27 (Easy) Strategies For Lifting Your Spirit
It started with me looking for recommendations for a therapy light.
Okay, actually, it started with the Daylight Savings Time change on Sunday. I do not love winter, I don’t especially enjoy the many cloudy, grey, cold days in a row. I was looking for a little inspiration from my friends about what they do when the darkness gets a little too oppressive. I asked for recommendations on therapy lamps and they delivered, but then it turned into another thought: What do you do to lift your mood in general? I’m not thinking about anything requiring a serious intervention, but what are some tried-and-true strategies in their bag of tricks that help when they’re feeling down, blah, in the doldrums? Once again, my friends had so many great ideas.
I decided to collect the common themes in one handy crowdsourced document. I hope that it helps you through rough patches and if you’re going through something more difficult and intractable, I hope you get the help that you need and deserve.
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Take a walk.
Personally, I feel like walking is the antidote to all the kryptonite life throws my way. A couple of years ago, I invested in some wind-proof, water-proof vegan winter gear (including long underwear, those sexy beasts) because I was the primary dog-walker and I am glad I did because not only did I suffer less, it made it more likely I would just take more recreational walks that were so restorative and helpful to my mood. It works: I walked in the winter for pleasure. Walking becomes the gateway to more relief because once you’re outside, you can start noticing birds more, learn how to identify trees and plants, watch clouds, gaze at the sky and just generally fall in love with the world a little more. Indoors or outdoors, walking has known benefits for all aspects of your health, physical and mental.
Just add wheels.
If the conditions are working in your favor, well, everything is more fun with wheels, right? Cycling, roller-skating, rollerblading, skateboarding, whatever gets your blood pumping and your heart happy. There’s something about wheels that just taps into your carefree inner-child. Consider wheels for your next outdoor trek if it’s in your wheelhouse, of course. (Yes, I had to go there.)
Shake up your workspace.
I am fortunate enough to work from home but I do spend almost the whole day at a desk, which can get a little stultifying. If, like me, you spend most of your day in one spot, why not consider some little tweaks to make it a little more enjoyable? Some ideas: squeezy stress balls for tactile thinkers, fidget spinners, etc.; easy-to-maintain plants; rearrange your furniture; try sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair; using a treadmill desk instead of a traditional one; keep framed photos of loved ones or mementos with special meaning that make you feel good within easy eyesight; try to get a little window exposure. (Even better if you can hang a bird-feeder and watch the goings-on.) Don’t forget that this includes working in a different space altogether on occasion if this is available to you. We have a library near us with a lovely, window-covered room that looks over a gorgeous river. Perfect for a literal change of scenery. Cafés are also a good option for switching things up.
Movement is everything.
In addition to daily walks, I find a regular exercise practice every day helps me to reap mood improvement benefits. Some ideas: the fabulous Yoga with Adriene videos for all skill levels (she’s my boo), HIIT workouts, belly dancing videos on YouTube, free Fitness Blender classes, setting a timer so you can do some jumping jacks, squats or high knees every 25 minutes if setting aside one dedicated session isn’t in your bag. I’m not alone with thinking that regular exercise supports improved mental health; movement is a proven mood elevator.
My mother was a natural with plants; this green thumb may have skipped a generation because I do not seem to possess it. That said, I have found some low-maintenance plants I have managed to not only keep alive but help to thrive. These lovely plants brighten my home, give my eyes something nice to rest on in my office, remind me of the importance of taking care of my own needs every time I water them and darn, if they don’t make me feel better. This is a helpful primer on not only the benefits of houseplants on mood but also how to get started on your own little potted paradise. If you do get plants, please research to make sure they are safe with any companion animals.
You light up my life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and especially felt when the days get shorter and there are long periods without sunshine. Consider getting a therapy light to help boost serotonin levels and feel better. A range of lamps and light boxes are explored here, from ones that run several hundred dollars to others that are as low as $40.00. It may be an easy strategy to help you to feel better.
Love on your companion animals.
Whether you’re down on the ground and getting into full play mode or simply sitting and petting a content furry kid on your lap, spending dedicated, focused time with our companion animals is a sure mood boost, from energizing to calming, to just a feeling that everything is okay in the world. Don’t have an animal of your own? Visit a friend with a fuzzball or two.
Sing, sing, sing (or just listen).
Music really has the power to flip on internal switches, doesn’t it? Create a playlist of songs guaranteed to make you feel better or turn to a beloved album you have a history with and let the music heal you. For me, there is nothing like ‘80s music - The Cure, The Clash, The Bangles, The Smiths - to turn my mood around, but sometimes commiserating with the high lonesome wail of Hank Williams or a young Joni Mitchell, full of longing and regret on Blue, is what my spirit needs to be heard. Tune into yourself to hear what your heart needs and music will transform you.
