Hannahs helpful hints - low mood

Written on Monday 27th January 2020

*** Hannah's Helpful Hints ***

An understanding …
If you are struggling with motivation, or have stopped enjoying things, it could be a sign of low mood or depression. Other signs of low mood and depression can include poor sleep, reduced appetite or increased comfort eating, feeling tired, increased irritability, and feeling negative about yourself.
Of course we all feel like this sometimes. But if you are feeling like this more days than you are not and have done for more than a couple of weeks, it might benefit you to make some changes.

When we look at why we do things, it's usually because we want to, or we know we will enjoy it, or get some other positive feedback afterwards. As human beings we do look for quick results. Unfortunately, if our mood dips below a certain point, we stop experiencing this benefit. As a result, we can start feeling like "What's the point?" or "Why bother?" This often leads to stopping doing things.

Are you waiting for your motivation to return? Unfortunately, it won't come back by itself. And the longer you stop doing things for, the more you get sucked into the dark hole.

We need to shift our reasons for doing things. Instead of doing things because we want to or will instantly get something from it, we need to do it because we want to avoid feeling worse and want to start feeling better. Think of it as like exercise - when you go to your first class, you know you won't feel fitter, change your weight or body shape the first time, but you know that if you keep going the results will be achieved. Tackling low mood is quite similar, initially you might be pushing yourself and not seeing rewards, but keep at it and the results will come.

How to improve it …
Firstly it's important to accept that our reason for doing things now is not because we want to or feel like it, but instead because not doing it will make us feel worse.

Start by creating a list of all the things you want to be doing in future. This can include things that you have stopped doing recently, or things you are doing less often, or new things that you want to start doing to help yourself.
Think about these in categories:
* Routine activities - e.g. getting up, getting washed, getting dressed
* Home management - e.g. deal with bills, washing, dishes, tidying, cleaning, put the bins out
* Essential activities - e.g. order and collect prescription, book appt to see GP,
* Work or study - e.g. going to work, completing tasks when at work, applying for jobs, completing coursework tasks
* Social activities - e.g. calls, texts, social media engagement, seeing friends, seeing family
* Hobbies - e.g. things you do alone like reading, gym, cooking, listening to music
* Relationships - e.g. go on a date, planned activities with children

We then want to start to plan these activities into a diary. We generally plan up to a week ahead, but at least 3 days ahead. The aim of this plan is to give us time to consider what we should be working on in the week ahead, and by writing the plan and committing ourselves it makes us more likely to do something. Saying I'll do it some point this week isn't as effective for example as saying I'll do it Wednesday afternoon.

Diary plans are split into days of the week, and morning/afternoon/evening. Consider what you did over the last week, and what small steps you could take over the next week to make progress. Break bigger tasks down into smaller parts if needed. Think about what day, and what time of day to plan activities that gives you the best chance of achieving them. Make sure you have a balance of activities covering the categories above.

Depending on how low your mood is currently, depends on where you will start with your planned activities. If your mood has only dropped a little, it might be most things are good and you just need to plan in a bit more of social activities and hobbies. If your mood has really dropped goals can start with things like get out of bed by midday, get showered, get dressed, eat a meal etc.

If you find that you don't manage to do something you'd planned, try to not see this as you failing, but the plan not being right. Think about what you could alter with the plan for next time. E.g. the plan might have not been realistic in the first place, or you might have needed to break it down into smaller goals, or plan it at a different time of day/different day of the week.

If you'd like to find out more detail about this approach, it is what is often referred to in CBT as Activity Scheduling or Behavioural Activation.

Hannah's Helpful Hints is a series of self-help information and advice. A new symptom or problem will be covered every couple of weeks. If you'd like to subscribe, please get in touch with your email address.


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