Have you ever been given advice that you should just “go out and take a walk” to deal with depression?
If so, then you’re not alone.
This advice comes from a good place
First things first, it’s important to understand that the people in your life are often trying to do their best to offer the support that they can. Many times these same people feel some pressure to help you feel better. Then they instinctively go into problem-solving mode instead of active listening. I often tell clients that maybe even those loved ones are uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. Then they just tell you something to do – and that doesn’t feel great. And, in most instances, this is not the best course of action because when you’re dealing with mental health issues it’s often much more important to feel heard than being immediately shepherded into some next step that’s supposed to solve all your problems. Obviously, things don’t really work that way.
There is an obvious gap of understanding of depression, and other mental health conditions, when you’re not a licensed therapist, but a lot of the ways in which lay people try to help actually have roots in some evidence-based strategies ironically.
The main benefit of Behavioral Activation
Just drink a glass of water. Go take a shower. Play with the dog for a few minutes. Start a new hobby!
These are often the kinds of advice that people may offer to help you manage the ups and downs of depression. As a therapist I can tell you that the suggestion isn’t bad in and of itself – the issue with it is really a problem of framing.
These kinds of suggestions have their roots in a process called behavioral activation, which is a well-established treatment for depression (not that anyone really knows that). Essentially, the idea is that you can use behaviors and activities to impact your emotional state. More specifically, because depression often comes with low mood and an overall loss of feeling and pleasure, intentionally engaging in pleasurable activities can help temporarily lift your mood.
But that’s the thing – this TEMPORARILY lifts your mood.
It doesn’t “cure” depression.
Behavioral activation, in my opinion, doesn’t resolve depression. What it does do is help break up the momentum of depression. The hope is that if you can make some pleasurable activity happen then it’s much more likely that something brings pleasure and leaves you feeling less isolated. From there you can continue to build on that momentum and take more active behaviors in managing depression symptoms and just generally living in a way that feels better.
So, if you get the feedback that you should just “get outside today” try to take the advice for what it is and maybe even remind your loved ones that you need more emotional support and a listening ear, not just advice on what to do next. One without the other can feel invalidating but when both are present it can be come much easier to manage the ups and downs of depression.