When people experience adversity, loss, trauma, failure or another negative life event, it usually co-occurs with negative emotions. The reaction to the life events and the emotions felt are unique to each individual. It is natural that people under these circumstance will have less interest in activities and will experience decreased energy, less pleasure in social interactions and even tend to stop participating in preciously pleasurable activities. A person may choose to say alone at home more often, sleep longer hours and spend more time in bed. Ceasing activities, isolation and slowly shutting down might be a short term coping strategy but in the long term it facilitates the development of depression. Decreased in activity and reduced active participation in life can be a slippery sloop to totally shutting down. Passivity and withdrawal reduces the frequency and opportunity of exposing yourself to positive stimuli and reinforcements. As a result, the focus on the negativity in your life will increase as well as the void and hopelessness felt. It may be tempting to hide out at home but avoidance fuels a life that is less enjoyable, less rewarding and more depressive. Without new and more positive experiences depression will only intensify and continue.
Diagram of The vicious cycle
Breaking the vicious cycle is the key to the recovery of depression. This is done by recognizing the implications of the passivity, escapisms, withdrawal and increasing participation in alternative healthy and rewarding behaviours (Hopko et al., 2003).
Awareness of the problematic behavior pattern is the first step. A depressed individual can easily examine his own behavior by following the following simple ACTION method.
Assess your behavior: ask yourself does this specific behavior help me? Does it make me feel better? Does it help me live the life I want to live? Am I being avoidant? Passive?
Choose : Think that you need to choose behaviors that will help you improve your mood, add positivity in your life, make you feel better. Ask yourself, what kind of life do you want to build for yourself? What do I like and find interesting? Will this activity help me in the long run to get out of my depression?
Try: Decide on activities that will lift your mood, reduce your isolation and increase your functioning level and try them out. Are they enjoyable? Do you get a sense of control and satisfaction from the activity? If not, try others and more diverse activities. Choose activities that you want to do and are important to you, because that will help you get more motivated and interested.
Integrate: make a weekly schedule and integrate the newly chosen activities into the daily schedule. Plan everything in detail such as a specific time, duration and place for each activity. Plan a healthier life style for yourself. Make it a point to carry out your plan regardless. Sometimes doing the exact opposite of what you feel like doing is the best way of dealing with the depressive symptoms.
Observe: keep a journal and notice changes in your mood before and after the activity. Keep track of little changes that occur such as the impact that it has on your behavior, emotions, thoughts and functioning level. Observe the fluctuations during the week and ask yourself ,do these activities improve my life? Do I feel better? What are the benefits of having this alternative and healthier behavior/activity in my life?
Never give up. Find more divers activities and manners in which you can improve your life’s quality. Some days will be harder and in some days it will come naturally and easy for you to be more active. It takes time but you will get stronger and your life will get better.
Hopko, D. R., Lejuez, C. W., Ruggiero, K. J., & Eifert, G. H. (2003). Contemporary behavioural activation treatments for depression: procedures, principles and progress. Clinical Psychology Review, 23,5, 699-717.