Things have been rough. Sustained isolation, illness, loss, economic instability — not exactly a recipe for happiness. While the natural reactions to these stressors are understandably more negative, living for a prolonged period of time in a negative space isn’t healthy. Given the track record of the last couple years, it is safe to say that we just do not know how long tough times can last. Thankfully, we have options to proactively manage our emotional well-being instead of having to just wait for ‘things’ to turn around.
Why is it important to take an active role in managing your mood?
The benefits of positivity reach far beyond the emotional relief of simply feeling better — research shows that positivity fuels resilience and hope for a better future. The brain itself functions better as a result of a more positive mindset, with increased neuroplasticity in areas that boost cognitive ability, pro-social behavior, and emotional regulation, among other significant functions. A negative mindset pulls metabolic resources to other areas of the brain and results in near opposite effects, including reduced processing ability and a decline in physical performance.
How do you improve your mindset?
There are many tools that can be used to combat negative emotional patterns. Behavioral activation is one such strategy and has been proven highly effective in the treatment of depression and improvement of overall well-being. In simple terms, it leverages positively rewarding activities to improve your mood. Intentionally participating in more of these mood boosting activities more regularly taps into the brain’s natural processes to strengthen the neural pathways that support a more stable, positive state of mind and feelings of general wellness.
To begin, understanding which activities align well with your personal values and interests will help to identify the most effective approach for you by delivering a more impactful sense of reward. This helps in long-term adherence and a more sustainable shift to positive thinking. Adding simple sensory pleasures to your strategy as well should not be overlooked; these can be a helpful resource on especially heavy days when more involved activities are simply out of reach or fall through. As you develop your system, consider leveraging the power of pre-planning. Consistency is the key to success but not always easy to enforce on the fly.
Designating regular time in a calendar app or weekly task list in advance can be extremely helpful in this regard.
How to begin
When you’re ready, start small. Pick something from your list of mood boosters that can easily slide into your existing daily routine three to four times a week. This can be as simple as ten minutes of quiet reflection at the start of the day or putting on your favorite music as a backdrop if you don’t have time for a break. At first, these changes may seem insignificant, but early positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator as you continue to evolve and grow your behavioral activation strategy.
As time goes on, reflect each week on what you enjoyed and what you might want to do more frequently. Don’t hesitate to shake things up if something is not working out — this effort should be a source of joy and relief, not stress and disappointment. With time and practice, you should notice an improvement in both your mood and overall outlook, and it should become easier to maintain as you refine your system.
Tools and Resources
- If you need a little direction in sorting out and defining your personal value system, check out this free online resource: Personal Values Assessment
- To help brainstorm some activities to try out for yourself, here’s a list of some free or low-cost options:
- Spend time outside
- Walk your dog
- Go for a hike
- Walk around the neighborhood
- Spend time with loved ones
- Visit a friend
- Share a meal or a cup of coffee
- Explore the city
- Check out the local museum
- Go to the zoo
- Physical activity
- Pick up an old sport
- Try a new sport
- Join a recreational club
- Go biking, running, skating, or swimming
- Learn something new
- How to play an instrument
- Join a book club
- Take a course at the local college or online
- Spend time cooking yourself a treat
- Try a new recipe
- Do some crafting or DIY project
- Join a beach cleanup
- Spend time at the senior center
- Walk dogs at the local shelter
- Organize a bake sale