The symptoms of low mood or depression can bring about some drastic changes in a person’s life, daily routines, and their behaviour. Often it is these changes that makes mood worse and prevents the person from getting better.
For example, a lack of motivation or energy can result in a person cutting back on their activities, neglecting their daily tasks and responsibilities, and leaving decision-making to others. Have you noticed these changes in yourself when you are feeling low?
When your activity level decreases, you may become even less motivated and more lethargic. When you stop doing the things you used to enjoy, you miss out on experiencing pleasant feelings and positive experiences. Your mood can then get worse and this becomes a vicious cycle.
Similarly, when one begins neglecting a few tasks and responsibilities at work or at home, the list may begin to build up. As such, you can start to think about the things you have to do, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have put off doing. This may result in feeling guilty or thinking that you are ineffective or even, a failure. This will also worsen your mood.
One way to combat low mood or depression is to simply increase your activity level, especially in pleasurable activities – having fun – and tackling your list of tasks and responsibilities, but doing it in a realistic and achievable way, so that you set yourself up to succeed.
Becoming more active has a number of advantages:
1. Activity helps you to feel better. At the very least, when you start engaging in some kind of activity, it gives your mind something else to think about – a different focus. Doing things, even a little at a time, can help give you a sense that you are moving forward, taking control of your life again, and doing something – experiencing a sense of achievement. You may even find pleasure and enjoyment in the activities you do.
2. Activity helps you to feel less tired. Usually, when you are physically tired, you need rest. However, when you are feeling depressed, the opposite is true. Sleeping more and sitting around doing nothing will only cause you to feel more lethargic and tired. Also, doing nothing leaves room for your mind to ruminate on depressive thoughts, which will make your feel even more depressed.
3. Activity can help you think more clearly. Once you get started, you may find that you take a different perspective on particular problems in your life. Also, because your mind takes a different focus as a result of the activity, your thoughts may become clearer.
Setting goals is an important step in helping you increase activity. Goals will help you to think about what you would like to work towards in the coming months.
It may be useful to think about goals in relation to your values. Some examples of values:
· Work, education, studying & learning
· Friends & social activities
· Family & intimate relationships
· Physical health, exercise & wellbeing
· Spirituality & religion
· Recreation, leisure & fun
· Music, art & creativity
· Community & sociality
Goals can be divided into short-term (what you would like to achieve in the next 1 or 2 weeks), medium-term (6 to 8 weeks) and long-term goals (6 to 12 months). Have different goals to work towards, to make your life as balanced as possible. Rather than working on one particular area of your life, such as work, ensure that your long-term goals have a mixture of activities. Remember that activities for pleasure are as important as work and chores. Be wary of being too ‘driven’ or ‘ambition orientated’ when setting your goals.
Make your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed). Ask yourself the following questions:
What am I going to do? (Be Specific!)
How often do I want to do it?
How long am I going to do it for?
Who do I want to do it with?
How will I know when I’ve done it?
How to set goals
1. Write a list of things that you would like to work towards over the coming months.
2. Prioritise your list into four areas, e.g. work, social, exercise, leisure.
3. Ensure that your goals are clearly defined and specific.
Examples of clearly defined goals
● to swim twice a week, for half an hour each time
● to do voluntary work three times a week for at least two hours each time
● to go out with friends once a week, for up to three hours
● to do gardening three times a week for half an hour each time
● to do an hour of chores every day (such as ironing, washing, cleaning)
● to sit and read the paper/ magazine for half an hour every day
Examples of not clearly defined goals
● to go out more socially
● to be more active
● to feel better
Break down your goals into manageable steps. For example:
To do something relaxing for myself for an hour every day
Steps to achieving goal:
● leave work on time each day
● ask other family members to help with the chores
● leave non-urgent activities for another day
● plan a list of pleasurable things that I would like to do each day