The entire idea of Activity Scheduling to help people with depression is something I’ve heard a lot about lately. Yet it wasn’t entirely I was feeling intensely down and experiencing a mild depressive episode myself, I learnt just how powerful Activity Scheduling and other behavioural activation techniques can be. Therefore, in this clinical psychology podcast episode, you’ll learn what is Activity Scheduling, how Activity Scheduling improves depressed mood and how to use Activity Scheduling in your own life. If you enjoy learning about depression, cognitive-behavioural techniques and clinical psychology, then you’ll enjoy today’s episode.
Note: as always everything on this podcast is NEVER any sort of official medical, psychology or any other type of advice.
Today’s podcast episode has been sponsored by Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Why Is Activity Scheduling Needed?
When people experience a depressive episode, the vast majority of people can’t take part in activities they used to find fun, relaxing and enjoyable. Since depressed mood, feeling tired and a lot of other depressive symptoms can make people withdraw from the world. And whilst we all know this is true from our lectures and our interactions with service users, I’ve definitely found this recently because there are times when all I want to do is just lay on my bed and not talk, interact or see anyone. I actually just want to sleep but my evil body says no.
As a result, these depressive symptoms can make people experience periods of inactivity, which aren’t exactly helpful. Due to these periods of inactivity can help maintain depression.
And whilst I don’t have Major Depression Disorder (but most of us can relate because feeling depressed is a part of life. It only becomes a mental health condition when it happens for a long period of time and causes clinically significant levels of psychological distress and impaired functioning), last week at the time of writing I found that my inactivity would only make me ruminate more and more. Whereas today when I finished an activity that brought me a lot of joy (finishing a short story) my depression was burnt away for a few hours.
The reason why inactivity can maintain depression is because it causes rumination and makes people focus on their negative emotions and thoughts. Hence, this makes it even harder for people to have the motivation to start positive activities that might decrease their depressed mood. As well as inactivity means a person is likely to miss out on opportunities that could improve their mood.
Also, one of my problems for the past few weeks has actually been starting stuff. For example, I know writing a psychology blog post and writing fiction brings me a lot of joy but the motivation is hard to find. I actually meant to start this particular blog post an hour ago, and yet it’s taken me an hour (maybe two hours) to find the motivation to start it.
What Is Activity Scheduling?
Now that we understand why Activity Scheduling is needed, we need to know what it is and how it works. To put it simply, Activity Scheduling is where a depressed person schedules in activities they enjoy and these activities are likely to increase their mood. Activity Scheduling works by behavioural activation, which is a cognitive-behavioural treatment for depression that focuses on finding and doing activities that the person enjoys. As well as research consistently shows that scheduling and doing these activities increases mood and decrease depressive symptoms.
How To Use Activity Scheduling?
Firstly, a client would need to monitor their activities for one week so they can note down everything they do. This includes any activities they do and any period of time when they don’t do anything. Clients should do this because it helps them to see when to add in activities and when they start to do activities, monitoring their week allows them to keep track of their mood in relation to these activities.
Personally, because I started this blog post last night and I’m finishing it this morning, I’m sort of glad I only keep track of my activities in the morning. Since I have just wasted two hours doing busy work and just laying on my bedroom floor feeling depressed and down because of something in particular. Yet I would want to record both of these things.
Secondly, clients should use a calendar to schedule in daily activities because for people with depression, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders, it’s important to keep a regular schedule. Not only because a regular schedule helps with mood stability but scheduling in activities is a way to make sure a client actually does activities at a fixed, appropriate time of day.
In addition, it’s important that a client’s schedule stays manageable because a client shouldn’t fill up their schedule with too many activities because that might be too intense for them. As well as it might be helpful for them to choose a mixture of activities. Like some activities that are active and others that allow the client to decompress and unwind.
Thirdly, clients should do a mixture of important and enjoyable activities. Since clients need to do fun and enjoyable activities to increase pleasure and decrease their depressed mood. Yet it might take clients a lot of repetition of doing these pleasurable activities to get the same sort of pleasure out of them as they did before their depressed mood.
However, important activities are still, well, important as well. Due to these are activities that need to get done but they’re harder to complete when depressed. For example, paying bills, doing a chore, doing coursework or finishing anything at your job. These important activities are important to do because they can help a client increase their sense of mastery and achievement and this has positive knock-on effects as well. Which is even more important when we consider how depressed people are more self-critical so it’s important to balance this out with positive feelings of achievement.
