An argument rages – do we become depressed when we reduce our activity or do we reduce our activity when we become depressed? And as many of our enlightened readers will already be thinking the truth is both somewhere between and beyond those two debating points. What we can be confident in thinking is that activity reduction does nothing to help overcome low mood and does many things to keep low self-esteem entrenched. When we experience such a drop in what we do we are doing nothing to experience pleasure or get a sense of achievement.
So having some go to activities to replace the duvet day or the couch wallowing are essentials in the toolbox of the successful low mood basher.
Activity scheduling techniques began life as a treatment for depression. The main focus initially was to increase the number of pleasure giving activities in a person’s life and has developed into addressing and incorporating activities, which increase a sense of achievement too. Activities, which increase our pleasure and or achievement, encourage positive interactions with our environment, boosting self-esteem, increasing and maintaining motivation and distract us from the automatic thoughts and habits associated with low mood maintenance. With a good activity scheduling model to draw on we might start reaching for anything but the bedroom door handle to close us off from the world.
At Mind Health Development (MHD), our psychologists and therapists have worked with our own version of activity scheduling for nearly twenty years. We call it Plus 4s – four easy groups of activities that ensure we have a greater sense of achievement, plenty of opportunities for pleasure and are easy to fit into any schedule.
Set yourself a small project that has obvious results when it’s finished: clear the spare room, tidy the garden, mend something that’s broken, wash the car or dust the TV. The task doesn’t have to be enjoyable but it needs to be something that will give you a sense of satisfaction when it’s finished. A project that lasts no more than an hour works best: it’s big enough to give a sense of satisfaction but not so big that you’re tempted to put it off. If you want to work on something bigger, break it down into bite-sized chunks and define success as completing a chunk.
Invest in Relationships / Phone a Friend
Put some effort into a relationship with someone who you care about. Identify that small group of people who mean the world to you. Send a family member a text message or a postcard. Buy someone flowers for no special reason, just to let them know that you are thinking about them. Good friendships and good relationships are vitally important. By investing in them we feel that we are playing a big part in cultivating the most important aspect of our lives.
Do something for someone else. Small acts of kindness for which you’ve had to ‘put yourself out’ are a good way to feed your self-esteem. Mow your neighbour’s lawn, look after a friend’s children, visit someone in hospital, help a charity or donate blood. Sometimes we feel even better when we’ve done something for someone without them realising.
You are probably already engaging with Altruistic Acts so it is just as important to recognise those you are already doing as it is to start doing more.
Do something you really enjoy that you’ve neglected for a while. Or take up something new that you’ve always wanted to do. Read a book, go to the gym, have a long soak in the bath, listen to your favourite music, enroll in a language class or join a sports club. People prone to the type of gap filling activities such as snacking and sitting doing little more than watching the TV usually find they have neglected a whole range of pleasure giving activities that are significantly more enjoyable than daytime TV.
Making sure we’ve completed a balance of Plus 4 activities every day is a great way of engaging our positive mind. It systematically challenges negative thinking and patterns of behaviour because it ensures we’ll have at least one positive memory to replay at the end of the day. The more positive memories we’ve recorded and replayed during the day via Plus 4s the better we feel about ourselves. As these patterns change self-doubt decreases and confidence begins to improve, which leads us into positive self-fulfilling prophecies – ‘I can turn a bad day into a good one’. The two factors that combine to produce a negative state of mind and bad habits are negative introspective thinking patterns and a decline in participation in healthy activities, particularly pleasure-giving activities. Plus 4s help address both these factors.
We can add to the power of our engagement in Plus 4s by recording them in a journal. Look over a successful day and see what you did, rinse and repeat. Engage with others who might need to boost their moods and share which activities have the greatest impact. Just telling your groups of friends something that might help is an altruistic act and keeping a journal is a mini project in itself.