Manage your mood
Mental health issues have soared during the past few months, one reason being how difficult it has been to access activities which help to reset our mood. This may also be the reason why many people feel low in winter, as it’s so much harder to be outdoors, travel, see people and enjoy sports and exercise. Most of us are unaware of just how much everyday activities and habits contribute to our sense of well-being, so we don’t necessarily realise how much their lack is affecting our moods.
What’s more, many of us feel guilty when our mood changes and assume that there’s something wrong with us if we experience mood fluctuations. People with perfectionist tendencies have even greater problems, as they may not feel able to lift their mood if everything isn’t just right.
Currently, most people have had months of being unable to view and participate in sport, enjoy the outdoors, see people we love, travel, attend work, church/temple/mosque, classes, entertainment, health care, social activities or even just go shopping or walk the dog.
On top of this, many people have experienced loss, financial difficulties, relationship issues, and problems with health, housing, employment, education, body image and parenting. Plans have been abandoned, hopes and dreams put on hold. It’s only natural for this to affect us, so we need to recognise and acknowledge how we feel so we can take steps to help ourselves.
While there is often little that can be done to change unwelcome developments like job losses or cancellation of activities, the more anxious or low we become the harder it is to seek help, make plans or take care of ourselves.
It’s easy to rush around without really noticing how we’re experiencing individual activities or parts of the day and assuming that a low mood at some point accounts for all the time. Actually, it’s normal for everyone’s mood to soar and dip quite dramatically in a single day, but we tend to only notice the extremes – and, often, worry about these - rather than being aware of what’s happening the rest of the time and what’s affecting our moods.
Ways to manage your mood
A good start is to begin mindfully noticing everything you do and the effect it has. As soon as we wake up, we can start enjoying the day. Even when you’re hit with the realisation of something negative, such as having to do a job you don’t like, a bad thing that happened hasn’t gone away, the memory of an argument or even just that it’s raining, you will definitely still have something to look forward to.
The first hot drink of the day, a lovely refreshing shower, the tingle after you’ve cleaned your teeth, engaging with your community or religion, seeing your children or pets, breakfast, listening to the radio or checking your phone are examples of potentially enjoyable activities which may happen shortly after you get up in the morning. Thinking about what they have to offer and deliberately looking forward to them will give you a pleasant endorphin boost.
Acknowledging your pleasure during an activity, and remembering that enjoyment later will also give you a boost. You should continue this all day long so that you will never be more than minutes from something you like and can anticipate with pleasure. The more often you anticipate and recognise pleasure, the better your mood will be. You don’t need to make major changes for things to improve.
Simply looking forward to the cup of coffee you’re about to make will make life that little bit sweeter. Even when you have a horrible task to perform, focus on what you’ll do afterwards rather than the task itself. It’s always a good idea to plan activities or jobs you hate for early in the day so that they don’t hang over you, and you can experience the relief that they’re done rather than worry about doing them.
If you tend to prevaricate or dither, a great trick is to timetable on an hourly basis, factoring in proper leisure and mixing activities so that something you like always follows something you find more difficult or unpleasant. It can be helpful to log and time activities for a few days to get an idea of how long tasks take. This helps to plan what can actually be fitted in more realistically, but you should still then take off 20-25% to allow for some things to take longer than expected or for any emergencies.
This doesn’t mean cramming more tasks in as they crop up, however. You need to prioritise, and most requests from others don’t need immediate attention. So don’t feel you have to agree to everything or to tackle everything immediately. This just isn’t possible.
Use your schedule to see where or when there’s a gap, and manage expectations by explaining when you’ll be able to get round to the activity. Once something is scheduled you can forget all about it as you now know exactly when it’ll be taken care of, thereby removing pressure all round.
Do plan a week ahead and check the next day’s schedule every evening to ensure it still works. That way you can juggle where you need to and warn anyone waiting if something is going to take longer than you’d hoped. Far from annoying people, this usually increases others’ sense of your reliability as you keep them informed and appear on top of things.
Scheduling is also helpful if you’re feeling very low and everything seems a huge effort. It may take some determination and willpower to stick to your timetable, but the resulting sense of achievement makes it well worth doing.
And if you slip up, don’t abandon your plans. A slip up is a blip, not a disaster, and attempts to change are rarely as easy as we hope. However, once a new habit is formed, we often wonder why we ever thought this would be hard.
Notice your body
As well as managing your time effectively and productively, try to notice which activities are most helpful to manage your mood. It may well be that, although you can’t enjoy the activities you normally like, something new is helping. For instance, many people have discovered DIY, gardening, arts and crafts and baking.
If you can recognise changes in your body, such as tension, heaviness, rapid pulse or relaxation, it can be much easier to pinpoint triggers for mood changes and to do more of behaviours and activities which improve your mood. Telling someone what you’re doing often helps to stay on track, especially if other people are supportive and interested in your progress.
If you’re still finding nothing’s sticking after a couple of months of change attempts, do seek some help from a therapist or counsellor who will most likely have more strategies for you to try and will undoubtedly cheerlead your efforts, try to eradicate causes and find solutions.