Factor in some little splurges and indulgences.
I’ll admit it: Sometimes the mere act of taking a shower seems outside of my capabilities. I know, though, that if I can get through it, I have this silky body oil with a scent that uplifts me so I power through. Think of how you can splurge a little to make your days a little better: Soft sock slippers. A tin of fancy tea or your favorite coffee. A pen or mug that feels just right in your hand. A square of perfect dark chocolate (more on this later). All these things are small little indulgences to make your lived experience just a little brighter, to give you something to look forward to, to show yourself that you are deserving of self-care, that you are worthy. A dedicated spa night once a week with all the works - bubble bath, facial mask, candles - is another great treat to keep in your rotation.
Speaking of indulgences, hello, dark chocolate, my old friend.
Chocolate isn’t everyone’s bag but I know that two squares of chocolate, one at 10:00 AM and one at 2:00 PM (but who’s watching the clock?), give me the little pick-me-up I am seeking and also something every day to look forward to, which is so important. Loaded with antioxidants that lower blood pressure and flavonols that benefit cognitive function, dark chocolate is what I reach for when I need a little boost. Make sure it is free of animal products and slave production to feel the best about your chocolate.
The scents we inhale are deeply connected to mood and memory, moving directly from the olfactory bulb in the brain to the amygdala to hippocampus, where recollections and emotions are processed. Your brain instantly connects the smell of freshly mowed grass, perhaps, with summer memories from childhood, the smell of lavender or sage with your grandmother’s herb garden, the cologne your first love wore with the headiness of the first time you fell head-over-heels. What are scents that uplift you? Which ones make you feel calmer? They all have different associations but many have the same effect on us; understanding this better through an essential oil chart is helpful for figuring out what you could reach for depending on what you are needing. I have multiple diffusers in my home for this exact reason. If you have companion animals, please make sure any essential oils you use are not toxic to them. Keep in mind that stovetop simmering potpourri can make a lovely alternative to diffuser scents and shouldn’t endanger household animals.
Keep a list of your happy places.
A couple of years ago, I created a document on Google Drive that I keep active, and this is a list of places I love to go that are close or a couple of hours away, like actual physical places: The Garfield Park Conservatory. The block and neighborhood where I grew up. Lake Shore Drive. Loyola Beach. Downtown. That one little park I don’t know the name of up north. My favorite thrift shop. You get the idea. I have it coded by color from quick little jaunts to weekend excursions. I update it whenever I remember or discover something new. I started this list on paper because it’s easier for me to think with a pen in my hand and I transferred it onto a computer document because, well, it’s easy for me to lose pieces of paper. I turn to this when I am looking for something to do outside of the home, looking for a place with warm memories, pretty sights, whatever uplifts me. There are different happy places for different moods. Where are your happy places? Make a list. Don’t be ashamed of including less sophisticated settings; Home Goods, shopping malls and bowling alleys can help you feel better. No one is judging: this is about your happy places.
At this point, we know that screens and social media aren’t so good for our mental and emotional health, right? The problem is, some of us have gotten so entrenched with these things, it can be hard to remember what we did with our free time before they were in our lives, so we default to the empty calories of scrolling our feeds. I am as indicated in this as anyone. Something I have been doing recently is going off-line after dinner and it has been helping. What do I do instead? Develop recipes, read, call friends, take walks. It can feel like a rude awakening when you unplug and find yourself staring into a void at first but before too long, you’ll probably start figuring out uses for all this freed up time. Gardening! Drawing! Sewing! Learning a new language! There are so many options for hobbies that it can feel intimidating at first but finding new outlets for your attention is so rewarding and fulfilling.
A little nostalgia can do the trick.
Sometimes when I am feeling a bit down, I have found that I love watching classic commercial collections from my childhood on YouTube. (Using search terms like “commercials from the 1970s,” for example.) I don’t get a serious joy from it but kind of a low-key good feeling. Same with looking at old photos, talking about funny stories from the past with those who lived them with me, catching up with old friends,holiday specials or movies of a certain vintage that I know line-for-line: Same warm feelings. Nostalgia reconnects us to ourselves, our histories and cherished memories.
It’s not for everyone, but I find that spending time in the kitchen really takes me out of my head and brings me back to my body, senses and intuition. Baking, cooking, pickling, canning, so many possibilities, and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor directly.
Try legumes for the ol’ bean.
A great source of fiber and folate, beans can help your body maintain stable blood sugar levels, which reduces the energy spikes and dips that can affect mood. Beans are also rich in the amino acid tryptophan and the mineral magnesium, which have been linked to improved mood and mental well-being. Looking for recipes? I’ve got you.
