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Improve Your Mood Without Time, Money, or Medication
We all want to enjoy our lives. While I agree that a good bout of wallowing can be satisfying now and then, nobody really wants to spend day after day in a helpless funk. But many of us do exactly that. I should know, I live in Seattle - depression is practically our M.O.! According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20 million people in the United States alone currently suffer from depression. That’s about 1 in every 15 people. And you don’t have to be clinically depressed to struggle with negative thinking patterns.
So what can you do about it? People come up with all sorts of answers in response to this question. But not everyone has the extra spending money to try every naturopathic remedy in the supplement aisle, or the extra hours to devote to fitness routines and meditation. Here I offer realistic suggestions for the modern person. Every single item below is a tool that I routinely apply to my own life, and thus I can honestly say that they make a difference.
That’s it, just smile. You may not feel like it, and it may seem pointless, but clinical research has proven time and again that the very act of smiling actually improves the mood of an individual. Your body notices the physical response (the muscles manipulated into a smile) and responds physiologically. The result: your feelings sync up with your actions. (Gluck, 2008)
#2 Step Outside
When exposed to sunlight, your skin produces vitamin D3, which has been found to change serotonin levels in the brain. (Denissen, 2008) Low serotonin levels, as you may well know, is believed to be a main contributor to depression, and is the main focus of many common antidepressants. So get out there, even if just for a few minutes.
#3 Listen to Music
We’ve all felt the elation when our favorite song comes on the radio. Music has known effects on mood, as demonstrated in various studies. Therapists have even gone so far as to practice “music therapy” on their clients.
But you don’t need to pay the experts for this one – you probably know what songs make you happy. The real challenge is overcoming your mood enough to actually push play and turn up that volume. Extra credit for dancing.
#4 Actually Sleep
If you're not getting the sleep you need, your brain releases less serotonin.(Roizen & Mehmet, 2005) As previously discussed, this “happy hormone” is important – the more the merrier, basically. But you don’t need a neurologist to tell you that. We all feel our best after a good night of sleep. So if you’re hitting the snooze button every morning and chugging coffee to keep awake during those meetings at work, it’s time to make a change.
Do you have troubles falling asleep in the first place? Try better preparing yourself – don’t drink caffeine past noon, and turn off electronic devices 30 minutes before bed. Still can’t sleep? Don’t watch TV, that’s counterproductive! Read a book, for crying out loud.
Don’t have enough time for sleep? I know I promised I wouldn't say this, but here it is – make time. On a list of priorities, this should be up there with taking the time to breathe.
#5 Use a Little Perspective
It’s all too easy to let a small disappointment seem like an important event that foretells the general negative direction of the rest of your life . . . but let’s get realistic, shall we? Unless you are actually dealing with a situation regarding life and death or true grief, chances are you’re fixating on the small things. Take a moment to acknowledge what it is that’s really bothering you. Now consider this problem in five years. Will it even be relevant?
Practice interpreting your mood whenever you notice it going south. The simple act of recognizing the cause can alert your body to the true nature of the “crisis”, potentially halting and reversing that stress response.
And just for good measure
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference."
Denissen, J. A., Butalid, L., Penke, L., & van Aken, M. G. (2008). The effects of weather on daily mood: A multilevel approach. Emotion, 8(5), 662-667. doi:10.1037/a0013497
Gluck, Mark A. Learning and Memory: From Brain to Behavior. New York: Worth Publishers, 2008.
Roizen, Michael F., M.D., and Oz, Mehmet C., M.D. You: The Owner’s Manual. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
© By: Allison A. Green, All Rights Reserved