Don’t Wait Until You Feel Like It: Behavioural Activation for Depression

As Canada is now almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, more individuals than ever have been struggling with depression.  Now that a new year is beginning, it can be helpful to consider new approaches to handling the stress, and possibly the additional challenges, in our lives.  Even though there are many people who struggle with depression, there is still much we have to learn about how this mood disorder operates within each individual.  Many health and fitness experts are familiar with the saying, “The mind gives up before the body”.  I was reminded of this phrase when I was considering the range of strategies for working with depression because so many of them emphasize the mind.

Over the years, I have become more aware of how important an active, rather than a passive, approach to depression can be.  Since depression can overtake and distort our thought processes, it can be difficult to break out of the negative thought patterns that serve only to perpetuate a low mood.  Cognitive behavioural therapy, which is well-supported by research, focuses on changing the way people think about themselves, the world around them, and the future.  It can be highly effective.  Antidepressant medication can also be very beneficial for many individuals.  However, nothing works for everyone and the body (or activity) can also be enormously helpful when attempting to shift one’s mood.

The Behavioural Activation approach to treating depression focuses on changing the way in which a person behaves in order to reconnect them to the naturally occurring rewards of a productive life.  Self-activation is a process of guided activity that works from the outside in to improve one’s mood by changing what one does.  Through the accomplishment of several exercises, a person can learn new habits that will allow them to cope better with life, whether or not depression is present.  These exercises are designed to increase a person’s positive experience of their environment and reduce negative ones.

The pattern of avoidance, which is common with depression, is a target for change in Behavioural Activation since people can get stuck in this pattern without realizing it.  A person is invited to identify alternative coping strategies that help them to respond actively to situations or feelings that make them uncomfortable.  These include self-soothing behaviours, such as going for a walk, listening to pleasant music, exercising, and spending time with supportive friends.  They can also include personally meaningful and valued activities.

The consistent replacement of behaviours that are making it difficult to end depression with alternative actions is essential to Behavioural Activation therapy.  Leaving behind avoidance, and getting back on TRAC (Trigger, Response, Alternative Coping) is a central component of Behavioural Activation.  By practicing constructive routines repetitively, an individual can gradually begin to live in a different way that leads to an improved mood and functional mindset.  In this way, depression is slowly dealt with on a daily basis and moment by moment.

So, if you are trying to find some new ways out of depression, amidst the stress and strain that COVID-19 has created in your life, you might want to learn more about Behavioural Activation.  After all, more than ever were are living in a time when we need to be flexible.  Do not forget that there are almost always other options available to you, and you can make the choice to keep going until you find the ways of coping that work the best for you.  If your mind has been losing in your struggle with depression, your body just might instead hold the key to leading you out of it.

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