Depression Treatment Plan: Breaking Down Barriers to Happiness

As part of any CBT therapy depression treatment plan it’s essential to explore barriers to happiness.

Depression Treatment Plan - Barriers
Barriers to happiness occur as a by-product of living. They are the links between negative emotional states and events. In cognitive-behavioural therapy, one of the exploratory tools I use is to track the links back from the unwanted emotional experience to the event that caused it, thereby draining it of force.

Any treatments for depression or anxiety attack symptoms need to incorporate a program of recognition and deletion of some of these barriers to happiness. This film explains the process and offers some illustrations.

 

 

 

Depression Treatment Plan: What is the prime mover?

Have you ever experienced an emotional state and not known why you’re having it? Have you had a feeling such as anger, irritation, anxiety and not known what’s caused it.

If you don’t know what causes something then you have very little potential control over it. You’d pretty much have to endure the experience.

People commonly report that they wake up in the morning and feel down or they feel anxious before they’ve tried something or they wake up in the middle of the night having a panic attack.

In these instances people are unable to say what the prime mover or cause is.

Depression Treatment Plan: Negative emotional states

These negative emotional states are barriers to happiness.

We go through life’s journey exploring the world with our senses.  This information is delivered back to the brain which then makes sense of the world we’re living in and our place in the world. It works very well. But it gets stuff right some of the time and wrong some of the time.

And when the brain gets things wrong we often end up with an emotional or cognitive experience that we don’t want.

The brain forms strong associations between emotional states and experiences. For example if you watch an action film you feel excited. If you watch a sad film you might cry.

depression-treatment-plan-watching-a-film
If you’re having negative emotions and you don’t know why you can be sure that the brain is forming an association between some event and a particular negative state and that this state has been triggered for some reason.

Depression Treatment Plan: Trigger Paths Experiment

I call these states trigger paths because something is the trigger and this trigger delivers us this emotional state that we don’t want.

depression-treatment-and-symptoms-bathroomLet me give you an example of a relatively benign trigger path. The next time you want to go to the bathroom take a moment if you would and rate your desire to go between 1 and 10. (One being not wanting to go and 10 being desperate.)

Then proceed to the bathroom. As you get closer to the bathroom you’ll notice that your desire to go to the bathroom probably increases. It can increase to the point that it becomes really urgent.

Now if you’re of an adventurous disposition and want to do an experiment turnaround from the bathroom and go the other way. Go as far away from the bathroom as you can. Look at a magazine or newspaper. Just put something else in your field of attention.

Give yourself a moment and then rate how much you want to go. You’ll probably find when you remove yourself from the stimulus of the bathroom your desire to go to the bathroom decreases.

This is called a classically conditioned response. We’re conditioned to want to go to the bathroom when we get to the bathroom.

It’s something you don’t think you have any control over and yet when you do this experiment you can see that you actually do.

Depression Treatment Plan: Negative trigger paths

The bathroom experience is a strong trigger path which is massively practised. Likewise we can also practise negative trigger paths but we’re not aware of the stimulus of what’s causing this negative trigger path.

You can ignore it and this works to a point but if you have enough of these negative trigger paths it can make it hard to be happy.

depression-treatment-plan-triggers
The alternative you have is to become aware of the negative trigger paths and to, in a sense, examine them for use, validity, accuracy and utility.

Depression Treatment Plan: Identifying trigger paths

This is what I do for my negative trigger paths. I carry a note book everywhere I go in every jacket, there’s even one in the car. If I experience something unusual like I feel irritated, angry, anxious or down I get my notebook out and I try to follow the chain link of associations back to what caused me to feel this emotion.

I follow the trigger path until I get to the actual trigger. When I do I often recognise that my emotion is misplaced. It’s just something from my history which got evoked.

And in the recognition of this I get some control over it because the next time I’m more aware and have more control over this negative trigger path.

In fact, once you identify it a negative trigger path you’ll likely find that it stops becoming a barrier to happiness.

Depression Treatment Plan: The power of trigger paths

Let me give you a silly example of the power of trigger paths. I was once on a coach from Newcastle to London staring out of the window looking at the traffic glassy eyed and then I found myself humming a tune… The A-team tune.

I wondered why and so I followed the chain of association and realised a few cars back I’d seen a black van go by that looked like the A-team’s black van. My brain had simply loaded the trigger path and there I was, minding my own business, humming the A-team tune.

It’s an unimportant example but equally I could have had a strong emotional state and not known why.

Depression Treatment Plan: Conclusion

So I advocate using this notebook technique as part of your depression treatment plan. I have found it a tremendous benefit to my negative trigger paths and barriers to happiness.

depression-treatment-plan-notebook
As with many of these self-development techniques it takes a little bit of time and effort. But any effort put in is repaid ten-fold by the benefits you get from it and the experience.

Learning to take some control over your trigger paths and barriers to happiness is a great life tool.

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