We are living in a time where being stuck inside and isolated from others is our new norm. When we have the opportunity to leave our homes we are confronted by masked individuals who are leery of our presence. This can be extremely lonely and depressing for many people. Going into the stay- at-home order, many of us were full of life and had a fast paced life that was suddenly shut down; whereas many others were already struggling with mental health conditions and were forced to sit alone with that suffering for days on end. Now navigating through the stay-at-home order and slowly coming in (and out) of “re-opening”, many of us are in a different mental head space than we were before. Learning our new norm hasn’t been easy as the world around us is consistently evolving and changing.
So what are we doing for ourselves in this time? How are we addressing the mental weight of a pandemic, protests, election, and more? Some people aren’t addressing it and others are and have found acceptance and peace, whereas others may be having difficulty in coping and finding the bright side of things. This blog is not intended to fabricate ideas about the light at the end of this tunnel, because I am no more certain about what is going on than you. What I do know, is that throughout this time there have been changes in myself and those around me as we discuss our motivations, pleasures and happiness. There is metaphorical grey cloud looming over the days and sometimes pushing forward with our responsibilities and interests. This is where Behavioral Activation comes into play.
As an empirically validated treatment model for depression, Behavioral Activation (BA) approaches the symptoms of depression such as lack of motivation, low or depressed mood, and loss of interest and pleasure from a behavioral context to make improvements. BA is based on the idea that when individuals engage in activities that fulfill one of the three categories, they will experience improvement in one of their symptoms. The three categories of behaviors or actions that the model focuses on are: values, pleasure, and routine/mastery. These categories are vague but can be individually approached and broken down to be unique.
How do we do it then?
The hope is that on a daily basis an individual would integrate one activity from each of the following three categories into their daily schedule.
Values: consider what your values are and what means the most to you. This can be challenging to begin so I recommend finding either a list of values or even searching for a values inventory such as the one found here. Take time understanding and defining the values as they pertain to you and your experiences. Outline what are important qualities or characteristics that you appreciate in others, in your relationships, and as you look up to others. There is no right or wrong in values. What matters to you may not matter to someone else and that is okay! Knowing your values allow you to act and make decisions that are more true to who you are and fitting to your nature. In acting on your values you can develop more meaning and purpose in your daily life and even identify your passions. This comes with no guarantee but comes with a high risk of becoming more self-aware.
Pleasure: Being stuck in the house, I am willing to bet that many of us have found ourselves starting to rinse and repeat our activities if we haven’t been already. Doing the same things repeatedly can take the joy or novelty out of them so we have to get creative! In the first place BA typically has us look at what we have stopped doing that once brought us joy. As our routines have changed and our environment has become limited, there are certain things we haven’t been able to do for safety reasons as well as things we stopped doing because our routine no longer included it. Once you identify pleasurable activities that you have stopped engaging in you can start by integrating one of those in daily. If your list is short, still inaccessible, or you have grown out of interest in it, then it is time to explore new opportunities. Research new activities or things you have thought about trying. Get out of your comfort zone since the pandemic has forced us to do so already and take a risk.
Mastery/Routine: Right now many of our routines are absent or constantly changing. No matter the age, we are all a little discombobulated. Both kids and adults thrive on structure, because there is control, certainty, and support built into them that can help construct the day. Having this structure to the day allows us to set goals for ourselves and can challenge us to make the most of our days. Being stuck in one place all day, let alone inside, can be a downer and minimize the motivation that we once had. BA says that if we factor in routine activities, structure, and opportunities to build mastery then we again experience pleasure, meaning, and enhanced motivation. Routines in this category range from brushing your teeth, to practicing a hobby, to time management. This category is about building wins into your day and gaining a sense of achievement.
-Courtney, Graduate Intern
Life values inventory: https://bhmt.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/BHMT_CC_Life-Values_Inventory.pdf
If you or a loved one are seeking professional help related to mental health please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates at 708-633-8000 or at https://www.olivebranchcounselingassociates.com/ .