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.
- Making an activity chart.
- Learning the tiny habits-technique.
- Using the ABC-model.
Treat depression at home
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1. Starting depression treatment at home
– By making an activity chart
For this exercise, you’ll need:
- Something to write with ✏️ ⌨️
- Something to write on 📔📱
We’ll create an activity chart in three simple steps:
- Write down your daily activities
- Record your mood
- Record your sense of mastery
Step 1: Write down daily activities
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
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
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
2. Treating depression at home with minimal effort
– By learning the tiny habits-technique
- Find an existing habit (such as brushing your teeth or turning on your computer)
- Add a new tiny habit, and do it immediately afterwards.
Tony’s antidepressant habit
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
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:
- Trigger: Every time I’m going to the bathroom.
- Tiny habit: Record activities, mood and mastery in the activity chart.
- 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
- Drinking coffee/tea
- Going to the bathroom
- Brushing teeth
- Putting on make-up
- 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?
- What words can I use to celebrate?
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:
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).
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
A: Spotting a golden retriever.
B: Feeling fear and running away.
C: Short-term relief.
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.
- 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?
- What are the short-term consequences? What do I gain from this behaviour?
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?
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.