We all know that it’s important to look after our physical health. But what should we be doing to keep ourselves mentally fit?
As well causing unpleasant feelings, low mood can have a significant impact on the immune system. And it can cause physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches, and insomnia. Luckily there are many natural ways to boost our mood.
“While those with clinical depression should prioritise professional help, those experiencing low mood can also find benefits in engaging in physical exercise and social interactions,” explains Dr Patapia Tzotzoli, director of My Psychology Clinic.
We usually think associate feeling low, or suffering with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as being a winter thing, but it can hit you in the summertime too. Changes in routine, body image issues, coping with the heat (or the unwelcome rain!), and money worries can all rear their heads over holiday season, for example. We look at some great, easy ways to give ourselves a boost.
When we’re feeling down, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to go to the gym or a yoga class. But exercise – even a simple twenty-minute walk – can work wonders to boost our mood. “When you exercise, your body releases endorphins – hormones that can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression,” explains personal trainer Aimee Pearce. “Exercise can also improve your sleep, energy levels, and self-esteem.”
And taking exercise doesn’t have to mean pounding the treadmill. “Walking is a great place to start as it is free and easily accessible by most people. A recent study has shown that just eleven minutes of walking each day has health benefits,” adds Pearce.
Another fun way to get an exercise fix is by dancing – even if it’s just bopping to a playlist at home. “A good boogie can release dopamine and endorphins which boost your mood, alleviate pain and reduce feelings of anxiety,” explains Cat Merrick of Breathe and Dance Yoga. “Dancing also improves blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (just behind your forehead) which allows you to make better decisions and find solutions to problems.”
When we’re down, it’s tempting to reach for the biscuit tin. But stop! The brief ‘high’ we get from refined sugars in biscuits, chocolate and cakes is usually followed by a slump as our blood sugar plummets. Eating well, ensuring we consume a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and protein is a better way to boost our mood – as well as keeping our physical health on top form.
Certain foods are also believed to be particularly effective when it comes to improving mood, these include oily fish, dark chocolate, fermented foods such as yoghurt, bananas, and oats. Including more mood-boosters in our daily diet may help us to feel more upbeat.
Most of us know that getting outside in natural daylight helps to increase levels of vitamin D. Lack of this vital hormone can leave us with a range of symptoms including low mood.
In fact, stepping outside can have a great many benefits – especially if we go out first thing in the morning.
“Getting outside soon after waking is an especially good way to boost your mood. The low-level light at sunrise provides the signals we need to kick start our body clock (circadian rhythm). We get a pulse of cortisol as a result, which is motivating. As a bonus, we'll also sleep better!” explains women’s wellness leader Sally Potter from Aloft Hypnotherapy.
Remember – winning doesn’t necessarily have to mean we’ve run a marathon or netted a jackpot. However big or small, most of us have ‘little wins’ throughout our day. Did you submit that piece of work? Make that difficult phone call? Finally tidy out your wardrobe? It’s time to give ourselves a well-earned high five.
Not everyone wants to advertise their successes on social media, but treating ourselves to a favourite snack, writing our ‘wins’ in a gratitude journal or simply ticking something off a list can help us to feel good about our daily achievements.
“Celebrating your little wins will give you a release of dopamine, which triggers feelings of pleasure and satisfaction,” explains Shaun Thompson, Online Behaviour Change Coach.
In these busy times, it can be easy to lose touch with friends and family members. But chatting on the phone or meeting up in person can help to make us feel happier, driving away feelings of loneliness and helping us to feel more connected. In addition, talking out loud can be a great way to organise our thoughts and rid ourselves of mental ‘clutter.’
A recent study has even found that having one conversation with a friend every day can have a significant impact on our mood. So maybe it’s time to pick up the phone?
When we’re feeling low, it’s easy to give in to negative feelings about ourselves. But this can make us feel even worse. “Your brain automatically trusts you more than anyone else. When you think to yourself, or say to others, "I am lazy", or "I am anxious", your brain absolutely and positively believes you.”
“This doesn't mean you need to ignore or deny your feelings - just use different words to change them from part of your identity to a temporary behaviour. So instead of "I am anxious", think "I'm behaving in an anxious fashion for a moment. This will help your brain realise that this feeling isn't part of who you are, it's just a passing feeling that it is safe to let go of in a moment,” explains Vic Paterson, from Fantastic Day Hypnotherapy.
Treat yourself to a pop of colour
Believe it or not but adding the right colour – whether in what we wear, or the ornaments and items that surround us – can help to bring a smile to our face. “Yellow is a great colour for a mood boost,” explains Colour Psychologist Kayleigh Marie. It’s an emotionally stimulating colour that’s related to the nervous system. It helps us to feel more positive, confident and gives us a happier outlook. A little pop of yellow can be wonderfully uplifting.”
Most of us are aware that we probably use our smartphones a little too much. Yet scrolling through videos and news during ‘down time’ can feel like a break. However, this type of internet browsing can actually be stimulating and stressful rather than relaxing.
Studies have shown that abstaining from social media for a period of time, or limiting social media use on a daily basis can help to reduce stress and improve mental wellness.
We all feel down from time to time. But using the strategies above could help stave off low mood and leave us feeling more upbeat.