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How to treat depression on your own

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How to treat depression on your own

Treating depression at home with 3 basic techniques

Table of Contents

Treating depression at home, by your own effort, is not an impossible task at all. There are many ways of reducing depressive symptoms by making a few changes to everyday life. This text will show you how to start treating your depression with three well-used techniques from behavioural psychology.

  1. Making an activity chart.
  2. Learning the tiny habits-technique.
  3. Using the ABC-model.
One of the reasons why behaviour therapy works, is that it activates you and teaches you how to treat depression by your own effort. To put it simply, behaviour therapy encourages people to engage in important activities. It’s one of the most important things to do when going through depression. Doing the things that are meaningful (or used to feel meaningful) will stop your depressive symptoms from worsening and decrease depression. Of course, when going through depression, this is not as easy as it sounds. Tasks that used to be uncomplicated can suddenly seem as challenging as mountain climbing. That’s why psychologists have developed techniques specifically designed to help depressed people add meaningful activities to their everyday lives. Let’s start with one of the most commonly used techniques for treating depression on your own.
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1. Starting depression treatment at home

– By making an activity chart

This well-used technique from behaviour therapy teaches us how to treat depression at home with the help of a calendar. The theory behind the activity chart is called behavioural activation, which is a fancy way of saying that it focuses on important activities that you would like to add to your life in order to get out of depression. The easiest way to do it is by creating a chart. Admittedly, the name is not exactly alluring, but the technique actually works. The activity chart will help you monitor your own behaviour, which in turn, increases the “observer effect”. It means that we often perform better when we are being evaluated or observed by someone. For example, if you meet another jogger on the track, you might automatically pick up the pace. Or if your boss comes into the office, you might get started with an assignment.
How can making a chart of your activities reduce depressive symptoms? Well, a solid first step towards treating depression on your own is a reality check. Keeping track of your daily activities will give you more objective information about what your life actually looks like. Maybe you do more or less than what you think? Another important benefit of the activity chart is that it puts you out of autopilot and into controlling your life. Not bad, right? People often think and act automatically, without conscious control. Sometimes it makes us repeat destructive habits without thinking about it. Our autopilot (the things we do automatically) is shaped from what we have experienced in the past. We once learned those automatic behaviours. The good thing is that we can learn new behaviours and change the behaviours that don’t seem to work for us anymore. This is an important realization when treating depression on your own; behaviours are learned and can be relearned. The activity chart helps you replace old behaviours with new ones that are more important to you. Instead of living on autopilot, you will become more aware of what you actually do. So, in the name of behavioural activation, let’s create a little more action.

For this exercise, you’ll need:

  • Something to write with ✏️ ⌨️
  • Something to write on 📔📱

We’ll create an activity chart in three simple steps:

  1. Write down your daily activities
  2. Record your mood
  3. Record your sense of mastery

Step 1: Write down daily activities

Let’s begin the process of how to treat depression on your own with a simple question. What did you do today? Try to write down today’s activities hour by hour (as far as the day has progressed). Or if you just woke up, try to write down what you did yesterday. Maybe something like this:
Time Activity - Monday
07.00 Sleep 16.00 Same
08.00 Make coffee 17.00 Driving home
09.00 Driving to work 18.00 TV
10.00 Checking email 19.00 TV
11.00 Updating website 20.00 TV
12.00 Same 21.00 Showering
13.00 Same 22.00 Reading magazine
14.00 Eating sallad 23.00 In bed
15.00 Meeting client 24.00 Sleep

Now it’s your turn. Go ahead and write. It doesn’t have to be “perfect”, this is just for practice.

Did you really do it? If not, give it another try.

