Why Depression Improvement Plans So Often Fail

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional
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Planning your way toward depression recovery is a great first step. In a separate post, I’ve written about how to build motivation while beating depression. But what if things don’t quite go according to plan?

The fact that we have constructed a plan doesn’t mean every aspect of it will work — or that it will even be helpful. If you find yourself hitting a wall, the temptation is to find an excuse to stop, and the fact that you have depression makes stopping very easy. I’ve witnessed many people blame the plan, or blame the person who suggested or helped to construct the plan, or blame themselves for being incapable of carrying it out.

Getting over the hurdles

Any number of things can get in the way of your plan. Keep in mind that your own brain hasn’t exactly been razor sharp during the planning process. Don’t dismiss your plan as unworkable until you’ve ruled out a few things. For example:

  • Are your plans clashing with other commitments?
  • Have you built in sufficient recovery time between activities?
  • Are the plans too ambitious? Maybe you need to break them down.
  • Are these your plans or has someone else suggested them?

Before you consign your plans to the trash, work out the practical things first. Remember, your plans should be achievable and they should also be about doing. The fact that you don’t feel like doing something is almost inevitable, but it’s not the same as being incapable of doing it.

Internal blocks

I’ve touched on feelings as a potential block to progress, but they're not the only reason why plans stall. Other factors broadly fall into the following categories:

  • Thoughts that you might fail
  • Physical symptoms such as aches, pains, and fatigue
  • Your own understanding as to why you’re doing what you’re doing
  • Your confidence

It’s down to you to decide how you’ll overcome these issues. The key, as previously mentioned, is to try and to act. You can’t think your way out of depression, but if you consciously do things, you’ll find your mood begins to change and become more positive.

Depression and a lack of confidence are strongly associated, but if you lack confidence in your plan, it may be that you’re planning too much too quickly. Don’t try to schedule a get-well day and work backward from it. You can’t schedule recovery, and neither does depression work by the calendar.

Negative thinking is a very common reason for not doing anything. Try hard to keep your thoughts from controlling your actions. The key is trying. If, even after trying, you find it was too difficult, then build some flexibility into your plan.

It’s important that the things you plan are your own ideas. Other people can certainly contribute ideas, but the final improvement plan must be yours. Taking ownership is important. It may feel comfortable allowing others to think and plan on your behalf, but it’s also a key reason why plans fail.

External blocks

The best-laid plans are sometimes victim to circumstances outside of our control. Plans can easily be thrown out by a phone call, a family member showing up, or maybe, as with what happened to me last week, an important delivery that kept me indoors, waiting, for most of the day.

Stuff happens, but the important thing to remember is to build flexibility into your plan. If you must cancel something because there’s no choice, then that’s how it is. But don’t play games with yourself by pretending that you can’t reschedule, or imagining your plan can never work simply because unexpected things crop up. Don’t allow negative thinking to push its way back into your life.** See More Helpful Articles**

Four Key Obstacles to Wellbeing

10 Ways to Cope With Your Depression Partner’s Depression

Mild, Moderate or Severe Depression: How to Tell the Difference 

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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.