Along with low mood, prolonged loss of enjoyment in pleasurable activities is one of the hallmark symptoms of depression. When depressed, it can be difficult to do the things that make you feel good. This disengagement can then worsen depressive symptoms and make it that much harder to cope. It may feel impossible or “pointless,” to engage in pleasurable activities when feeling depressed. Nevertheless, many find that this strategy can help them find relief when they need it most.
What is Behavioral Activation and How do I do it?
When depressed, it is very easy to think of reasons why you can’t or don’t want to engage in pleasurable activities. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we sometimes ask people to practice “Behavioral Activation” to stop the cycle of disengagement in pleasurable activities. Behavioral activation asks you to re-engage in the things that made you happy or to explore other activities that may make you feel better. Here are some strategies that can help you become behaviorally activated:
1) Make a list of all the activities that used to make you happy or might make you happy today.
- NOTE: Activities can vary in type (e.g. talking to a friend, going for a walk, or picking up a new hobby) and duration (e.g. listening to a favorite song or going on a vacation).
2) Choose an activity from the list that you CAN and LIKE to do.
3) Make specific plans to do it
- Identify place/time/who will be involved
4) Plan for possible barriers to plans
- What are possible obstacles? What are the alternative plans if you face such obstacles?
5) Be mindful of how you feel before and after engaging in the activity.
- Remember that it is okay if the activity does not feel the same as before. Many find that engaging in the planned activity was not actually as bad as they thought, and with some practice find that this is an important coping strategy for managing their mood.
How can I get help?
Although behavioral activation is conceptually relatively simple, it can be very hard to implement on our own—especially when we are feeling down. Supportive friends or family can hold you accountable and help troubleshoot challenges that may arise as you plan to engage in pleasurable activities.
Moreover, mental health professionals trained in CBT can also help you find ways to cope with low mood and loss of enjoyment by tailoring such strategies to your specific needs and concerns.