We all feel blue, grouchy, anxious, or stressed out from time to time. The good news? There are lifestyle changes that can be effective at improving mood, either alone or in combination with counseling or medication. But be patient with yourself; making a change may be hard, and it may take time before you start to feel better.
Exercise. It’s a known fact— exercise improves mood. But how often, how long, and how intense should you exercise to improve your mood? Guidelines suggest aiming for 45 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity three to five days a week, working at 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Consider exercise as part of your regular treatment plan to boost health. Talk to your doctor about what exercise program is right for you.
Meditation. Mindfulness meditation programs show evidence of improving anxiety and depression. Techniques used in meditation can reduce stress, shift thoughts away from things that cause anxiety, and focus on keeping your mind in the present moment. Benefits seem to be linked with as little as 20 minutes a day.
Check out these free guided meditations online:
- UC San Diego Health – Center for Mindfulness: https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr/Pages/audio.aspx
- UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
- Mindful Self-Compassion: http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/meditations_downloads.php
Yoga. Studies have shown that yoga can have positive benefits for people with several types of mental health conditions, including depression. Stretching, breathing, and relaxation during yoga can benefit people—with or without mental health challenges.
Yoga is generally safe for most healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor. If you have a health condition, it’s a good idea to talk In This Issue with your doctor before you begin.
Put your hands to work and do what you enjoy. In her book “Lifting Depression,” neuroscientist Kelly Lambert suggests that we are all wired with a brain circuit system associated with the symptoms of depression. This circuit, which she calls the “effort-driven reward circuit” (EDRC), connects movement, emotion, and thinking and offers us natural resistance to depression. Physical activities that involve our hands, particularly activities that produce tangible products that we can see, touch, and enjoy, drive the EDRC. Knitting, tending a garden, building, drawing, painting, sewing, and pottery are some examples of tangible results that give pleasure or have meaning for their creators.
Focus on and take in the good things in life. In his book “Hardwiring happiness,” psychologist Rick Hanson suggests that taking in experiences of the good things you want in your life weaves these positive experiences into your brain so you can take them with you wherever you go.
If you continually rest your mind on self-criticism, worries, and hurts, your brain will be more vulnerable to a depressed mood. On the other hand, if you regularly rest your mind on good events and conditions, such as someone being nice to you or completing a simple task, over time your brain will have more strength and resilience hardwired into it.
Consider using “antidote experiences” to counteract negative mental material. See table below.
Make taking in the good a regular part of your life. The brain is a system that, like a muscle, gets stronger the more you exercise it. This simple practice can have profound changes to your mood and how you respond to events in daily life. There are many actions that are within your control to help boost your mood. What’s important is to get help, and get into action.