Week 7: Behavior tools to control unhealthy emotions (feeling depressed)
We hope that the past week went well for you. Although controlling how you act may be easier than controlling how you think, it still may feel challenging since these patterns of behavior have been around for a while. But practicing makes you skilled very quickly, so just keep going. If you need more help, please subscribe for a weekly homework workbook.
Last week, you learned how to use behavior tools to address your feelings of unhealthy anxiety (gradual exposure without the avoidance behaviors). You might have defined your exposure pyramid steps and engaged with the first step following the guidelines given in the Week 6 post. If your starting fear for this task decreased below the initially defined value, and below 20%, you are good to go to your second step of the Exposure Pyramid Task.
If you have problems with feeling depressed, you may have started to do something about it in the last week, making the activity lists and starting with the easiest activities. It's time to go into more details now.
Using Behavior Tools against feeling depressed
Remember from the last week's video how and why we can use our actions against feeling depressed?
When you feel down for too long, you may start losing interest, motivation, and strength for the activities that you used to do before.
First, you avoid the activities that used to give you pleasure - the social activities (such as seeing your friends, going to social gatherings, and then even the essential activities with your family such as playing with your kids), hobbies, walks, sports, even watching movies or listening to music.
You may also start avoiding the activities that technically keep you taking care of yourself, your family, your home, and make you feel competent and functional - the necessary organizational activities (such as paying your bills, checking your mail, do important tasks for your work, solving problems in important domains, etc.), and the everyday routine activities (such as the chores keeping your home and laundry tidy, organizing your meals and wake-sleep routine in a healthy way, etc).
Keep in mind that this avoidance starts in a sneaky way. It starts slightly and almost without notice, which is the moment when your negative perpetuum mobile is actually triggered.
When you decrease your activities, you decrease opportunities to experience successes that make you feel pleasure, purpose, and self-confidence. Therefore, you decrease different opportunities to have positive reinforcements that keep your motivation work. On the other hand, avoiding the activities may bring short-term relief (from the unpleasant effort and mood exhaustion), and this relief makes you avoid these activities more and more.
Then this becomes a well-known pattern: less activities -> less motivation&pleasure -> worse mood -> even less activities -> even less motivation&pleasure -> even worse mood. A pattern called - the DOWNWARD SPIRAL.
If this goes for too long, your activity will largely decrease, and your motivation and pleasure will be exhausted. You will have less and less chance to see that things can get better and that you are in the power of controlling your life. Eventually, you will falsely learn that you are helpless - and stop even trying to make things better.
Now we do not want this to happen to you, do we?
That's why, if you have noticed that you started avoiding some of the aforementioned activities, it's time to act immediately.
It is not an uncommon thing for people to think that they need to feel motivation and pleasure to start doing things and that they will get back to activities as soon as the power of motivation and pleasure kicks back in.
Is this true?
It's actually not.
Although you do need them to keep you active, if your feelings of motivation and pleasure are broken, you cannot just wait for them to come back. 'Cause they will not.
You need to fix them. And you fix them by giving them reasons to appear - giving them opportunities for positive reinforcements. By starting to ACT.
So, the main principle the behavior tools against feeling depressed is based on is that you don't wait for motivation, joy, and a better mood to start your activity, but it's the other way round - you start your activity to get motivation, joy and a better mood.
But you do it in a gradual way, in order not to get overwhelmed and give up.
You start with the small amounts of the easiest activities, and you monitor how well you can do them and how much pleasure they produce. It is very important to keep in mind that the goal is not, and cannot be, to look at your achievement in a black-and-white manner, expecting the activities to be immediately done with great success and provide lots of pleasure (the way they did before you started feeling depressed).
Rather, imagine a scale of achievement and pleasurability of the activities done, from 0 to 10. Any movement upwards on a scale is actually your goal. You chose the easiest activity that gives you the most achievement or success, and most pleasure.
You do a small something -> you get a bit more motivation&pleasure and a bit better mood -> you are driven to do more -> you get even more motivation&pleasure and even better mood. This pattern, opposite to a downward spiral, is called the UPWARD SPIRAL.
Therefore, the only way to go against feeling depressed is to actually stop the downward spiral (by eliminating the avoidance that provides temporary relief and more avoidance in the long-term), and activate the upward spiral.
So, let's get you there.
Last week you may have done some preparatory activities. Now we'll get into more details.
The first task was to explore which activities you have actually been avoiding.
To do that, you should think of the last two weeks and remember what activities you have been avoiding due to feeling depressed, the activities that you would have not avoided if you were not feeling like this. These activities relate to those described above (necessary and routine activities, as well as the activities that used to give you pleasure).
If you have problems with remembering, then first monitor your activities in the following week and observe yourself.
Look for those activities that are most related to your values and goals. What do you believe your life should be like? What do you value in life? Who do you want to be as a person? Translate values into goals, and then choose activities that bring you closer to your goals.
For example, John values being a good parent. His goal is to spend quality time with his children. The activity he aims at is spending time with his children playing games of their interest and taking them to the park (he remembers these activities used to make him feel very purposeful before started avoiding them due to feeling depressed).