Volunteering for good.
There is nothing like expanding beyond your own four walls to tap into a more purposeful, meaningful life. My friends repeatedly wrote about the joy, accomplishment and contentment they get from spending time helping non-profits, fostering animals, collecting donations, fundraising and just in general making the world a kinder, happier place. Is it too much to take on right now? It’s good to know your limits. How about smaller things, like picking up trash in your neighborhood, donating non-perishables to free food pantries, shoveling for a neighbor? There are a million ways to make the world a better place, from small but accessible things to bigger time investments.
Speaking of little acts of kindness...
For purely selfish reasons, it feels great to extend a little kindness to those you encounter. A sincere compliment to your cashier. A warm greeting to the neighbor you pass on your walk every day. A friendly smile to your mail carrier. Little things are big and your spirit will feel better for brightening someone’s day.
On the flip side, sticking up for yourself and others feels damn good, too.
You have every right to let people know exactly how you expect to be treated and what is unacceptable. Every time you refuse to be abused, bullied and/or gaslit, and every time you use your voice for the benefit of others, you are actively building a better world and, darn, that feels good.
D3 for dark days.
I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on the internet, but I have found that taking vitamin D3 consistently has been helpful with my moods, especially during the winter when sunshine is harder to find around here. Talk to your doctor! D3 may be for you.
Take something unnecessary off your schedule.
Ah, the best feeling! Like taking off a bra at the end of the day, if you’ve ever had the pleasure. When I was in the darkest, most stressful days of caregiving for my husband who was recovering from leukemia, I stripped as much as I could off my schedule that wasn’t absolutely necessary and I think it helped me to survive. I also learned how to say no a lot. Have you been feeling overburdened with responsibilities? Are all of them necessary or can you relieve yourself of some until you feel better? Is there anything you can off-load onto a partner or just cease doing altogether? Obligations can quickly make us feel tired and resentful, especially when we’re already taxed. Take a little look at what is requiring the biggest buck for the smallest bang and see if you can take it off your schedule.
Meditate on this.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It’s like a broken record at this point. Can I say something, though? None of us -- well, very few -- are good at meditating, especially when we’re new at it. All of us have endlessly chattering brains, like those wind-up teeth. It’s not easy. But there are apps, like Calm and Insight Timer, both of which have free versions, that can help you with meditations. Or you can keep in mind what I heard one mindfulness teacher say: Every conscious breath is a meditation. There are walking meditations. There are guided meditations. There are loving-kindness meditations. Meditation literally changes the brain for the better.
Breathe into it.
Have you ever noticed that just when you most need the restorative power of a nice, full breath, you become stingy about it? I won’t say much here, except to say that paying attention to my breathing hygiene, as well as adding a few breathing exercises into my daily meditation practices, has made a difference in my quality of life, stress levels and moods. Hey, it can’t hurt.
I am one perpetually thirsty mofo and it definitely shows when I am not giving my body the hydration it needs. I get irritable, headachy, anxious and discombobulated. It has become so second nature to always have my reusable water bottle with me, it’s practically Linus’ blanket for me at this point. (Extra bonus: I have vegan stickers all over it for a little passive outreach when I am in public.) Being well-hydrated is now understood to be an important factor in general well-being and improving mood, so drink up, buttercup!
Man, do I get cranky when I am physically and emotionally spent. Guess what? You do, too! Respect your needs and get the rest you deserve. If you’re ready to rip someone’s face off, ask yourself first if you might be better served with a good night’s sleep. If you need some advice on good sleep hygiene practices, this may be helpful.
This is so touching.
There is nothing like a professional massage. If that is not available due to, I don’t know, say, a global pandemic, do a massage exchange with your partner. If you’re single, never fear: Give yourself a good foot rub, a nice hand massage, a little shoulder kneading, a lovely hug. People crave the human touch. There is no reason to deprive yourself of it.
Notice the good.
Easier said than done until you are in the habit of it, keeping a daily gratitude journal can help you to see in very little time how much there is that we take for granted that is actually good happening in our lives. I don’t mean this in a hokey way but as a way of training your eye to notice the whole picture, which includes moments to enjoy. Even the practice of going over small things you are grateful happened that day before you go to bed is helpful. What I have been doing lately is something I learned on the podcast The Happiness Lab: Finding something every day that delights me. At the end of the day, I record what it was: It could be a tree. It could be a sweet couple sitting on a park bench. It could be the moon. It could be the cardinal I just saw. It could be a call with a friend. The point is that this regular practice makes you notice more to delight in and treasure.
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What helps you through dark and difficult times? Please let us know.
Have a wonderful day!
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