Let's be honest- sometimes it's hard to shake the funk. We get stuck in these ruts and it feels like no matter what we do, we're spinning the tires and getting no where. Faking it "til you make it" gets exhausting and burnout quickly approaches. We talk to our friends and family and often we're reminded that "you'll get past it" or "this too shall pass." Yes, both of those are true. This feeling will not last forever. But right now, while you're in the middle of it, it's exhausting.
That's why being intentional in improving your mood is so important. It is important to understand that mood boosters are mostly temporary and will not be the cure-all. Sometimes it will take processing situations and learning new skills with a therapist to experience long term improvements in your mood and mental health. However, mood boosting activities can be a great way to start being able to shake the feelings that are pulling you down. In order for these to be most effective, it is important to be intentional with them, meaning to actually schedule them out during the day, and to do them daily.
1. Practice Gratitude.
Gratitude journals are becoming more and more popular, and there's a reason way. Studies have shown that taking time to reflect on what you're thankful for has a multitude of benefits emotionally and physically. It's most beneficial to find something new to be thankful for each day but is also O.K. to include reoccurring things. This could be as simple as being thankful for that yummy slice of cake or hot coffee in the morning. You can take it even further by finding ways to be thankful for the difficult times or feelings in your life. What's the silver lining in this? We don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to be thankful!
2. Increase Your Sense of Accomplishment.
This means to give yourself opportunity to reflect on what you've done each day. This can start on a fairly small scale at first. Sometimes that list might have activities that are a normal part of your daily routine. Often, we forget about the things we already accomplish ON A REGULAR BASIS. You might be surprised to see what's already being done. You can take this even further by incorporating things you want to accomplish each day (it's important to start small at first, as we're are wanting to build the sense of accomplishment, not ruin it!). To do this, you'll also have to spend some time each day deciding what you want to accomplish. Making a physical list, being able to check things off, and actually making note of all your accomplishments can be pretty gratifying.
3. Volunteer/Help Someone Else.
Focusing outward can be very powerful. We often feel stuck because we tend to focus on our own experiences and feelings. This is easy to do because our feelings can be pretty strong and consuming. When you help someone else, whether it's a loved one or a stranger, you are taking your focus off your struggle and paying attention to someone else. Additionally, you're increasing your sense of accomplishment and creating a pleasant experience (more on that one later!). This could be as simple as baking treats for someone, donating unused items, helping someone with a problem, or giving someone a sweet card.
4. Increase Pleasant Experiences.
This is the fun one. Go have fun! Schedule time each day to do something enjoyable, whether it's multiple short activities or one long one. Even if you're living on a tight budget, it's possible to find something that is free or very low cost. The idea behind this is that an increase in pleasant experiences will lead to an increase in positive emotions. When doing this, it's important to be mindful of the positive experience while you're doing it. Be in that moment, take time to enjoy it! It's important to push away those negative feelings like, "this won't last", or "now I have even less time to work on that project". Notice these emotions, let go of them (without chastising yourself!), and go back to the activity.
5. Get Moving!
Do some sort of exercising each day. You can start small and build upon it. This can be as simple as dancing it out or going for a walk. Exercising has so many benefits that go beyond physical health! Exercising improves energy levels, sleep habits, memory, relaxation, and so much more. You're also increasing your sense of accomplishment and potentially increasing pleasant experiences! Check out this article to learn more about the correlation between mental health and physical exercise:
6. Give Mindfulness a Try
We tend to think of mindfulness as the cliche meditation, crossing your legs, holding out your hand, and humming to yourself. However, mindfulness is simply awareness. Basically, you are taking time to completely focus on one thing. The idea behind it is we are getting "unstuck" from these re-occurring feelings. This can improve your mood because you are learning to become in control of your thoughts and emotions rather than letting your thoughts and emotions control you. It's best to start simple with mindfulness. Take 30-60 seconds at a time and only focus on one thing. For instance, focus on your breathing. Where do you feel your breath? What does it sound like? Do you notice your diaphragm moving? Sometimes it can be easier to start of by paying attention to your senses. Take a moment and listen to what's around you. What's the furthest sound you hear? What's the closest sound you hear? Try to hear five sounds you've never noticed before. During your mindfulness activity, you're going to get distracted at first. That's OK! Notice the distraction and come back to your mindfulness activity. Mindfulness will become easy over time.
7. Use Positive Self-Talk While Validating Your Emotions.
The way we talk to ourselves can have a huge effect on our mood. A lot of times we will only do one of these and this can just continue the cycle. Telling yourself that "this will pass" can be great, but it can also increase guilt or frustration if the feeling continues. Only validating your emotions can leave us continuing to feel stuck in our emotions. But when we combine these, we are acknowledging our emotions and reminding ourselves of our strengths/residencies. For example, in telling myself "This is a really sad time in my life and I've gotten through worse", I'm giving myself permission to feel a certain way but also giving myself a pep-talk.
Mood boosters can be a great way to improve your mood in the short term! It's important to find ways to increase positive emotions and experiences on a daily basis.
-Aimee Yasin, LPC-MHSP