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Written by Jon. V | Provisional Psychologist, PsychPhys™ 

Depression can be debilitating and can cause those who are depressed to disengage from usual activities that bring some pleasure or satisfaction in one’s life.

A model of depression based on learning theory (Ferster, 1973) has derived that when people are depressed, many activities that they usually do are no longer enjoyed or sought out and people choose to avoid these activities due to fearing they can feel worse given their mood and as a result gain some satisfaction when avoiding the task or activity. This reinforces their behaviour and lack of activity, leading the depressed person to engage less frequently in pleasurable tasks than those that are not depressed.

A remedy for a depressed person often prescribed by a psychologist is what is known as behavioural activation. Behavioural activation for depression involves having the person experiment with how their own behaviour can influence their lowered mood.

Basically, what behavioural activation involves can be summarised as follows:

  • Understanding the downward spirals and vicious cycles of depression
  • Daily activity monitoring
  • Identifying values and goals
  • Building upward spirals of motivation and energy through pleasure and mastery
  • Activity scheduling: deliberately scheduling meaningful and pleasurable activities
  • Problem solving potential barriers to activation of positive experiences
  • Reducing amount of avoidance
  • Being assigned between session tasks where behavioural activation is applied.

One form of behaviour that can be used to “activate” positive and pleasurable feelings is any kind of exercise. Exercise can produce chemicals such as endorphins that give the person good feelings and can greatly improve their mood (Thorén et al., 1990)

Some examples of exercise are:

  • Playing sport
  • Cleaning/Housework
  • Dancing
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Weight lifting


  • Ferster, C. B. (1973). A functional analysis of depression. American psychologist28(10), 857.
  • Thorén, P., Floras, J. S., Hoffmann, P., & Seals, D. R. (1990). Endorphins and exercise: physiological mechanisms and clinical implications. Medicine & science in sports & exercise.