In my work as a therapist, I often implement a style of therapy called Behavioral Activation Therapy. The Behavioral Activation Model, in short, says that difficult life events, such as trauma, loss, daily hassles in life, or a biological predisposition to depression, leads to people experiencing low levels of positive reinforcement in their lives. Likewise, the behaviors that people often utilize to cope with their negative feelings, while possibly helpful short-term, do not provide a high enough level of positive reinforcement and are not beneficial long-term. For example, when you feel down or depressed, you might not have any motivation to get out of bed. There might even be a day or two where you just stay in bed and watch Netflix. While I’m not going to lie and tell you I don’t have days here and there where I just wish that I could spend the day in bed watching Netflix, it’s also pretty obvious that it’s not going to fix your bad mood, depression, grief and loss, etc.
Basically, negative behaviors (or seemingly neutral behaviors) lead to increased or sustained depression. Positive behaviors lead to positive reinforcement, which leads to a positive mood.
So what the behavioral activation model does instead is help the person identify small steps that they could take in addressing their personal struggle and attaining some positive reinforcement.
Think baby steps.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Because behavioral activation is something that you can use in your everyday life in any area that you want to manifest change. It starts with one simple question: What is one thing that I can do differently today?
Make a list! I prefer writing things down to have a visual reminder, but a mental list will work to… you just have to stick to it!
To get you started, here is a list of 10 smalls things that you can do – starting today – to begin to change your environment and reinforce change.
1. Journal – write down your thoughts and feelings, positive or negative.
2. Go for a walk, jog, run, bike ride – move. Get the blood flowing again and release some endorphins.
3. Grab a cup of coffee – make a pot at home and sit somewhere peaceful to drink it slowly, or call up a friend and go to a local coffee shop to sit and talk as you enjoy a latte.
4. Visit a park – spend some time out in nature. Take in your surroundings. Breathe.
5. Try a grounding exercise – this is super simple and can be done anywhere. Pause. Be aware of your 5 senses. Describe them. What is it that you taste right now? What are you hearing? What can you feel underneath your hands? On other parts of your body? Are there any distinct smells that you notice? What do you see? Look a little deeper than you are used to… are there things right in front of you that you usually miss? This activity only takes a moment or two, but it helps us come gently direct our focus back to the present.
6. Cook something new – expand your tastes by trying something you’ve been meaning to make but haven’t had the time for. If you’re at a loss, try one of the recipes on my site 😉
7. Find something beautiful and photograph it. Try to get pictures from multiple angles. Be ever aware of the beauty in the world that hides right in front of our eyes.
8. Reconnect with an old friend or family member – perhaps you had a falling out with a friend and you have always regretted it. Maybe you feel guilty because you never call your grandma. CALL. Talk to someone and build up your human connections.
9. Create something. Maybe you love to paint, knit, or you are secretly incredibly gifted at hand lettering. Or maybe not! Find a tutorial on Pinterest and make something that brings beauty to your environment.
10. Go to a concert, an open mic night, or a museum. Observe what others have created or are creating. Let yourself marvel at the new things that you experience.
What might you add to this list to personalize it? What struggles are you currently facing that you feel this approach might be helpful for?
Disclaimer: Not all approaches will be appropriate or helpful for everyone. This post is not meant to be used in place of working with a mental health practitioner, but is simply a tool for self-growth. Please consult your doctor or a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, grief, loss, anxiety, or are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else.