A Summer of Success: A Guide to Behavioral Activation

It has been around two and half years since COVID-19 has dominated our lives within society, and while at the moment we are not locked away in our homes out of necessity, integrating back into the community can feel tricky and stressful. Along with the past two years, many of us have experienced challenges specifically with our mental health. It has been a long road so far, and sometimes it feels like it is never going to end. Now especially, it may be imperative for us to seek to pockets of joy. A difficult task if we don’t know where to begin let alone having the motivation to do so. Therein lies choices. A chance to choose something for ourselves even when in the moment it may feel impossible to do so.

Consider this a guide to support in navigating ways to engage ourselves and add some well-deserved exhilaration back into our life.

Behavioral Activation

First, what is behavioral activation? As a primary coping strategy within Cognitive Behavioral Therapy framework, behavioral activation, or BA, consists of using our behaviors as an influencer on our emotions. As an example, someone experiencing symptoms of depression including lower mood and increased isolation, may experience a positive boost to their mood if they push themselves to engage socially or physically. While this may be a tall order (especially depending on the severity of the depression), it can also be rewarding to break free from the ruminating and isolating cycles we can all find ourselves in. I want to acknowledge that BA falls under the expression ‘easier said than done,’ but at the same time, being successful in the doing part can do wonders for self holistically.

Since the Chicago Counseling Center is based out of Chicago, many of these activities will have a little local flair thrown into the mix. Additionally, while not always possible, I am limiting the suggestions to be free (or nearly free) as possible.


Getting Out

Let’s start off with BA that requires us to leave our homes. Sometimes all we need is a change in our environment for inspiration. Being in a large, vibrant city such as Chicago certainly has a lot of perks when it comes to the vibe you may be looking for. Did you know, Chicago boasts some of the largest urban parks in the United States? Grant and Millennium Park nestled right between the lakefront and the loop offers more than just beautiful sights. Walkable gardens, artistic structures, and museums are plentiful, and with multiple ways to get there, it is a common landing place for tourists and residents alike. Be sure to review which days your favorite museum offers free admittance for Chicago residents as a fun diversion.

Additionally, Chicago accommodates miles of lakefront trails that hosts a plethora of beaches and green spaces. Check out Montrose Dog Beach to witness our furry friends have the time of their lives playing in the water, and then walk a short distance to the bird sanctuary to get lost in nature. If you are more south, consider more spectacular views of the city from 31st street beach that stretch down a beautiful path both north and south. If the lake is a bit chilly or crowded for your tastes, Chicago still has more than 500 parks within its city limits that can be a great place to start a BA journey. Whether you want to have a picnic, or simply walk and take in the sights, many of the green spaces bring ample opportunity to take a break from a noisy, urban lifestyle.

Another signature of Chicago is the amount of unique and culturally diverse neighborhoods there are to explore, 77 to be exact. It is hard to beat Chicago in the summertime, and one reason is the sheer amount of activities and festivals going on. From Greek Fest to the Puerto Rican Pride parade to the Chicago Blues Fest. This summer is a great opportunity for anyone to explore different cultures and partake in festive food or music. (Note that while many of these festivals are free, some suggest small donation for entrance.) It can be healthy to take a break from our thoughts. Engaging mindfully with nature or the community can be excellent and much needed relief from our daily routines. Be sure to look online to get a full calendar of events. You might be surprised at eclectic selection.


Starting Small

If the above BA activities bring apprehension, that’s ok. Totally normal in fact! It could just be an indicator that may be it is best to start on a smaller scale. If taking the train into the city to have a picnic on the lakefront sounds overwhelming, then meeting yourself where you’re at may be key to success, and having attainable, smaller scale goals is normally the suggested route to start.  So, if leaving the home is met with an internal resistance, what would be the best ways to start? Remember, the purpose of BAs is to break the cycle that is no longer working for us, to prove to ourselves, that despite initial feelings, we are capable of evoking behaviors that have a positive effect. So that first stepping stone may be as simple as opening our curtains, making our bed, or having a snack even if our appetite is suppressed.

As outlined in our stages of change post, it may be imperative to appropriately prepare in order to best guarantee a positive outcome. Motivation itself can be unreliable but pushing ourselves to abide by desired behaviors will support in forming new habits. Often, the trickiest part is beginning. If you find implementing BAs more challenging than expected, then the internet has many resources to support you. Working with a therapist can also be effective at supporting you through this journey. Of course, there are an infinite amount of factors not addressed in this post that may act as barriers to success. Processing and strategizing with your therapist would then be helpful in identifying those barriers. If interested in our services, please contact us here!


Enjoyed this post? You may also like:

One Comment on “A Summer of Success: A Guide to Behavioral Activation”

  1. I really enjoyed this blog! Specifically, “A chance to choose something for ourselves even when in the moment it may feel impossible to do so.” Thank you.

Leave a Reply