Behavioral Activation: Move Your Body, Change Your Feelings
Relatively new is our understanding of Behavioral Activation (BA), which is an incredibly useful tool in fighting depression and mood problems. As with most things in the clinical realm, it has a lot to say for the average person, too, who doesn’t even have a disorder. Behavioral Activation is a powerful tool in the Cognitive Behavioral arsenal of motivation and energy.
What is Behavioral Activation?
Simply put, when we “activate” behavior, emotions and feelings tend to follow, sometimes slowly at first. Clients don’t even need to specifically address their thoughts or beliefs in order for benefits to be reaped. The experience of depression typically leads to feelings of low energy, lack of motivation, which quite naturally leads to increased isolation and varying thoughts and actions that- you guessed it- lead to more depression.
People who feel depressed not only lack motivation and energy (and it’s not just in their heads, so to speak), but taking steps to change their experience can feel overwhelming and disabling, often staying stuck without assistance.
This is where BA, as a standalone or adjunct treatment (evidence-based as both), can help set small, doable steps.
Putting Action To Work
Starting with strong assessment, it helps to monitor and track your days to consider where BA could help. Dr. Hindman, of the Beck Institute, talks about utilizing already existing values and priorities to start building behaviors that can change feelings over time. Scheduling the valued activities can also help. Looking for 100% is not part of the treatment, but then again, if a person is unable to follow through on one step in BA, it is helpful to re-assess:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Whether the step was reasonable to start with
- If person cares about the change (ideally intrinsically)
The University of Michigan provides an excellent workbook style guide to walk you through key details of BA- download the pdf here.
Need a few small examples?
- Getting out of bed even if you’re going to still lay down- just move to the couch.
- Brush your teeth.
- Call a friend (or have one call you).
- Eat a snack.
- Sit in the sunshine.
- Cook- even small (think heating up soup or grilled cheese).
- Spend 10 min. playing with a child.
- Read for 5 min.
Keep It Simple
Part of the beauty of Behavioral Activation is that it’s not complex, but it does often take some support to develop well, such as with a therapist or trusted other who understands low motivation, mood, and depression. The first person to be unrealistic with goals is often the depressed person themselves. Utilizing a small, useful, and powerful skill like BA can make a difference and help invigorate and lighten the load. Give it a try! What are ways you incorporate small behaviors into your routine that help activate you?