Congratulations, you took the first step towards at-home depression treatment. Before we move on to the next, take a look at this video. It shows how to treat depression at home with an activity chart and explains the next two steps in some detail:

Step 2: Record your mood

The next step towards treating depression on your own, is to start recording your mood during daily activities. If this confuses you, please, go back and watch the video. If not, let’s do it. Before you start recording, take a look at this example:
Time Activity - Monday
07.00 Sleep 16.00 Same
08.00 Make coffee Mood: 8 17.00 Driving home Mood: 4
09.00 Driving to work Mood: 8 18.00 TV Mood: 8
10.00 Checking email Mood: 7 19.00 TV
11.00 Updating website Mood: 5 20.00 TV
12.00 Same 21.00 Showering Mood: 6
13.00 Same 22.00 Reading magazine Mood: 5
14.00 Eating sallad Mood: 6 23.00 In bed Mood: 7
15.00 Meeting client Mood: 3 24.00 Sleep

Just for practice, now you try it. Rate how depressed you felt during these activities on a scale from 1 to 10. 10 is when the symptoms are very intense, and 1 is not at all intense. It can be difficult to remember how you felt earlier today and it doesn’t have to be “perfect”. The important thing is that you try it.

Did you really do it?

Congratulations on finishing the second step on the road towards treating depression on your own. Only one step left.

The last step is very important when it comes to treating depression at home. Recording your sense of mastery will help you reflect on what kind of activities are especially important to you and should be added to your schedule. When doing this regularly, you will get to know yourself better and gain a better understanding of your depressive symptoms. A complete Activity chart might look like this:

Step 3: Record your sense of mastery

The last step is very important when it comes to treating depression at home. Recording your sense of mastery will help you reflect on what kind of activities are especially important to you and should be added to your schedule. When doing this regularly, you will get to know yourself better and gain a better understanding of your depressive symptoms. A complete Activity chart might look like this:
Time Activity - Monday
07.00 Sleep 16.00 Same
08.00 Make coffee Mood: 8 Mastery: 6 17.00 Driving home Mood: 4
09.00 Driving to work Mood: 8 Mastery: 8 18.00 Driving to work Mood: 8 Mastery: 2
10.00 Checking email Mood: 7 Mastery: 2 19.00 TV
11.00 Updating website Mood: 5 Mastery: 3 20.00 TV
12.00 Same 21.00 Showering Mood: 6 Mastery: 7
13.00 Same 22.00 Reading magazine Mood: 5 Mastery: 2
14.00 Eating sallad Mood: 6 23.00 In bed Mood: 7
15.00 Meeting client Mood: 3 Mastery: 10 24.00 Sleep

As you can see, activities such as getting out of bed to make coffee in the morning or driving to work can be very challenging, but also give a high sense of mastery. That’s why it’s important not to erase those kinds of activities from the schedule. They give this person meaning and a feeling of accomplishment.

Now, you try it. Go ahead and record your sense of mastery from 1-10. 1 means no feeling of accomplishment at all and 10 is a very strong sense of accomplishment. It can be difficult to remember how you felt earlier today and it doesn’t have to be “perfect”. It’s just good practice.

Congratulations on finishing your activity chart and starting depression treatment on your own.

Making the Activity chart a regular thing

To help you treat depression on your own, the recommendation is to fill out a chart every day for the next week (or longer). Because memories aren’t perfect, the best way to do it is to write in the chart a few times during the day, as close as possible to the actual activities. For example, you can write the morning activities during lunchtime, the lunchtime activities in the afternoon and so on. This will help you reflect on what activities increase your mood and your sense of mastery, so you’ll know what activities to add to your life. In the next paragraph, you will learn a simple and brilliant technique for creating new habits. It will help you fill out the activity chart on a regular basis and also add new activities to your life without unnecessary effort.

