Why does being active relieve depression?
One thing I talk about a lot with my patients is the idea of behavioral activation, which is a part of cognitive behavioral therapy. I think of it as a three-legged stool of social activity, recreational activity, and physical activity. And you really do need to have elements of all of those to maximize your mood and to really give yourself the best chance to improve your mood.
There’s a lot of great evidence that remaining active in all of those areas is really important to help with depression. Sometimes it’s as small as starting with a walk to the mailbox and back, and then trying to figure out how we can build on that. Or with social activity, the person might not be ready to connect with a lot of friends yet, but can call one person and then try to figure out how to build on that. The tendency with depression is to really want to isolate, and there’s this lack of motivation that’s inherent in a lot of depressed individuals that is really hard to manage.
It’s a very cyclical thing. So, people feel bad, then they do less, then they feel worse, and it’s kind of downward from there. So it’s really a matter of kind of pushing back against that and starting small. If we try to think about one thing that you can do today to try to help yourself climb out of this, then we can build from there.
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Dr. Samantha Artherholt is a psychologist that works with people following traumatic brain injury, as well as their caregivers and family members.