Improve your mood

Jennifer Geer

Because we all need a little help these days

There is no need to state the obvious, times are tough. It's been long winter and it's not even February. But that doesn’t mean we have to spend all of our time in misery. Try some pick-me-ups to cheer yourself up.

Here are some ideas to help boost your mood when you’re feeling down.

#1: Exercise

Yes, it’s commonly known that exercise can boost your mood. But, it's such a big one that I added it first on the list.

A study from Harvard Health found that 15 minutes a day of intense exercise or one hour of moderate exercise reduced depression in participants. And the Mayo Clinic recommends 30 minutes or more of exercise three to five days per week to improve feelings of wellbeing.

Exercise can be as beneficial as anti-depressants. It can be hard to get moving in the first place. But once you do, you will almost always find that you feel better.

#2: Enjoy the Sunshine

Morning sun is important. Sunlight triggers serotonin production, which plays a big role in our mental health. Lack of sun can cause a lack of serotonin, resulting in depression, which is what happens to people that suffer from Season Affective Disorder.

If you can’t get outside, sit by a window that gets natural light. Or try a light therapy box in the winter when the days are short. I've been using a lightbox I ordered from Amazon this winter, and it's made all the difference.

#3: Spend Time in Nature

It's called ecotherapy and it uses a connection with nature to improve moods. Study after study has shown time spent in natural environments increases positive emotions.

Can’t get outside? That's okay. You can still benefit from nature. Studies have even shown mood improvement for people when they sat by a window looking out at a nature scene, looked at photographs, or listened to natural sounds.

#4: Eat Mood-Boosting Foods

There is a link between the foods we eat and how we feel. Foods like chocolate, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish can help to reduce the risk of depression.

Eating a balanced diet improves your energy and helps you to feel better overall.

#5: Play a Game

Nintendo had perfect timing with their hit game, Animal Crossing New Horizons. The role-playing game played in real-time came out at the same time many of us across the world began quarantining.

Mental health professionals say that games like Animal Crossing, where you complete slow-paced, but rewarding tasks, can be therapeutic.

Give yourself a break from the doomsday news scrolling, and catch some sea creatures and shake some trees.

#6: Be Proactive and Volunteer

It’s a sinking feeling to think the world is out of control and there is nothing you can do about it. But there are things we can all do to make changes both big and small.

Volunteering has been found to have a positive effect on your mental health.

If global warming is your concern, do some research and find out ways that you can make a difference. If you love animals, volunteer at an animal shelter. Feeling like you’ve made a difference in someone’s life can make a big difference in your own life.

#7: Take a Warm Bath

In this study, people that regularly took baths had better mental health than people who showered. It’s also been found that a hot bath before bed helped people to fall asleep faster. This leads us to the next one up, sleep.

#8: Get Enough Sleep

How much sleep you get affects your mood. One sleepless night can leave you irritable and short-tempered the following day. And one week of sleep deprivation can lead to anger, stress, and mental exhaustion.

Experts recommend that you do things like stay on schedule, limit naps, create a restful environment, and exercise to improve your sleep quality.

#9: Express Gratitude

Self-help gurus love to tell us to be grateful to change our lives. However, science can back up their claims. Research has shown people that who wrote letters of gratitude had better mental health 12 weeks after the letter-writing ended. So not only did feeling gratitude improve their moods, the benefits lingered.

#10: Listen to Music

Various research has shown that listening to music has positive rewards. In this 2013 study, people who listened to upbeat music had improved moods after two weeks of regular listening.

Research has even shown that listening to music caused surgery patients to have reduced pain and anxiety, compared to patients who did not listen to music.

#11: Pet Your Dog

When you have a pet you have to keep some sort of routine. A dog makes you keep a schedule. He won’t let you sleep in until noon. And walking your dog gets you out of the house, exercising, and out in the sunshine.

Owning a pet, any type of pet, can help with feelings of empathy, reduced stress, and companionship.

#12: Talk to a Cheerful Friend

Moods can be contagious. This research showed that both good moods and bad moods can spread throughout a social circle. The people with more upbeat friends tended to have more positive emotions.

I can’t help but wonder, what is the cause and effect here? If you’re cheerful yourself, you will probably be drawn to cheery friends, and vice versa. But either way, it can’t hurt to talk to your friend with a positive attitude.

#13: Meditate

Quieting your mind for a few minutes each day can help relieve many symptoms of stress and anxiety. Meditation lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, giving your sympathetic nervous system a much-needed rest.

Also, research has shown that meditation can reduce cytokines, which are inflammatory chemicals linked to depression.

#14: Try Online Therapy

You don’t have to be in-person to get counseling. There are even virtual options. Psychology Today has a directory you can search by location if you need help finding someone.

#15: Get Professional Help

If you’re suffering from depression or other mental health issues, all the sunshine and exercise in the world isn’t going to make a difference.

Don’t go it alone. There is help. If you’re in the US, start by checking out the CDC’s list of resources where you can get immediate help.

We can feel better

If you’re feeling a little down, you may be surprised how much of a difference changing up your routine can make. Pick one thing and give it a try. You may find yourself feeling better, despite the difficulties we are currently facing.

What do you think? Do any of these work for you? Or do you have some other way to keep yourself from feeling gloomy?

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL
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