During the pandemic, it has been more important than ever to look after your mental health. Generally speaking, keeping in a routine is great for our mental health, but what do we do when our routine is stripped away from us over night and we find ourselves with nothing to do, nowhere to go and aren’t allowed to see friends or family?
This lack of routine can often lead to depression and it is important to be aware of the changes to our mood and what we can do to help ourselves if experiencing symptoms of depression. In my practice as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, we use a technique called Behavioural Activation.
Routine and Types of Activities
Often, when experiencing low mood or depression, our routine is the first thing that tends to slip. This can be really understandable given the current circumstances, however it is something to keep an eye on.
Behavioural activation, focuses on three specific areas of activities: Routine, Necessary and Pleasurable. Looking at your behaviour as a whole; including everything you do in your day from start to finish can be very helpful for managing mood. Firstly, routine activities are things you do to meet a basic need (showering, sleeping, eating, wearing clothes); secondly, necessary activities are things that you do because you have to do them (food shopping, putting fuel in the car, going to work, paying bills). Lastly, Pleasurable activities, which are just as important, are activities you do that you enjoy (reading, watching TV, speaking to a friend, exercising, relaxation).
It is important to ensure these areas are balanced. Usually, when things are balanced and we feel in control of our activities we tend to feel less irritable and have more motivation to do things. This where we need to pay attention to our bodies; are you tired? Are you irritable? Has your motivation gone? If this is the case the steps below could be useful for you to check whether things are balanced.
How Can We Manage Our Activities and Our Mood?
Keep a diary: Keep a timetable of your life. From when you wake up in the morning until you go to sleep, record your activities and the time they take. Doing this can give you a clear indication of what you spend your time doing. It can also help you reflect on your mood at particular points during the week. Was you really irritable on Tuesday because Tuesday was a packed day and actually those activities could have been spread out during the week? Or are you feeling really tired and actually your diary is empty? Remember, doing less activity often leads to under stimulation and can increase feelings of tiredness.
Take simple and small steps: Often tiredness leads to a lack of motivation, so breaking down your activities into smaller, more manageable tasks increases motivation. Instead of addressing tasks as a whole, break them into smaller jobs. For example, instead of answering 30 emails, start by answering 2 emails to begin with, this can help you to start the activity. It is important to remember that it is you who is placing the expectations on yourself and that these expectations can be changed as right now they might be too high. Once engaged with the activity, if you feel good, you can then continue with this activity for the time you have set for this task in your diary. This is another way we can manage our activities – working in time periods – perhaps we can only manage our emails for 5 minutes? Set a timer and try and do that task for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop and go and do something relaxing.
Do things you value: Especially with pleasurable activities, make sure they are things that you value. It can be good to ask yourself this question when engaging in your activities “is this really something I value?” It is important to become aware of how you feel when doing activities. Activities you value will often boost your mood more easily than activities that you have become used to doing.
Do I Need Further Support?
There is a lot of free support out there especially within the UK – Speak to your GP if you feel you could benefit from further support.
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