Treating depression at home, by your own effort, is not an impossible task. There are many ways of reducing depressive symptoms by making a few changes to everyday life. Here’s how to start managing your depression with a well-used technique from behaviour therapy:
Make an activity chart
Doing things that are meaningful (or used to feel meaningful) can stop your depressive symptoms from worsening and decrease depression. Of course, when going through depression, this is not as easy as it sounds. Tasks that used to be uncomplicated can suddenly seem as challenging as mountain climbing. That’s why psychologists have developed techniques specifically designed to help depressed people add meaningful activities to their everyday lives. Making an activity chart is one of the most commonly used techniques for treating depression with behaviour therapy.
Also, if you want to make changes right away together with a science-based virtual therapist, download the free depression app from Flow Neuroscience.
Behavioural activation and the activity chart
The theory behind the activity chart is called behavioural activation, which is a fancy way of saying that it focuses on important activities that you would like to add to your life in order to get out of depression. Admittedly, the name is not exactly alluring, but the technique actually works. How can making a chart of your activities reduce depressive symptoms? Well, a solid first step towards treating depression on your own is a reality check. Keeping track of your daily activities will give you more objective information about what your life actually looks like. Maybe you do more or less than what you think?
Another important benefit of the activity chart is that it puts you out of autopilot and into controlling your life. Not bad, right? People often think and act automatically, without conscious control. The activity chart helps you replace old behaviours with new ones that are more important to you. Instead of living on autopilot, you will become more aware of what you actually do. So, in the name of behavioural activation, let’s create a little more action.
For this exercise, you’ll need pen and paper. You can create an activity chart in three simple steps:
- Write down your daily activities
- Record your mood
- Record your sense of mastery
Step 1: Write down daily activities. Let’s begin the process of how to treat depression on your own with a simple question. What did you do today? Try to write down today’s activities hour by hour (as far as the day has progressed). Or if you just woke up, try to write down what you did yesterday.
Now it’s your turn. Go ahead and write. It doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’, this is just for practice.
Did you really do it? If not, give it another try.
Congratulations, you took the first step towards reducing depression. Before we move on to the next, take a look at this video. It shows how to treat depression at home with an activity chart and explains the next two steps in some detail.
Step 2: Record your mood. The next step towards treating depression on your own is to start recording your mood during daily activities.
Just for practice, now you try it. Rate how depressed you felt during your activities on a scale from 1 to 10. 10 is when the symptoms are very intense, and 1 is not at all intense. It can be difficult to remember how you felt earlier today and it doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’. The important thing is that you try it, so go ahead.
Did you really do it? If not, give it a try.
Congratulations. You finished the second step on the road towards treating depression on your own. Only one step left.
Step 3: Record your sense of mastery. Recording your sense of mastery will help you reflect on what kind of activities are especially important to you and should be added to your schedule. When doing this regularly, you will get to know yourself better and gain a better understanding of your depressive symptoms (for more information about mastery, go back and watch the video).
Activities such as getting out of bed to make coffee in the morning or driving to work can be very challenging, but also give a high sense of mastery. That’s why it’s important not to erase those kinds of activities from the schedule. They give this person meaning and a feeling of accomplishment.
Now, you try it. Go ahead and record your sense of mastery from 1–10; 1 means no feeling of accomplishment at all and 10 is a very strong sense of accomplishment.
Congratulations on finishing your activity chart and starting depression treatment on your own.
Making the activity chart a regular thing
To help you treat depression on your own, the recommendation is to fill out a chart every day for the next week (or longer). Because memories aren’t perfect, the best way to do it is to write in the chart a few times during the day, as close as possible to the actual activities. For example, you can write the morning activities during lunchtime, the lunchtime activities in the afternoon and so on. This will help you reflect on what activities increase your mood and your sense of mastery, so you’ll know what activities to add to your life.
In an article from Flow Neuroscience, you will learn a simple and brilliant technique for creating new habits. It will help you fill out the activity chart on a regular basis and also add new activities to your life without unnecessary effort.
Hanna Silva is a psychologist at Flow.