If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, there are many effective treatments to help you. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) targets the problematic thinking or behavioural patterns that can maintain these symptoms. In particular, there is extensive research supporting behavioural activation for the treatment of depression, which involves engaging in activities that you might be avoiding. Although certain behaviours might seem fairly simple when you are not depressed, even basic activities like taking a shower or brushing your teeth can feel overwhelming when you are experiencing depression.
Here are a few tips to counter avoidance and get you activated:
Meet yourself where you are at NOW
Although we would all like to be the best versions of ourselves, we tend to feel very far from that when we are depressed. Telling yourself where you should be rarely leads to change and is likely to make you feel more guilty and down about not being there already. Setting goals based on where you are at in this moment will feel more manageable and motivating. Try turning the phrase “I should” into “I would like to”.
Break down your goals
When your goals are too large or too broad, they become overwhelming and difficult to achieve. Try taking a general goal and breaking it down into smaller steps. For example, refine the goal “I want to get into better shape” into “I want to go for two 15-minute walks this week”. If you are finding it difficult to get started, follow the “5-minute rule” and try doing it for five minutes.
Motivation follows action
When we are feeling depressed, our motivation goes out the window, making it much more difficult to follow through on tasks. What follows is a vicious cycle: the less motivated we feel, the less we do, the more depressed and unmotivated we become. The good news is that we have much more control over motivation than we might think. Contrary to the widely-held (and very problematic) belief that we must feel motivated in order to make changes, the opposite is actually true: motivation follows action. Therefore, instead of waiting to feel motivated, try making a manageable plan for what is achievable at this time. Follow the plan, NOT the feeling. Motivation will follow.
Create a schedule
Waking up in the morning with no plans and nothing in your schedule is likely to keep you in bed or stuck at home. Try putting your small goals into a schedule so you know what to expect at the start of each day. Tracking how you feel during different activities can be helpful information to figure out which activities are the most mood-boosting. If you can share your plans with someone else, that’s even better. Making yourself accountable is very helpful if you are having a hard time getting going on your own.
Give yourself credit for the small steps
Keeping a list of all the things we need to do can be discouraging. Instead of only having a “to-do” list, try keeping a “done” list. Each time you meet a small goal, write it down on the new list and recognize that you have taken one step closer to your larger goals. It is the small steps that lead to bigger, long-lasting, changes, so make sure to give yourself credit along the way.
Danielle Schwartz is a Registered Psychologist who has worked at the Clinic on Dupont since 2012. Her practice is in the cognitive-behavioural treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, stress management, sleep concerns, and relationship issues.