image by Haley Powers
Research consistently shows us that engaging in activity makes us feel better, particularly when we do things we enjoy or gain a sense of achievement from. This is all very well and good when you are feeling well and energetic, but what about when you feel low in mood and motivation? People who are feeling low in mood often become very self-critical about their lack of activity and this can decrease mood further, and so the cycle continues.
Often when people try to increase their activity levels in an attempt to feel better, they often want to start with the things they “should be doing”, such as cleaning the house, sorting bills etc. Maybe things have got on top of them and they want to ‘clear the decks’. People often have clear ideas regarding what a “normal” person does during the day and they think that if they do those things, they will be “normal” too and therefore feel better.
Additionally, people who are having a hard time doing the things they normally do can get worried about how other people see them. When they are planning activities, often they will plan things they think will please or impress the people around them because they feel guilty about having low mood and think they “need to get on with it”.
While piling the pressure on in this way may work for some people, for many it results in lack of motivation, lack of activity and further self-criticism resulting in low mood.
8 steps for increasing activity levels, the compassionate way
Get a diary or notebook with the days of the week. On the front of the diary, generate a list of activities you would like to try out over the next few days. These can include things you have been meaning to do, activities you used to do but stopped and things you have been curious about and have always wanted to try. Take your time generating this list, really connect with yourself and ensure that you include items that spark your interest or curiosity. Ensure you have a balance between the things you feel you should do and those you want to do.
When you wake up, ask yourself, “How am I feeling today?”, “What do I feel like doing right now?”, “What is in my best interests?”, “What does my body/mind need in this moment?”.
Choose an activity that speaks to you in that moment. Remind yourself that your focus is not on achieving anything in particular, but instead your intention is to see what the experience is like for you, how much you enjoy the activity, how much pleasure the activity brings and the impact of the activity on your mood. It is about self-exploration rather than achieving a goal. Continue like this throughout the day.
As you engage in your chosen activity, check in with yourself and ask yourself the following questions:
At the end of the day, review your recordings and take note of which activities you enjoyed most and felt most achievement from. Notice the impact of each activity on your mood and feelings of wellbeing. Positive and negative experiences are equally important and informative.
Take time to give yourself credit for what you have tried out that day and what you have learned from your recordings. Offer yourself warmth and encouragement for your efforts. Use a kind tone of voice when completing your review.
Repeat the process on subsequent days. Make time to include items that scored highly on your rating scales in the days previous. In this way, you will be moving towards the life you want and this will have a positive impact on your motivation levels.
Go at your own pace. Introduce activities as you feel they are right for you. Remind yourself that it is better to steadily increase your activity levels over a period of weeks and months and feel gradually better than to push and criticise yourself and feel the same. Remember self-compassion is key, do your best to move towards the life you want and allow for forward and backward steps.
Dr Róisín Joyce is a Clinical Psychologist and Director at Evidence-Based Therapy Centre, Galway. She uses compassion-focused approaches to understand people’s difficulties and promote self-acceptance, self-compassion and meaningful living.
Get in touch with Róisín via her Website or Twitter