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Behavioral Activation Against Depression & Anxiety

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Behavioral Activation Against Depression & Anxiety

Psychologists do love making fancy new names for things.

You thought you were merely “eating your breakfast”, but now it’s “Happiness-Oriented Basic Behavioral Intervention Therapy (HOBBIT)” or something.

This one’s quite simple, so we’ll keep it short for today, but it is one more tool for your toolbox:

What is Behavioral Activation?

Behavioral Activation is about improving our mood (something we can’t directly choose) by changing our behavior (something we usually can directly choose).

An oversimplified (and insufficient, as we will explain, but we’ll use this one to get us started) example would be “whistle a happy tune and you will be happy”.

Behavioral Activation is not a silver bullet

Or if it is, then it’s the kind you have to keep shooting, because one shot is not enough. However, this becomes easier than you might think, because Behavioral Activation works by…

Creating a Positive Feedback Loop

A lot of internal problems in depression and anxiety are created by the fact that necessary and otherwise desirable activities are being written off by the brain as:

  • Pointless (depression)
  • Dangerous (anxiety)

The inaction that results from these aversions creates a negative feedback loop as one’s life gradually declines (as does one’s energy, and interest in life), or as the outside world seems more and more unwelcoming/scary.

Instead, Behavioral Activation plans activities (usually with the help of a therapist, as depressed/anxious people are not the most inclined to plan activities) that will be:

  • attainable
  • rewarding

The first part is important, because the maximum of what is “attainable” to a depressed/anxious person can often be quite a small thing. So, small goals are ideal at first.

The second part is important, because there needs to be some way of jump-starting a healthier dopamine cycle. It also has to feel rewarding during/after doing it, not next year, so short term plans are ideal at first.

So, what behavior should we do?

That depends on you. Behavioral Activation calls for keeping track of our activities (bullet-journaling is fine, and there are apps* that can help you, too) and corresponding moods.

*This writer uses the pragmatic Daylio for its nice statistical analyses of bullet-journaling data-points, and the very cute Finch for more keyword-oriented insights and suggestions. Whatever works for you, works for you, though! It could even be paper and pen.

Sometimes the very thought of an activity fills us with dread, but the actual execution of it brings us relief. Bullet-journaling can track that sort of thing, and inform decisions about “what we should do” going forwards.

Want a ready-made brainstorm to jump-start your creativity?

Here’s list of activities suggested by TherapistAid (a resource hub for therapists)

Want to know more?

You might like:

Take care!

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