behavioral change to improve mood

How Behavioral Change Can Improve Your Mood

Everyone has rough days sometimes. Problems at work, frustrating interactions with family, or even hormonal changes can cause negative feelings to dwell. Think about how you deal with days like this?

Do you grab a pint of ice cream and binge your favorite show? Do you isolate yourself and wallow in those negative feelings? Do you lash out at people or let the anger fester?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be making your bad day worse. While it’s fine to cozy up with a good show, have some alone time, or feel angry sometimes, these aren’t methods for turning a bad day around. Instead, try behavioral activation.

What is Behavioral Activation?

Behavioral activation is a powerful technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). When you use this method, you improve your mood by choosing to participate in things that move you toward your goals.

For example, you may decide to go for a walk, take a soothing bath, or play with your children in response to a bad day. By doing something you enjoy or something that moves you toward an important goal, you feel good, and the adverse events of the day fade away.

Behavioral activation can help treat common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Although it can work quickly, you may go through several stages before behavioral activation can take full effect.

Stages of Behavior Change

To use behavioral activation, you first need to identify the triggers that make you want to engage in unhelpful activities. Knowing what can send you in a downward spiral, you can recognize the feelings for what they are and plan accordingly. For example, if you want to isolate yourself after every bad day at work, you know to plan something positive after stressful workdays.

Next, you should identify your goals and activities that you can do to help you achieve those things. Some examples of go-to activities include:

  • Take a long shower or bath
  • Get some household chores done
  • Spend time with friends or loved ones
  • Exercise

Make a list of things you can do that feel good and are mentally healthy. A qualified therapist can help you with all of these beginning steps. Together, you can identify your triggers and decide on some healthy behaviors that will change your mood.

The final stage of behavioral activation is to recognize those triggers when they happen and respond with one of the activities on your list.

How to Recognize Triggers and Adjust Behavior

To make behavioral activation work, you must be able to recognize a downward emotional spiral as it starts and then do one of the healthy activities you planned. While this might sound easy enough, it can take time and practice to do this consistently. However, many patients find that the effort is well worth the results they earn.

One thing that can help is to keep a journal. Each day, write about how you felt and what you did. Over time, you will recognize a pattern, which can help you change the pattern. You can also go over these journals with your therapist for additional help. You can also try asking yourself several questions throughout the day, such as:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What makes me feel that way?
  • What can I do to feel better?

It’s particularly helpful if you ask these questions as soon as you notice yourself engaging in the unhealthy behaviors that make things worse. For example, people who eat emotionally can ask themselves about their feelings every time they reach for some of their favorite treats.

Finally, choose helpful activities that are manageable and start with the easiest tasks. When you’re in a bad mood, you may not feel like you want to go for a long fun, for example. However, chatting with a friend may feel doable. Start there and work your way toward the harder tasks.

The experienced behavioral health specialists at LifeStance Health can help you use behavioral activation and other CBT techniques to heal. Contact us today to get started.

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