Depression tends to really limit a person’s world. When we are depressed, our body pulls for rest and our brain tells us to sit down and do nothing. Consequently, the lack of activities and positive reinforcement in our lives perpetuate the cycle of depression ad infinitum.
Activity scheduling is an evidence-based cognitive behavioural strategy that is part of Behavioural Activation that has been shown to improve mood. Activity scheduling works by purposefully adding things that we enjoy into our lives, thereby breaking the vicious depressive cycle. For example, a person might make an intentional effort to spend time with a friend at least once a week.
Although activity scheduling seems simple in theory, practicing activity scheduling for people with depression is another beast altogether. It’s easy to say “just add thing you enjoy into your life”; but, when you are depressed there is minimal cognitive and emotional resources to work from.
With such limited resources, it’s important to be very choosy about which activities we add into our lives to give us the most bang for our buck. But how do we know what to choose?
The Importance of Values in Activity Scheduling
Values are life-concepts that are meaningful and important to us. And what is important in life is different for each and every one of us.
Values act as a sort of compass that provides direction into where we should direct our resources and what goals we set for ourselves. By understanding our own values, we come to determine which activities might be the best to start incorporating back in our lives to give ourselves a sense of purpose, enjoyment, self-efficacy, and meaning.
Benefits of values in activity scheduling
There are three main benefits of determining our values before scheduling activities.
1. Focusing our activities based on our values increases our likelihood to actually engage in the activity. When we do something because we feel like we should or other people say it’s good for you, we are moving based on another person or society’s values. It’s much harder to follow through on scheduled activities when we are not working towards something that came from our own values.
2. Value-based activities will give us the biggest bang for our buck. As we discussed, our resources during depression are limited. We want to make sure that anything we add to our lives at this time helps generate positive reinforcement and momentum to get us to where want to be.
3. Value-based activities add meaning to our lives. And having meaning and purpose is incredibly important to feeling like we are on the right path. I believe living a life consistent with one’s own values is one of the strongest antidepressants available.
Examples of values and possible activities
- Friends and family. For some, their values may be about their social relationships, such as family and friends. Activities could include: setting up a lunch with a family member, having a phone call in the evening with a friend, doing a fun activity with a partner.
- Activity (e.g., sports, hiking, running). The specific activity depends on what you enjoy and where you are currently at in your journey. For some, it might be taking a walk for five minutes whereas for others it may be biking a few times a week. Choose whatever you enjoy and can stay consistent with!
- Employment and career. This could include completing further education or training to support your vocational goals.
- Personal growth. Perhaps spending a few minutes everyday learning a new language; reading books; trying out a new hobby; travelling.
- Hobbies. A million possibilities here. Start small and stick with it!
How do I determine my values?
It is sometimes difficult for people who are depressed to recall their lives before depression took over. You may hear people with depression saying “I have no idea – it feels so long since I have done anything”. There are a couple ways to identify your values.
1. Try to think about what you used to do before depression. What was life like when you felt okay? Were there specific activities you used to enjoy? Try to jot down aspects of life back then that you would like to re-incorporate back into your life now. Anhedonia (loss of interest) in depression can make previously enjoyed activities less pleasurable. During activity scheduling, it is important to recognize that our behaviours can precede how we feel. That’s why it’s important to focus on values, because we are doing things that is important to us regardless of how it might make us feel in the beginning.
2. Using the ‘miracle question’. The miracle question asks: “if you were to wake up suddenly tomorrow and all of your problems were gone, what would you be doing?”. This question takes us out of our current context to look into the far future during a time when our depression is no longer plaguing us. The activities we see ourselves doing may guide us towards a better understanding of our values.
I better understand my values now. How do I start activity scheduling?
1. Start small! We want to set ourselves up for success when implementing new routines into our day. Pick something that feels feasible but adds a lot of value to our lives. One of my patients found that starting her day by going to Starbucks helped her add a little joy into her life while simultaneously getting her out of bed. If you are interested in developing specific goals, here’s a post on how to use SMART goals.
2. Set reminders. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we have something scheduled. Having an alarm or calendar schedule to remind us of planned tasks can be a great way to stay on track!
3. Rate your mood before and after! Being a curious experimenter and evaluating how we felt before and after engaging in a task can be a good way to decide which activities give us traction, and which ones we should throw by the wayside. Experiment with a few different activities to see which one gives you the best bang for your buck! Stick with the ones that you feel add value to your life.
I hope this post was helpful in learning more about how values can be helpful in support activity scheduling!
Featured photo credits: Estée Janssens on Unsplash