression going.
Behavioural Activation Steps
One of the ways of breaking the vicious cycle of depression is by very gradually increasing our activity levels. We need to focus on our routine activities such as (doing exercise, housework, paying bills etc) – regular behaviour that allows people to feel comfortable in their surroundings (exercise, getting outside) and pleasurable activities (Seeing friends, reading, watching TV etc). there is a lot of evidence that shows that having a good balance of activity in your life is positive for your wellbeing and restoring that balance is essential in fighting depression.
It may not seem easy to increase your activity level because of the tiredness or the negative thoughts but it is worth working towards this increased level of activity slowly but surely. It’s a good idea to start with small, easy steps and begin with things that you can do.
Think of it in terms of training for a sports event. If you haven’t done any running for 6 months, you might not try and run a marathon without doing any training. You would probably go on a training program that slowly builds up your fitness and endurance. That way you’re more likely to achieve your goals and not feel like a failure.
If someone sets their goals too high, they might end up not doing them or failing, becoming disappointed and feeling worse. So it’s important that to start with small steps and slowly build up to the larger tasks that seem unmanageable right now.
Another important thing to remember is that it’s not what you do or how much you do, but simply that you are doing, that you do something. It is important to remember that to feel better on the inside, we have to start with the outside, making ourselves do something, even if we don’t want to. We call this the Outside-In approach.
So, start by making small steps, even if you have to start by getting out of a bed an hour earlier. Small steps and you will be on the way to improving your mood.