Or, Jane values having social hobbies in her life, she believes such hobbies bring joy and fulfillment. Her goal is to become a recreative salsa dancer and have a circle of friends she will do that with. The activity she aims for is continuing her salsa classes with her friend (since she remembers how pleasant these classes used to be before she started feeling depressed).
Or, Jully believes that for her to feel confident and her life to make sense, she needs to feel in control of organizing her time in taking care of herself and her home. Her goal is that her home is tidy, that she takes care of her cosmetic needs. The activities she aims at are to make her bed each morning, tidy her rooms twice per week, wash her face, and put a revitalizing cream each evening (she remembers how confident and good she felt about her life when she managed to do these things before she started feeling depressed).
Make your own list of values, goals, and important activities you avoid, using the My Activity List chart below.
Then divide these activities into two lists, List A (the necessary and routine activities that make your life practically function, that used to give you a sense of achievement) and List B (the activities that used to give you pleasure and joy, such as hobbies, social activities, sports, walks, going to the theatre, cinema, concerts, etc).
The next step is to rank all the activities in each list by how difficult they seem to accomplish, in three groups - easy, medium, and difficult.
Then look at the "easy" group - choose the two EASIEST activities from each list, and schedule them on your Activity Monitor.
The most efficient way to do this is to schedule one List A and one List B activity for one day of the week, for example, Tuesday, and another List A and another List B activity for another day of the week (for example Saturday). Stick to your schedule, do your activities, and measure the level of achievement in completing the activity (the level to which you managed to do something in spite of how hard it was) on a scale of 0-10, and the level of pleasure at completing the activity (how much you enjoyed doing the activity) also on a 0-10 scale. Keep records in your Activity Monitor.
It's good to try several different activities in the same difficulty group, and when you find the best ones (activities that made you feel most achievement and most pleasure in), do them more frequently during the week. If you have mastered the main activities from your easy group, you can then go to the medium and then the difficult group.
The point is - keep practicing those activities that you notice make you feel better.
At first, it may seem that you are forcing yourself to do things because there's almost no pleasure in them. But remember the non-black-and-white thinking that we mentioned above? Anything counts. Even the smallest amounts of pleasure.
The baseline is how you were feeling at the beginning of your activation. Do not compare yourself with where you were with the achievements and the pleasure before you started feeling depressed. Compare yourself to your baseline during feeling depressed. This is the only way to track your progress.
Also, make sure that you set realistic standards for yourself. Take into account how debilitating low mood can be. Some activities that may seem easy to people who do not feel the way you do, may feel like 50kg of stones on your back while trying to run a marathon. Consider this and do not ask too much from yourself. Praise your achievements, however slow they may go.
It is worth noting that you should be as specific as possible when you plan your activities. When, where, how, with whom. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to fulfill your task.
Furthermore, try to include physical exercise in your activity list. There are studies finding the beneficial effects of exercise on your mood and energy.
Finally, if activities feel too difficult - do not give them up. Try finding an easier alternative, and ask a close person to help you do it.
Each day you complete your activity task schedule is an investment to getting your mood back on track!
The pattern of DOWNWARD SPIRAL: feeling depressed -> less activities -> less motivation&pleasure -> worse mood -> even less activities -> even less motivation&pleasure -> even worse mood.
The pattern of UPWARD SPIRAL: you do a small something -> you get a bit more motivation&pleasure and a bit better mood -> you are driven to do more -> you get even more motivation&pleasure and even better mood.
You need to stop the downward spiral and activate an upward spiral to get to feeling better - this is the Behavior Tools against feeling depressed. This starts with planned activities that bring a sense of achievement and pleasure. The activities should be done in a step-by-step way, from easier to more difficult, and should be monitored for the level of achievement and pleasure.
You will learn more about the Behavior Tools for anger next week.
For your homework …
In the following week:
if you have a problem with depression, do your Activation Task and fill in the monitor. In the following weeks, gradually increase the number of days you are doing your chosen activities, and increase the frequency of those that give you a sense of achievement and pleasure the most. Also gradually increase the level of difficulty.
if you have a problem with anxiety, continue with your Exposure Pyramid Task following the instructions from week 6.
if you have a problem with anger, you can keep doing the same homework as the week 6, preparing for the next week when you will learn the behavior tools in more detail.
do not forget the 9 rules to follow this blog in the most useful way.
Get more detailed tips, printable worksheets, and additional materials, to help you with your homework tasks.
Have another successful week of using Behaviour Tools to control your unhelpful emotions!
NOTICE: Please note that this self-help blog program is for informational purposes, and cannot replace mental health treatment. Research has shown more potential in CBT self-help if using such a program is guided by a mental health professional throughout the process.
If you have been experiencing significant distress, mood challenges, behavioral dyscontrol, or similar mental health dysfunction, please contact your mental health service provider without delay. Mental health diagnosis and treatment can only be done after conducting a one-on-one clinical examination of the client by a mental health professional. The owners of this website and the writers of the content provided do not take any responsibility for the mental health outcomes of readers.