Bipolar Depression: Behavioral Activation

Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash

So many things can make depression worse and keep it going.  They feed the inactivity that keeps the depression at the forefront.  There is indecisiveness, loss of pleasure, loss of motivation, loss of interest, lethargy, and tiredness are just some of the challenges facing a depressed person.

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These obstacles can lead to tasks and responsibilities piling up.  It becomes easier to neglect them.  A depressed person may soon feel as though they are falling behind and become overwhelmed.  The building to-do list may lead to a sense of ineffectiveness and even hopelessness as the individual feels more and more alone in getting things done.  Soon the individual may feel guilty and feel like a failure. This will clearly worsen the depression.

There is evidence that one way to overcome depression is through activity. The more pleasant activities participated in the more depression drops from the person’s thoughts.  The more a person participates the better they feel.  Activity has several advantages.

Doing even a little at a time can give an individual the sense of moving forward.  Activity helps the individual feel better and gives the person something else to think about.  When the individual’s focus changes there is more room to accomplish a bit more which creates an upward spiral of progression. This gives a sense of control and mastery.  This sense of accomplishment may even inspire pleasure in the things you participate in.

When you are tired you need rest but the opposite is true when depressed.  The more activity the more energized you can become.   You’ll just feel more tired and lethargic if you sit around doing nothing or sleep more.  This lack of movement also creates free time to dwell on the negative things or the list of undone tasks.

With activity usually comes clearer thinking which may lead to more motivation and even more creative problem solving.  This different perspective is like a breath of fresh air and can lead to getting more done on the to-do list and definitely opens up the opportunity to experience more joy.

Because hopelessness, despair, and guilt can be a part of the depression and sadness may or may not be a part of it is important to participate in a variety of activities.  Fun is very important and so is achievement.  Pick activities like going out to see friends or going to the movies.  Then also pick activities like paying bills or doing dishes.  A sense of purpose and a feeling of order can reinvigorate a feeling of influence or mastery of important things too.  It is both satisfying and pleasurable to do things like house chores and managing money.  These things intermingled with fun stuff can really breathe new life into a person and diminish depression.

It is important not to do too much too soon.  Often negative thoughts like “I’ll ruin this too”, or “I won’t like it”, or “it’s too hard” may crowd your thoughts.  These are faulty but real thoughts.  Taking your time to begin with can really get the ball rolling.  You can take the time to counter your thoughts as you pick one or two things to try.  Just don’t let these thoughts keep you from getting started.

It’s a great idea to pick small things to start with. Just one or two small things can seem like an exhausting effort to accomplish.  Think of it as training for a sports event.  Just work slowly at first and be mindful of how good it will feel to get it done and that you’ll have an activity under your belt.  Maybe start off with the fun thing first and then progress to a chore after your spirit is lifted.

Any chore can be broken down to smaller tasks.  It isn’t realistic to expect great endurance if you’ve been in bed for weeks or months.  Just pick a time like 5 minutes to get out of bed and pick up the dirty laundry in your bedroom or stack the dirty dishes.  After a break try it again.  It’s not logical to expect a person to run a marathon if they haven’t been training for six months.  Soon you may find yourself showering as you probably don’t want your home cleaner than you are.  Small steps can lead to a great journey but only one pace at a time!

Motivation is not the first step activity is. The key is not how much you are doing or for how long but just that you are d-o-i-n-g it. Soon you will start to feel better.

Bipolar Depression_ Behavioral Activation


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