Last week I pointed out that one common characteristic of depression is a struggle in identifying what is “fun” or brings “joy” in a persons life.
We could ask which came first…the difficulty having fun or the depression? The desire to isolate and a profound inability to enjoy life is certainly a symptom of depression. That said, I believe that the ability to “play” and have “fun” is critical in preventing (and treating) mood difficulties.
Many people have difficulty in identifying what they “do for fun”…which is depressing in itself. So I ask my clients to work on a “menu” of things that they would have fun doing or that would bring joy. This can be a very difficult task for someone who is depressed, or for a person raised within a family where fun and play was not openly valued.
In his book “The Feeling Good Handbook”, David Burns points out that a person needs to fight the thought that an activity “won’t be worth it”. That negative thought feeds into a depressive pattern whereby the person isolates. I believe this is true in most cases. Ask yourself how much “enjoyment” you’ll get out of an upcoming activity (using a scale between 1-100)…gauge your number and then go to the activity. I’m betting your experience is usually better than you thought it would be. It might not rate above an 80 on your scale, but it’s probably not below a 10 like our negative thoughts can predict.
Now, just what is on your menu for “fun”? Make sure you have big, medium and small things.
Big things can be “Travel” or “A long camping trip”…but just how often do you get to do that? They are important, but such activities can be few and far between!
Medium things can be a concert, art opening, tickets to your favorite event.
Smaller things like: A movie, lunch with a dear friend, a day hike, a bike ride….we can those things into our schedule daily.
Keep in mind that there will be some types of activities which will be more difficult to enjoy than others. Dinner parties and other social events can initially be very difficult for a person who is struggling with depression. I ask my clients to engage in 3 social events a week, but that is only after their mood has improved significantly. Let’s start with simple events that do not demand complex interaction with others…where a person feels like they have to be “fake” in how they interact with others.
So, what’s on your menu? I’d like you to list 15 things that sound fun (or at least better than nothing)…then do them at least 4 times a week. I’m betting your quality of life and mood will improve!
William Strong, LCSW
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