Depression is a serious mental illness that impacts the lives of millions of Americans across their lifetimes. Some symptoms of depression include severely low mood, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and urges. Low motivation, lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, change in sleep and change in appetite. These symptoms can be significantly impactful for any person suffering from depression. Leaving people unable to work, socially isolated, experiencing difficulty getting out of bed, irritable, and disengaged from meaningful activities. 

One of the most effective treatment strategies for depression is behavioral activation. This involves engaging in meaningful activities even if there is no motivation to do so initially. This increased engagement will then lead to positive momentum, more engagement in meaningful activities, and improved mood. There is a strong link between disengagement from meaningful activities and depression, so behavioral activation aims to reroute that cycle.  There are a number of ways of using behavioral activation to improve your mood.

What does this look like in practice? Let’s look at the case of Jane Doe, who is 28 years old and works as an accomplished Paralegal. She has many close friendships and enjoys knitting and bike riding. When Jane experiences a depressive episode, she starts doing the bare minimum at work. She stops knitting and riding her bike. On the weekends, she ignores texts and invitations from her friends and struggles to get out of bed. She often keeps her apartment dark and feels hopeless. 

For Jane, behavioral activation will be effective in improving her mood. As a first step, she will need to reflect on what her values are. Those values serve as a compass to guide her toward the next step: engaging with her values through meaningful activities, even if she doesn’t have the motivation to do so. 

In this case, Jane might value connection and creativity. These values will point Jane in the direction of reconnecting with her friends and starting a new knitting project. If she can bring herself to text a friend back, say yes to a social event, or start a new knitting project, that engagement will then create momentum toward improved mood. Because depression often takes away motivation and energy, Jane will need to take small steps toward these goals, and practice self-compassion along the way. You can do the same when using behavioral activation to improve your mood and day-to-day feeling more fulfillment.

Article written by Nicole Bentley, LCSW

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