Penultimately, it is critical that clients keep their activities small and manageable. This is something I completely understand because this is one of the reasons why me going to Newcastle not long after a mental breakdown wasn’t the best idea. It was way too big and it did a lot more harm than good.
Therefore, when it comes to completing a whole task, this can make a client feel very overwhelmed when they’re experiencing depression. So it’s important to break down the activity into small chunks. I did this the other night actually because I wanted to go on my laptop and do some business work but I was feeling way too down to actually do it. So I was just sitting on my desk chair by the door for a bit then I broke down the task of going to my laptop, turning it on and then doing something into smaller chunks. And it helped a lot.
Other people might need to do 50% of a task today and then finish it tomorrow, like I’m doing with this particular blog post. As well as sometimes old hobbies feel overwhelming, so it’s useful to start small and gradually spend more and more time doing it. Therefore, one day a client might be able to spend as long as they used to on their hobby and get as much pleasure from it as they used to.
Finally, clients should use mood tracking to note changes in their mood. This is a critical step in activity scheduling because mood tracking is a great way to recognise the relationship between doing activities you enjoy and find important and how it benefits your mood. As a result, clients should record their mood before and after an activity and see how they feel. Since seeing a positive difference, even a small one, can help with motivation and continuing to do what you enjoy so the benefits can only grow over time.
All whilst your mood remains balanced.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
Personally, I do love behavioural activation and activity scheduling because I know firsthand how powerful it is. I was shocked yesterday at how great I felt after finishing that short story because I love writing, it is an activity that seriously love and it was so nice to not feel depressed for a few hours after finishing it. It’s actually fun because it was a Matilda Plum short story, she's a superhero psychologist) and the story’s called “Face of Anxiety” in case you want to check it out in the future.
I definitely think that activity scheduling is something not all of us think about in our own lives enough. And if this podcast episode has taught you anything today, please let it be that we all have to do and make time for the activities we love whether you have depression or not. Activities are important so always make sure you have time to have fun, do what you love and smile.
Sometimes improving your mental health really is as simple as that.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Cognitive Psychology: A Guide To Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology Reference
Chartier, I. S., & Provencher, M. D. (2013). Behavioural activation for depression: Efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Journal of affective disorders, 145(3), 292-299.
Cuijpers, P., van Straten, A., & Warmerdam, L. Behavioral activation treatments of depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review 2007;27(3):318-326.
Ekers, D., Webster, L., Van Straten, A., Cuijpers, P., Richards, D., & Gilbody, S. (2014). Behavioural activation for depression; an update of meta-analysis of effectiveness and sub group analysis. PloS one, 9(6), e100100.
Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C.A. (2016). Mind over mood, second edition: Change how you feel by changing the way you think. Guilford Press.
Kellett, S., Simmonds-Buckley, M., Bliss, P., & Waller, G. (2017). Effectiveness of group behavioural activation for depression: A pilot study. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 45(4), 401-418.
Lejuez, C. W., Hopko, D. R., Acierno, R., Daughters, S. B., & Pagoto, S. L. (2011). Ten year revision of the brief behavioral activation treatment for depression: revised treatment manual. Behavior modification, 35(2), 111-161.
Masterson, C., Ekers, D., Gilbody, S., Richards, D., Toner-Clewes, B., & McMillan, D. (2014). Sudden gains in behavioural activation for depression. Behaviour research and therapy, 60, 34-38.
Orgeta, V., Brede, J., & Livingston, G. (2017). Behavioural activation for depression in older people: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 211(5), 274-279.
Otto, M., Reilly-Harrington, N. Kogan, J.N. Henin, A., Knauz, R.O., & Sachs, G.S. (2008). Managing bipolar disorder: a cognitive behavior treatment program. Oxford University Press.
Veale, D. (2008). Behavioural activation for depression. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 14(1), 29-36.
Weinstock, L.M., Melvin, C., Monroe, M.K., & Miller, I.W. (2016). Adjunctive behavioral activation for the treatment of bipolar depression: A proof of concept trial. Journal of Psychiatric Practice 22(2):149-158.
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