Step 1: Identify when you feel most depressed
It's tempting to think "I feel depressed all the time" but the truth is that there are specific activities and time in the day(s) when you feel most depressed. For example, a person may feel most depressed in the mornings because the morning routine is daunting while afternoon is not as depressing.
The purpose of this step is to change your mindset from "I feel depressed all the time" to "I feel significantly depressed at a specific time and with a specific event". By isolating the moments you feel most depressed, you can start problem solving more effectively which is the first step to improving your mood.
Step 2: Make a huge list of pleasurable activities
Next is to create a list of many activities that you enjoy. Quantity over quality! Enjoyable activities possesses some of the following traits:
Makes you feel competent and have a sense of mastery
Intrinsically fun and pleasurable
Meaningful and reflects your values
Step 3: Pick 1 to 3 pleasurable activities
Now that you have a large list, let's pick 1 to 3 pleasurable activities that you are confident not skipping out out on. Here are some tips to pick the most ideal activity:
It's doable: it doesn't take a lot of effort, you enjoy it, and you already have the activity all set up and ready to use.
Easy to incorporate in your daily routine: going on a holiday is not normally possible on a daily basis. However, going on a coffee date might be.
Have a partner: if applicable, try to involve someone else in your pleasurable activity. This improves attendance and social interactions.
Step 4: Set a routine with pleasurable activities
You have picked some suitable pleasurable activities! You are ready to incorporate it into your daily routine. I cannot give you a schedule as this process is highly individualized (everyone's day is unique and everyone's pleasurable activities are different). However, here are some tips to give you some ideas on how to incorporate your activities into your routine:
Do the activity when you're likely to feel most depressed (remember Step 1: Identify when you feel most depressed?)
If you're doing the activity with a partner, make sure you both mutually agree on a time that works
Choose the "most convenient" time for your activity - for example, if you routinely sit at your desk at 2:00, you can conveniently engage in a desk-friendly activity such as drawing, reading a book, or crafting
To make an effective schedule planner, make sure your plan is specific and concrete. Know how long you will engage in it, where you will do the activity, and when you will do it. For example, I will practice my violin for 30 minutes every Tuesdays and Thursdays at home. For more advice on setting up a new pleasurable activity, click here!
Step 5: Rate your mood
Now be conscious of how you feel before and after you do the pleasurable activity. A good method is to rate your mood on a scale from 1 to 10 after and before the activity. Have the numbers beside each other for an easy comparison. When you look at your mood ratings, do some simple reflecting on how your pleasurable activity is connected to your mood:
What have I learned after engaging in this activity?
How did this activity affect my mood?
Did I assume the activity won't be fun? What do I think now?
Step 6: When you don't feel like it...do it anyway!
Of course, there will be times when you simply don't feel like doing it. You're tired, you're stressed, and maybe you're unmotivated. When you feel that way, remember that your pleasurable activity is your behavioural antidepressant that will improve your mood after you have completed it. Your pleasurable activities are good for you, so try your best to do it because you know it's healthy and it's part of your schedule. If you go by how you feel, you are more prone to skipping out on these activities because a depressed person is more likely to feel like not doing it.
If you find that it's consistently hard to complete your pleasurable activities, go back to step 3 and re-evaluate which pleasurable activity is more suitable for you. Then move to step four and review how you daily routine will fit in with your pleasurable activity.
Improving your mood and countering your depression will take persistence, effort, consistency, and time. Keep going at it, and you will see mood improvements! This technique is called behavioural activation. It is shown to be effective in lowering depression and improve overall mood. If you're interested in reading more about this wonderful technique, read this article.
About The Author
Jasmine Tsang is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) under the College of Registered Psychotherapist Ontario (CRPO) and the founder of Reflections Therapy. She specializes in providing counselling services for people facing challenges in their adulthood such as relationships, self-esteem issues, school & career stressors, anxiety, and depression. For more information about Jasmine, click here to read her bio.