2. Treating depression at home with minimal effort

– By learning the tiny habits-technique

Treating your depression at home, inevitably means that you need to change some daily routines and create new, antidepressant habits. Most people find this difficult and depressed people usually find it very difficult. Depressive symptoms include feeling blue and tired all the time and experiencing decreased interest in activities, so it’s not so strange to think that creating new habits can be a challenge. Luckily, there is a technique developed by behaviour scientist BJ Fogg at Stanford University that will help you do this with minimal effort. The tiny habits-technique can most likely help you reduce depressive symptoms and treat your depression on your own. Best of all, it’s in three simple steps:
  1. Find an existing habit (such as brushing your teeth or turning on your computer)
  2. Add a new tiny habit, and do it immediately afterwards.
  3. Celebrate!
The best way to create a new habit is to build on an already existing habit and then celebrate. Simple as that. Would you like an example? Here it comes:

Tony’s antidepressant habit

physical exercise is an effective way to treat depression on your own

Tony knew that physical exercise is an effective way to treat depression on your own. He had always wanted to build up his physical strength. He had bought many gym cards in the last couple of years, but never actually used them. He realised that he wasn’t motivated enough to spend 60 minutes at the gym, but it was still important to him to have a stronger body and mind. Tony then learned this tiny-habits technique. He decided that every time after brushing his teeth, he would do two burpees. So, brushing teeth would become a trigger for the new habit (two burpees). And then, immediately afterwards, he would celebrate by telling himself, “you’re awesome”! (It seems silly, but it actually works. Celebrating increases the probability that a person will repeat a new behaviour.) Every week, Tony could increase the number of burpees by one or two. A year later, Tony was doing 30-40 burpees a day.

How Philip treated depression at home by creating a new habit

The tiny habits-technique can be used in basically every area of life and is an excellent way to create new antidepressant habits. Another example is about Philip and his eating habits. (If you already get the point, you can skip the rest of this paragraph.) Anyway, Philip wanted to change his diet. Like many others, he had tried before and failed miserably. Because he knew that eating vegetables, berries, fruits, nuts and seeds could decrease symptoms of depression, it was still important to him to give it another try. He started practising this tiny-habits technique by eating one piece of fruit or a vegetable after every cup of coffee or tea. As you probably figured out, drinking coffee was already a habit, which made it perfect to use as a trigger. Afterwards, he celebrated by putting his fist in the air saying, “I did it” and his brain immediately released some happy chemicals, even though it felt odd at first.

By associating one habit with another, Philip added lots of important vitamins and antioxidants to his diet. In just a few months he had created the habit of eating large amounts of fruit and vegetables. This is an excellent way of treating depressive symptoms on your own.

What habits and routines are antidepressant?

If you want to know more about what habits and routines decrease depressive symptoms, you’ll find the information here: 5 ways to treat depression without medication

Turning activity-charting into a tiny habit

– A combination is the best medicine

It’s a challenging task to treat depression at home, but definitely not impossible. Your chances of reducing depressive symptoms are better if you combine several behavioural techniques. Now, let’s put our newly learned techniques together by turning activity-charting into a tiny habit. Here’s an example of what it might look like:

  1. Trigger: Every time I’m going to the bathroom.
  2. Tiny habit: Record activities, mood and mastery in the activity chart.
  3. Celebrate: Say “Yeah, I did it” (aloud or quietly in my head).

In the next section, you’ll get step-by-step instructions on how to create your own tiny habit.

Treating depression one tiny habit at a time

This section will show you how to treat depression on your own by making a tiny habit. First thing to do is to find a good trigger. That is, an already existing habit that you do every day. It could be anything, just as long as you repeat it daily without much effort. Here are a few examples of triggers:

  • Checking email
  • Checking Facebook
  • Eating
  • Drinking coffee/tea
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Brushing teeth
  • Putting on make-up
  • Etc.
Now, ask yourself this question:
  • What existing habit could be my trigger? (write down the answer!)

