ONE Express your feelings. If you feel sad and don’t know what to do about it, try to put your feelings into words or pictures. Be creative: write a letter, start a journal or your feelings, scribble, paint, draw, write a poem, play some music, build something, fix something, organize your books – do anything that helps you express your emotions.
It is always a good idea to talk to a friend or loved one about the way you are feeling. Talking DOES help. When things build up, it helps to discuss your feelings. Talk with someone you trust and respect. Sometimes another person can help you see a new side to a problem. If nobody is available, write a letter. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, neatness, or anything else. Just get your thoughts out. You may never read it or send it, but it may help just to vent.
TWO Be aware of the automatic negative thoughts you say to yourself on a daily basis. Things like “I can’t”, “This is hopeless”, or “Nothing will ever change” are examples of statements that will keep you in a bad mood. Practice shutting off the negative “self talk”, even for a few moments each day. Don’t apply a double standard to yourself. Would you say the negative things you tell yourself to dear friends when they’re feeling down? Probably not! So try to talk to yourself the way you talk to others, and replace negative statements with more positive, coping statements (see next item).
THREE Practice using positive self-talk (similar to “affirmations”). Develop a repertoire of several statements that help you get through the day, or that assist you in coping with difficult situations. Positive self-talk can be motivating, build self confidence, and keep you focused on accomplishing goals. Here are a few examples to get you started:
- I have dealt with problems like this before.
- What can I do to begin feeling better?
- I have done some really good things in the past.
- I can be more energetic and get things done.
- I have a choice on how to act in this situation.
- I can work on problems one step at a time.
- I can deal with not getting everything settled in one day.
- There will be a time when I am happier.
- I can do this.
- What advice would I give to a friend about this?
- I will take my time to make this decision.
- Who can I talk to to get some new ideas on this?
FOUR Work on one thing at a time. Try to get just a little bit accomplished on any one problem you may be having. It will give you some confidence to get things done. Don’t give in to procrastination. If you seem totally “stuck” and unmotivated, try to do the easy things first.
FIVE Stay in good health. Try to maintain good nutrition, even when you feel like you have no appetite. Try eating smaller meals more often during the day. Take diet supplements, such as vitamins, if you don’t eat right. Get a reasonable amount of exercise (walking, aerobics, bowling, golf, even window-shopping) and stay current with medical checkups. Get enough sleep, and try to keep your sleeping patterns regular. Physical well-being is directly related to mental health.
SIX Set aside a worry period. Interestingly, setting aside a daily worry period can reduce overall worry levels over time. Set aside 20 minutes a day, always at the same place and time, to worry. Focus on your worry for the entire period and try to think of solutions to the problem. It’s likely that your first reaction will be an increase in anxiety. But resist the urge to distract yourself. You’ll get better at generating solutions or realize it’s not worth worrying about. During the rest of the day, when you notice that you’re worrying, you can say, “I’m busy now; I’ll worry during my worry period.” It frees you from worry for the rest of the day and teaches you how to let go of worries.
SEVEN Take a break! A change of pace, no matter how short, will give you a new outlook on your situation. It’s on the busy days that you should take a few minutes for yourself. Take a look at the relaxation techniques explained elsewhere at this website for some tips on reducing anxiety during these “breaks.” Also, don’t set yourself up for failure by taking on too many projects at once. Stress and disappointment can be a result of attempting to do too many things at the same time. This is one of the dangers present in the “manic” phase of bipolar depression.
EIGHT Stay Active! When you’re feeling bored or lonely, don’t just sit there. Call up a friend for company. Or, do something different and interesting – visit a museum, see a movie or go window shopping. Take advantage of free lectures, continuing education, craft classes, or activities at town parks. Sometimes just being outside helps to take your mind off yourself and your immediate situation. Socialize more. Even though you may be reluctant to do so, accept invitations to get togethers, meetings, and parties. Also, try to associate with positive people. Don’t get stuck with anything (or anyone) that’s a nuisance or a drain. Misery may love company, but the company may keep you miserable. Doing something for somebody else, no matter how small, will also make you (and the other person) feel better. Try volunteering, helping a friend unexpectedly, or sending someone a note.
NINE Avoid self-medication (using drugs or alcohol as a means of escape or relief). Drugs offer, at best, only a temporary abatement of symptoms. Avoid using alcohol, cigarettes, sedatives and tranquilizers to cope with your problems. Your ability to handle stress and sadness has to come from within, and with support from friends, family, or professionals.
TEN Give yourself reinforcement after you have successfully done something to improve your mood, even if tit seems small or insignificant. It is very important to be “self-rewarding”. It encourages you to try again and protects you from being overly concerned about situations out of your control. Rewards do not have to be monetary. Try listening to a favorite CD, playing a game, or calling a long-distance friend.
Here are some MORE suggestions for improving your mood:
Try just acting happy. Look in the mirror and just grin. Do it again. Many studies have concluded that your attitudes can, with practice, follow your behavior instead of shape it. You need to get up and start acting more like happy people act, talking like happy people talk, etc. Experiments demonstrate that acting out happiness often works. You may feel like a phony at first, but eventually the phony feelings disappear. It may sound silly, but give it a few days. It works.
Avoid comparing yourself to people a rung or two higher on the ladder of good looks, income, job success, athletic skill, etc. It will not help your feeling of self-worth.
Examine your strengths as a person and use them as often as you can. Take a look at things you have been successful at in the past and try to use the same skills to solve your current difficulties.
Go rent a few of your favorite comedies from the video store. Try Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Monty Python, The Marx Brothers, Ray Romano, Robin Williams, or other classic. Often one or two really strong laughs can do wonders for changing bad mood.
Find inspiration from religious books, lectures, or tapes. Spirituality and a strong identification with your religion will give you a sense of purpose, and will often help you through difficult times better than anything else.
These suggestions are only the beginning! As with all the advice on these pages, the suggestions are not meant to be a substitute for individual therapy or counseling, but can be used as a starting point for improvement. If you feel that you have a serious problem with depression, suicidal ideation, or low self-esteem please inquire about services available through this website, at the private practice of Fred L. Holtz, Ph.D., or seek other professional sources near you.