I recently learned about a form of therapy that helps people to change their behavior and feel less depressed. This therapy is called Behavioral Activation. I was interested in this therapeutic modality because I have many habits that I'd like to change. I used to believe that my thoughts were the biggest offender in me feeling depressed, but now I see that my behavior plays a big part in how I feel. My mood is directly affected by my actions.
What is Behavioral Activation?
Behavioral Activation is a short-term form of therapy that teaches you to modify your behavior and help you form better habits. For example, maybe you struggle with going to parties. You isolate from social events because you have anxiety about being around people. When you're working with a therapist who uses Behavioral Activation, you'll strategize ways to get to a party even though you have anxiety about it.
Behavioral Activation helps people to stop obsessing over what they feel they can't do. They are encouraged to act even though they're scared. Part of B.A. is to take small steps. The first step (if you were trying to go to a party for example) would be to choose an outfit you want to wear. The next step would be to take a shower. A third step would be to put your shoes on and so forth. Breaking things down into more manageable tasks, in theory, helps you to accomplish your goal.
Negative Thinking Doesn't Have to Stop You
Negative thoughts will be there no matter what you do, but it's what you do with them that matters. It isn't your thoughts that you have to change first, it's your actions. Once you change what you're doing, your thoughts will change. For example, you're having trouble writing a research paper. If you used Behavioral Activation, the first step would be to sit at the computer even though you don't want to write the paper. Next, you would open Microsoft Word. A third step would be to start typing whether the words make sense or not. Start by taking one action and see where that goes.
Rewards or Reinforcers
One of the things that Behavioral Activation stresses are rewards or reinforcers. Let's go back to the party example. You're afraid to go to a party and be social because it causes you anxiety. You could sit there and obsess about leaving your house. Should you stay home and watch Netflix or push yourself to leave the house? You've worked in therapy using Behavioral Activation, so you are aware that an action is a powerful tool that can help you. After you take the small steps to get out the door and to the event, you get there. You are rewarded when you see a good friend there. You start talking to your friend and as a result your mood lifts.
Whether you are working with a local therapist or using psychotherapy online, Behavioral Activation is something that a professional can work with you on. It's not only about changing your thoughts, that's only half the battle. When you work hard to change your actions, you will notice a difference in your quality of life.
What about you? Have you tried to change your behavior? Tell me about it.