Activities for Depression (Behavioral Activation)

Self-care is incredibly beneficial to our well-being, yet with the hustle and bustle of life, it's easy to put it on the back burner. When "eating your GRAPES", or doing anything, is the last thing we want, it is usually when we need it the most.

help for depression anxiety activities mental health behaviour kind to self motivation

GRAPES is a form of behavioral activation. What is behavioral activation? In short, it’s along the same lines as “fake it ’til you make it.” These are activities for depression (and anxiety). Do things you like (behaviors) and these things will improve your mood. That’s not to say it will work immediately. When you’re feeling depressed and you, say, play a song on the piano, it won’t immediately make you feel better. It takes time and practice, but if you stick with it, you will see improvements.

Gentle with yourself

Be gentle with yourself and your expectations, be kind to yourself. This can be in the form of positive affirmations (encouraging words or complimenting yourself), taking time to reflect on an achievement of the day (or week or month or lifetime), forgiving yourself for something, or just saying no to a request that you don’t really want to do. The goal of the ‘G’ in ‘GRAPES’ is to treat yourself more kindly. I like to think of it from an outside perspective. Talk to yourself as if you were speaking to your best friend, often we treat our loved ones much better than we treat ourselves.


When’s the last time you did something truly relaxing? No multi-tasking, no thinking of your to-do list, just taking some you time and really feeling yourself wind-down. In our culture, we get caught up in the idea that we must be always on the go or doing something, I know I myself am guilty of this. Once we reach one goal, we’re already thinking of the next one instead of stopping to take a breath. Relaxation can be taking a bubble bath, meditating, lighting some candles and listening to music, getting a massage, or going to the beach to watch the waves crash. You really want to tailor each of these to what speaks out to you the most. However, no screens. That means no phone, no tablet, no tv, no computer. Un-plug and really try to listen to your body and feel the relaxation.


Get something checked off your to-do list, no matter how small. This could be doing laundry, making a healthy meal, getting your mail, or washing those dishes that have been piling up. Good job! You did it! Whatever ‘it’ is. Take a moment to give yourself some credit.


Do something that you usually like to do, even if you don’t feel like doing it right now. This can be reading a book, doing a puzzle, making a collage, playing an instrument, or playing with your pet. If there is something that is causing you anxiety or bringing down your mood, doing a pleasurable activity is a great way to reset. It will take your mind off whatever is going on and help stop you before you go into a downward spiral (or go any farther into one if it has already started). Doing something pleasurable can help motivate you and give you more energy. If you want to do something with a friend, great!


How many times have you been told exercising improves your health? Probably too many to count, but that’s because it’s true. Exercise not only helps improve your physical health, but your emotional health too. Go for a long walk, ride your bike, go to a Zumba class, lift weights, go rock climbing, or go swimming. Whatever it is you like to do to get active, do it!


Make plans with positive people. Go to lunch with your mom, call a friend, get coffee and chat with the friendly barista. You can combine many of these activities with being social for improved benefits – like going to a fitness class, but try to stay afterwards for a few minutes and chat with your fellow fitness classmates. Joining a club, workshop, or class are also great ways to stay social and give you talking points if you’re not comfortable with starting conversations.


If you can do all of these in a day, that’s great! If you can only manage to do one, that’s okay too! It’s going to take time and effort to get started on implementing some aspect of these activities for depression daily, or even every few days. If you try to do one of these activities for depression but it doesn’t work out the way you wanted, circle back to being kind to yourself.


Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)

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Sarah O'Leary

I am captivated most by the importance of relationships and emotions and how they impact our everyday lives. Both relationships and our emotions help shape who we are as a person. "Relationship" doesn't just mean partner, but rather connections of all kinds. This means everything from strangers, to friends, to partners, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. Emotions are what underlies our thoughts and behaviors, they are the key to understanding ourselves.