Whether you’re suffering from low mood due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, battling other mental health issues, or just having a bad couple of days, it can be hard to pick yourself up and break the cycle of unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.
We all know what it’s like when things start to pile up and spiral out of control. The low mood cycle leads us to retreat into ourselves, avoid doing activities and shirk our responsibilities. This then causes us to worry and become anxious about facing these tasks, making us retreat further into ourselves and fall further behind.
I’ve experienced this many times before, often when I have had one or two difficult days and allowed myself the ‘luxury’ of staying in bed all day. Although doing nothing is definitely a form of self care, there comes a point where the cycle must be broken. If you are finding yourself in a similar situation, these tips are for you, and they will help you to improve your mental health – both in the short term and in the long run.
Take a look at your sleep cycle
A good night’s sleep won’t suddenly fix everything, but it’ll certainly go a long way towards making you feel better. Often I have caught myself staying up later than I should and either waking up at my normal time feeling exhausted, or letting myself continue to sleep, resulting in my day being far more stressful than it needed to be! It’s time to take charge and set yourself up with having a bedtime goal and a morning routine.
Make your bedroom as cosy and as comfortable as possible by investing in some good quality curtains that will keep the light out and the heat in. I find that after getting myself ready for bed, snuggling under some comfy bedding and either listening to a podcast, practicing mindfulness, or reading really helps to feel comfortable and sleepy.
Set your alarm to wake up at the same time every morning and – here’s the key bit – actually get up! Wake up early, seize the day, set some goals, and create a morning routine that works for you.
Exercise is your friend
Look, I KNOW, okay! I know that the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed and low is exercise, let alone go outside. But trust me on this one, it really, really helps. I hate exercise, but a little thirty-minute walk around the block is quite honestly my biggest accomplishment some days. The fresh air, the movement, the change of scenery…it all does something magical and it can completely change my entire mindset.
Some people hate walking – that’s okay. Try climbing your stairs, working out to a YouTube video, putting some music on and having a one-man dance party! The key is to move your body and have fun.
Do more of what makes you happy
That sounds kind of patronising, doesn’t it? But you see the thing is, doing more of what makes you happy is actually a scientifically proven method for treating depression – commonly known as behavioural activation. It’s based on knowing that increasing your activity levels, specifically in things that bring you pleasure, will help you feel more productive, therefore making you feel less stressed and guilty, leading to a more positive outlook and a happier mood.
Write down a list of things that bring you joy and make you feel good. Mix it up so it includes things that you want to be able to do in the future, as well as things that you can do right here and now. For example:
- Spending time with family
- Taking a bubble bath
- Learning to play an instrument
Next, create a schedule for your day or write a to-do list. Add in the responsibilities and activities you need to do – things like the school run or going to work. Often we find that so many things we’re doing on a daily basis are for the benefit of others – even down to walking the dog – so make sure that once you’ve added your responsibilities to the list, you then include something that makes you happy; something that’s just for you. Set a realistic time frame for you to enjoy this activity within. It’s helpful to treat it as if it were a Drs appointment, so for example, at 7 pm you’re going to go for a bath. This means at 6:50 pm, you might say to your family that you’re going upstairs now to get ready and you’ll be back in an hour. Viewing your self care activities as ‘appointments’ helps us to remember that they’re important daily activities and that they need to be valued as much as all our other daily tasks.
Making yourself feel better when you’re feeling low is difficult, but I hope that these tips help you – they certainly helped me. It’s important for you to celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small. If you’ve spent a week in bed, getting up and getting dressed is an achievement. Brushing your teeth is an achievement. Having a shower is an achievement. Even if that is all you manage, you would still be doing better than you were the day before. It’s okay to take baby steps, no one learns to run before they learn to walk!