How to feel better
Updated: Mar 10
Let’s face it. This is a hard time to feel good. Due to the coronavirus and measures put in place to control the spread, most of us are facing a lot of difficulties. We can’t do the things we would normally enjoy. We are isolated. Many people are facing financial hardships.
Feeling depressed or anxious during all of this is to be expected. It is common for people to feel less motivated when feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety increase. The trash piles up. The laundry doesn’t get done. Phone calls and texts don’t get returned. Most of us wait until we feel better or until our situations improve to act. Although this is common, it doesn’t do much to help our current situation and often, it makes us feel worse.
Our behavior can have a direct impact on our mood—in positive and negative ways. Constant worry and depression can lead us into a downward spiral. Some simple shifts in how we approach our lives at this time can have a big impact.
Evidence based treatment for depression
Our mood is linked to what we do; by changing our behavior we can begin to change our mood. This is a concept known as behavioral activation. Research suggests that behavioral activation alone is an evidence-based treatment for depression.
The concept overlaps with cognitive behavioral therapy but differs somewhat in its focus. Behavioral activation is an “outside in” approach. When our mood is affected by feelings of depression (whether ongoing or situational), we tend to engage in self-protective behaviors such as disconnecting from people, staying in bed, etc. While these behaviors might feel good temporarily, they tend to add to our negative feelings.
The concept of behavioral activation is very pragmatic. We start making small changes where we can. While therapy and/or medication may still be necessary, you can begin to implement some changes to your life to improve your mood regardless of your financial or logistical circumstances.
Pay attention to what is working for you
Simply noticing our moods or engaging in one activity won’t miraculously change your mood. However, we can take steps toward improving our mood by understanding which of our actions make us feel better and which ones maintain our sadness and depression.
Behaviors like drinking more and staying in bed usually have the effect of making us feel worse. If completing certain tasks or connecting with friends leaves you feeling a little better, then you know you have made a step in the right direction.
Fake it until you make it
A quick google search on how to improve your mood is going to give you a lot of suggestions for actions to take. Behavioral activation is largely the reason for this. When our feelings or our circumstances interfere with our “normal” functioning, we sometimes need a jumpstart to begin feeling better.
You may not feel like going for a walk or taking out your trash but try it. Odds are good you will feel a sense of accomplishment, even if you didn’t particularly enjoy the task. Doing things that are good for us will over time begin to have a larger positive impact on our mood. Our mood and our frame of mind are critical instruments to facing the ongoing challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tips for increasing your motivation
Okay, so you have identified a few tasks, chores or activities that you are going to engage in. But, oh yeah…motivation is a problem.
1. Use self-compassion: this is a challenging time, so don’t be hard on yourself
2. Set realistic goals: pick activities that you can do with logistical/financial constraints
3. Pick a time when you are most likely to succeed: if you aren’t a morning person, don’t try to plan to start taking walks at 7 am
4. Talk yourself into it: actually, tell yourself reasons you should do it
5. Commit to making changes based on what you know, not on what you feel: we know what is good for us and what isn’t; the trouble is we don’t feel like doing it. Focus on the facts of self-care, we know they help us.
If you need help for depression…
Most therapists are still operating during the coronavirus pandemic via telephone and telehealth. If you need help, reach out.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need immediate assistance, you can contact the Integral Care crisis line 24/7 at 512-472-HELP (4357) or Text TX to 741741 to connect to Crisis Text Line.
About the Author:
Kimberly May, LPC, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, burn-out, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation.