Activity scheduling (AS), also called behavioral activation (BA), is a therapeutic technique based on the premise that regularly engaging in pleasant activities may help alleviate depression and elevate mood. Activity scheduling can be used on its own or in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
What Is Activity Scheduling?
People who experience depression frequently isolate themselves from others. This can trigger more depression and a greater desire to isolate, causing them to reduce or stop activities that bring them pleasure. Activity scheduling, first described in 1969, demonstrated the benefits of positive reinforcement gained from an increase in social engagement and rewarding activities.1
Activity scheduling is relatively straightforward, which makes it easy to deliver and understand.2 Therapists often help their clients pick an activity based on their values and skills. The goal is to use these activities to help boost their mood or help get them out of a funk. Activity scheduling can be used in conjunction with other types of therapy for depression, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Activity Scheduling Techniques
Activity scheduling techniques are designed to decrease loneliness. The key is to find enjoyable activities that promote the person’s personal values.3 Examples of activity scheduling include exercise, hobbies, and self-education.
Some examples of activity scheduling include:
- Exercising: Playing tennis, golf or basketball, going to the gym, or getting out for a hike
- Nurturing relationships: Going out to dinner, seeing a movie, or attending a play with friends or family
- Self-education: Taking a class, going to the library, reading more
- Participating in hobbies: Taking a cooking class, learning how to knit or paint, or learning to play an instrument
- Expanding self-care: Learning mindfulness techniques, practicing relaxation therapy, visualizing, or doing yoga
How Does Activity Scheduling Work?
Scheduling an event gives people something to look forward to. This simple act of planning or scheduling can help elevate mood. Activity scheduling involves actively planning periods of time devoted to promoting self-values and personal goals through selected activities.
Research experts on mood and self-initiated activities say that people who increase the amount of pleasant activities that are prompted by someone else may not actually have an increase in enjoyment. This means that self-initiation may be an important component of activity scheduling.4
Is Activity Scheduling Effective?
Researchers agree that activity scheduling does seem to lessen symptoms of depression; however, it can be difficult to replicate studies to confirm what aspects are most effective. Experts reported that research shows a strong association between AS and depression improvement over the course of a year.5
There is some evidence that behavioral activation may be useful with certain people for whom cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is less effective, such as those with severe, lifelong depression, people with substance abuse, and people with dementia and severe depression.7
Examples of Activity Scheduling
Activity scheduling wards off passivity and apathy. First, the person needs to identify areas of their life that they value (e.g., spending time with loved ones or taking care of their physical health). When people evaluate and record their mood in relation to these activities, they begin to recognize that their actions can elevate their mood. The ability to achieve goals can also help lessen depression.
Here are three examples of activity scheduling:
- Depressed people tend to isolate themselves, which can increase loneliness and maximize depression. Scheduling weekly interactions like going out to dinner or having a cup of coffee with a friend or family member is an effective way to reduce isolation. It can also give them something to look forward to.
- Depressed people don’t often stay physically active because they have low energy, apathy, and a tendency to isolate. Joining a gym or getting a personal trainer can be incentives to take care of physical health. Activities like tennis or basketball serve a dual purpose of getting exercise and socializing with others.
- For many people, their religious beliefs are an important core value, but they may become disconnected and stop attending religious services as their depression deepens. Deciding to return to a place of worship on a regular basis can be a great way to reconnect with those beliefs. It can also enhance socialization with others who share the same beliefs.
Activity scheduling can be an important tool, in addition to other treatment modalities, to help treat depression. A therapist can employ AS techniques in conjunction with CBT or other therapies. Activity scheduling offers a sense of achievement and satisfaction, which can make a big difference in how you feel each day.