Depression affects the lives of many Australians. In any one year, 1 million Australian adults will experience depression (BeyondBlue). So there is a high chance that you know someone who has experienced depression, or you have had depression yourself.
Symptoms of depression may include persistent low mood, feelings of guilt/hopelessness/worthlessness, suicidal thinking, reduced concentration, reduced energy and motivation and loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities (BlackDog Institute).
These symptoms often result in reduced activity and engagement with the world. However, as a result of this reduced activity, depressive symptoms are likely to persist and worsen because you’re not getting any ‘wins’ which help challenge the negative state you’re in. This is known as the ‘vicious cycle of depression”.
One of the key strategies in breaking this cycle is known as behavioural activation. In simple terms, this is challenging yourself to become involved in activities, despite not feeling like doing this. You will probably have to push yourself to get started, and it can be helpful to have a structure or a plan to support you to continue. Your psychologist can also assist you with this. Waiting to feel better is not necessarily reliable, sometimes we need to do something different in order to feel something different. The idea is that by changing our behaviour we can begin to change our feelings.
A review of 26 randomised controlled trials studies concluded that behavioural activation is an effective treatment for depression. Results showed that in some cases, behavioural activation was even more effective than anti-depressant medication (however this finding requires further exploration due to limitations of the study).
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Start small. So small that it almost feels too easy. Getting some early wins helps build your momentum and motivation to keep going.
- Pre-plan your week. Schedule in what activities you’re going to undertake and when. If you wait to see how you’re feeling on the day, you may be less likely to take action.
- Balance activities that give you a sense of pleasure and those that give you a sense of achievement. If you’re lost for ideas, here is an exhaustive list of activities
- Rate your mood before and after the activity to see the relationship between your activity and mood. Schedule in more activities over the coming week that resulted in increased mood.
- And finally, don’t wait to feel motivated. Once you start going, motivation will follow.
As we begin, our thoughts and feelings will no doubt want to pull us in the direction of remaining static, eg. “What’s the point of doing this?”, “I can’t do this”, “This is stupid, it won’t work, I’m too broken”. The problem is that these unhelpful thoughts are what keeps you stuck in depression; however they are only thoughts not facts. Achievement can build motivation and through small, planned actions you can begin to change, begin to feel differently and break the cycle of depression.
If you feel this is something that you would like to discuss with one of our psychologists at the Centre for Clinical Psychology, please call to book an appointment (03) 9077 0122.