Now you have the trigger. The next step is to find a tiny habit. Your new tiny habit could be anything that reduces depressive symptoms. Remember, it should be something tiny. For example, start by doing one push-up and not a 30-minute run. The good thing is that you can use this technique to change any routine in your daily life, such as eating, exercising, sleeping and meditating (those are important antidepressant routines by the way). Now, ask yourself these questions and write down the answer:

  • What habit would I like to add to my life? What could be my new tiny habit?
Now you have the trigger and the tiny habit. Last step is to choose the words that you can use to celebrate, for example “I did it” or “I’m awesome”. You can say it quietly in your head or shout them from the rooftops. Your choice. Ask yourself this question and write down the answer:
  • What words can I use to celebrate?
Congratulations on creating your first tiny habit. The next section introduces a technique for self reflection, commonly used in behaviour therapy. It will further increase your chances of treating depression on your own.

3. Self-reflect and treat depression on your own

– the ABC-model is your guide to self awareness

How could self-reflection help you treat depression on your own? Well, self-reflection takes us out of autopilot and into control. When going through depression, we usually engage in behaviours that maintain the depression, without even knowing it. It can be things such as staying in bed for too long, avoiding spending time with friends, yelling at our spouse for trivialities, avoiding confrontation, stopping playing a favourite musical instrument or stopping taking walks. The ABC-model makes us more aware of such behaviours. It helps us figure out what we need to do more or less of to feel better. It can be applied to basically every situation of your life. Also, it’s a good idea to combine it with an activity chart and the tiny habits technique (see above). This text will explain the theory behind the ABC-model and show you how to apply it to your own life.

The letters in ABC stands for:

  • Antecedent
  • Behaviour
  • Consequences
The following example is about a woman called Sarah. It will show you how to apply the letters to everyday situations:

When Sarah was a child, her father used to talk to her in a condescending manner, often mocking her whenever she expressed an opinion. As an adult, Sarah was happy to get her first job, but whenever she had a discussion with an older man at work, she became quiet and insecure. Often, she just tried to avoid the discussion altogether, even though her father was nowhere around.

Sarah’s behaviour might seem odd to an outsider, but when you consider her history, maybe it’s not so strange.

The ABC model can help us understand Sarah’s actions. It tells us why a behaviour happens. The A in ABC stands for Antecedent. It means that certain situations will make us think, feel and act in certain ways, based on our past experiences. For example, if you were bitten by a dog last week, maybe the sight of a golden retriever would make you jump. If you’ve only had nice experiences with dogs, maybe you would act differently. Anyway, the A triggers us to act in a certain way, for example reacting to a golden retriever. The B is how we act, for example, feeling fear and jumping. It’s like we’ve been programmed to act in a certain way when a particular thing happens. In Sarah’s case, she associated talking to an older man (A) with feeling insecure and avoiding the discussion (B).

ABC model to treat depression on your own
What about the C in our ABCs? C stands for Consequences. Sometimes consequences make us repeat a behaviour. For example, eating something that tastes good makes us want to eat it again. And we learn to avoid things we don’t like. Let’s return to Sarah. Trying to avoid the discussion (B) gives Sarah a momentary feeling of relief (C). So, she keeps avoiding discussions.
The ABC model can help you to treat depression on your own

Of course, the long-term consequences are much less enjoyable. Sarah’s feelings of insecurity never disappeared; actually, they grew stronger. Eventually she decided to do something about it.

The ABC model can help us become more aware of things we do automatically. That is the first step towards changing a problematic behaviour. And then, we practice a new behaviour in very small steps. For example, Sarah started with role-playing conversations with a friend who pretended to be a male co-worker. Later, she moved on to have short conversations about the weather with an older man at work.

The best thing about the ABC model is that you can start right now. Is there a problematic behaviour that you would like to change in your life? There is? Then, you already have the B in your ABC.

Summing up the ABC-model

To sum up: The A in ABC stands for Antecedent and triggers us to act in a certain way, for example spotting a golden retriever. The B stands for Behaviour. The behaviour is how we act in the situation, for example feeling fear and running away from the dog. The C stands for Consequences, for example a feeling of relief when the dog is out of sight.

A: Spotting a golden retriever.

