Any happiness expert will tell you that happiness isn’t always something you naturally feel. Good moods come and go, but even when you’re down, you can at least try to find ways to make yourself feel better. And who better to give advice on this subject than therapists, who make a living trying to improve the quality of life of their patients. Here are a few helpful things therapists recommend doing when you find yourself in a rut.
1. Take Some Deep Breaths
Breathing deeply from your abdomen means you get the benefits of incoming oxygen and the expelling of carbon dioxide. This can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure. When you’re stressed or sad, this is the just about the quickest and easiest thing to try.
2. Say Something Nice About Yourself
When you’re feeling down, it’s natural for you to think awful things about yourself. But it’s important not to dwell in those thoughts because that’s all they are—thoughts, not facts. Force yourself to stop being your own worst critic and instead be kind to yourself. Pretend you’re your own best friend and think of what you’d tell yourself to feel better.
3. Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
Dancing is another thing that’s great for improving your mood because it gets your heart rate up and your blood flowing. Put on some upbeat songs you really love and shake your butt to your heart’s content.
4. Go For A Nature Walk
Get outside and go for a walk, and if at all possible, do it somewhere where you can be immersed in nature. Walking anywhere is good for your body and your mood, but according to Irina Wen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and the clinical director of the Steven A. Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone Medical Center, walking in nature “reduces cognitive fatigue and stress and can be helpful with depression and anxiety.”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking—that’s terrible advice and don’t frickin’ tell me to smile. But it’s not simply about putting a smile on your face to pretend that you’re happy. Smiling can actually trick your body into thinking you’re happy. It’s science.
As a neurologist from IGEA Brain and Spine, Dr. Isha Gupta, explains, a smile creates a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. “Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress.” So make a point of smiling big even if you don’t feel like it and just see if it helps to elevate your mood.
6. Work Out
Exercising has proven to be as effective as anti-depressants in some cases. Not only does exercise help protect against heart disease and diabetes, improve your sleep, and lower your blood pressure overall, it makes the body release chemicals called endorphins that elevate your mood.
Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains: “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.”
It might be hard to start, especially when you’ve got no motivation to do anything, but once you get into the habit, you’ll come to crave the exercise and start a positive loop of keeping yourself feeling good through routine exercise.
7. Write Down 3 Things You’re Grateful For
Start keeping a gratitude list, and try to add to it all the time. Gratitude lists are scientifically proven to bring happiness into your life, the same way that a vision board can help you achieve your goals. Writing down things you’re thankful for “is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness,” according to research in Harvard Health Publications.
8. Get A Light Box
Light therapy isn’t just for Seasonal Depressive Disorder (SAD), the depression that can sometimes affect people during the winter months when there’s less light. It can be used all year round to help with symptoms of depression. Light therapy is thought to work by affecting brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep.
9. Go Pet A Dog
Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that the hormonal changes that happen when humans and dogs interact can help people cope with depression as well as certain stress-related disorders. The study results show that just a few minutes of petting a dog leads to a release of those feel-good hormones in humans, like serotonin and oxytocin. Just another reason that dogs are the absolute best.
10. Write Down Your Feelings
Writing down your feelings, or journaling, has many benefits to your mental health. It can help you prioritize your fears, problems, and concerns, while providing a way for you track your symptoms day-to-day so you can recognize patterns and triggers that put you in a bad mood. Also, sometimes things seem clearer once you’ve gotten them out of your head and onto the paper.
11. Listen To Sad Songs
This may sound counterintuitive, but listening to sad music when you’re feeling bad can actually make you feel better, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. Researchers found that people who listened to songs that made them cry felt calmer than they did before they listened. The scientists concluded that the results “show that tears involve pleasure from sadness and that they are psychophysiologically calming.” So go ahead and indulge in some songs that make you cry.
12. Let Yourself Feel Bad
Sometimes it’s not the worst thing in the world to feel bad, for a little while at least. Heidi Ligouri, a licensed counselor and motivational speaker says, “Don’t tell your feelings to shut up. Instead, ask ‘what’s up?’” She added that ignoring a feeling can often make a situation worse.
Also, if you take the time to process your feelings, you’ll be able to get into a happier mindset more easily as time goes on. Kathleen Dahlen deVos, a San Francisco psychotherapist, says you don’t have to feel bad about feeling bad. According to deVos, accepting negative feelings is a kind of “emotional fluency,” which means experiencing your emotions “without judgment or attachment.” When you truly feel your feelings, rather than just pushing them away, you can learn from them.