B: Feeling fear and running away.

C: Short-term relief.

Consequences make us repeat behaviours. For example, a person keeps running away from dogs because she/he knows it will give them a feeling of relief. Also, consequences can be different short-term and long-term. Running away might create short-term relief, but long-term the fear of dogs is likely to intensify.

Short-term consequence: Relief.
Long-term consequence: Fear of dogs intensifies

Here’s another example of an ABC-model:

Creating your own ABC

Creating your own model will help you reflect on your own behaviour and treat depressive symptoms. Ready to begin?

The easiest way to start an ABC model is with the B. The B could be a harmful habit, something you’re avoiding or something that causes problems in your life. It can be basically anything. It depends on what you have learned throughout life. Here are some common examples of Bs:

  • Staying in bed for too long. 
  • Over- or undereating. 
  • Avoiding a conflict. 
  • Cancelling plans.
So, can you think of anything you do or don’t do that causes problems in your life? To find your B, ask yourself this question:
  • What’s my problematic behaviour that I would like to change? (Write down your answer.)

Let’s continue with A, and this one often requires some thought. The A is the situation that triggers you to act in a way that causes problems. Maybe you think about or see something that causes you discomfort. To find your A, ask yourself this question and write down the answer:

  • What kind of situation usually triggers this problematic behaviour?
Now, let’s have a look at C, the consequences. There is a reason why you keep performing this problematic behaviour. In a way, it’s perfectly logical. The only reason we want to change it, is because it creates more difficulties in the long run. Short-term, you probably have something to gain, for example a quick feeling of relief or less discomfort in the moment. To find your C, ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
  • What are the short-term consequences? What do I gain from this behaviour?
Congratulations on finishing your ABC-model. It can be very useful to reflect on these things when trying to get out of depression.

Using the ABC-model to change your life

The first step towards changing a problematic behaviour is becoming aware of it. The next step is to understand how it affects your life. Ask yourself:

  • What will happen if I keep repeating this behaviour? What long-term problems can I expect?

At this point, you probably know if you’d like to change this behaviour or not. If you decide to change it, remember to take small steps forward. It’s important not to take on too much when going through depression. For someone who needs to exercise regularly but often ends up staying at home, a small step forward can be a 10-minute walk on a particular day. For a person who gets unreasonably angry at work, a step forward might be to stop and count to 10 before reacting on one occasion during the week. For someone who tends to skip lunch, a step forward might be to eat a salad at lunchtime on a particular day. 

So, your first step towards changing your behaviour will be to add an activity to your schedule this week. Make sure to record it in your activity chart. To get started, ask yourself this question:

  • What could be a first step towards changing this problematic behaviour? (Remember, it should be a super-tiny thing)

Good work. You can use this model to start making positive changes in your life and treat depression at home. The important thing is to start small and don’t judge yourself too hard if something doesn’t go according to plan.

In the process of treating depression on your own, it’s a good idea to make new goals specific and measurable. These questions will help you follow through with your new activity:

  • On what day and time will you do it?
  • For how long?
  • Are you doing this alone or with a friend? When can you tell the friend?
  • What could stop you from doing this? (For example, thoughts, work assignments, kids, anxiety, feeling tired etc.)
  • So, what’s plan B?
  • How will you reward yourself after the activity?
If we use it regularly, the ABC-model can help us change our lives for the better, one tiny step at a time. We become more aware of things we do automatically and gain more control over everyday situations. Hopefully, you will find it helpful.

Treating depression on your own with Flow Neuroscience’s therapy app

If you want more help treating depression at home, download the free therapy app from Flow Neuroscience. It’s based on the latest research on depression treatment and helps you create new, antidepressant habits. The app is actually a complete treatment programme in itself and focuses mainly on diet, exercise, sleep and meditation. It is possible to overcome depression by your own effort.

If you liked this text, you’ll find more good stuff here: 5 ways to treat depression without medication.

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