Across the country, bad moods and sad moods are rising as COVID continues to reap havoc on mental health. You’re not alone if you’re feeling in a funk, a little down every day (or a lot), tired from poor sleep, worried about your job and your financials, feeling loss and sadness, agitated by uncertainty, and feeling alone through isolation from friends and loved ones. In the U.S., nearly half of people surveyed in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study felt their mental health was being harmed by the pandemic. Mood fatigue has set in and many just don’t know how to kick it out.
Yet, our human nature is resilient, determined, and founded in hope. Despite the hardships of COVID, we have witnessed the inspired characteristics of our human spirit through stories of people overcoming challenges and taking charge through positive choices every day.
You can overcome bad moods and sad moods by starting with acknowledging that the circumstances you’re experiencing are bound to lead to the feelings you’re experiencing. Give yourself a break from beating yourself up for feeling bad or sad. You’re doing the best you can, so be kind to yourself as we all move through this, and out of this. It will happen. It is happening. And you can make it happen.
Psychologist and neuroscience expert, Professor Rick Hanson, explains how the coronavirus crisis is exposing some of our most challenging psychological vulnerabilities. Hanson highlights how important it is to nurture our social and emotional strengths, develop regular mental health practices, and access resources that promote mental strength and resilience—from developing calm and gratitude, to confidence and courage.
Here’s five ways to shift your mood and make positive changes to create a new happy reality:
1. “Climb Your Tree” & Find Some Peace
We each need to find some peace every day by stepping away from the things that consume us and finding the “higher space” in which we can breathe more easily, and “circuit-break the crazy” of the day.
When I was a child trying to escape the almost daily sexual abuse by my father, I would go anywhere to find some space to breathe. I had two favorite places—my most favorite was in the tree in our next-door neighbor’s front yard. I would climb up into the tree and nestle myself into branches amidst the leaves that made me feel protected and peaceful. In that space, I could look out to the sky, breathe, and imagine happiness. Even though I knew I had to climb back down from the safety of the tree and fearfully venture back into the house where I would be prey to my father once again, those happy moments of imagination stayed with me and helped me move from one day to the next.
Amidst COVID, we each need to “find a tree to climb” so we can take a break, breathe, see things from a higher perspective, and imagine happiness. Then, when we venture back, we must hold onto the hope and thoughts of happiness as we journey onward with the optimistic belief that if we can imagine happiness, we can make happiness happen.
2. Pause & See The Opportunities At Your Fingertips
Perhaps one of the hardest mindset changes is seeing beyond immediate hardships presented through times of difficulty such as COVID, and seeing into the opportunities that are at your fingertips. I intentionally say “at your fingertips” because it’s most important to see the things that are “at hand”—the accessible things that you can reach if only you could pause to see them. The thing is, if you pause long enough, you will see them. Yet, you are the only one who can create the “pause” in each day to see your opportunities. So, pause for a moment, and see!
In the midst of your pause you might consider finishing the statement, “If I could, I would …” If you find limited endings on your own, call some friends, or even arrange an “If I could, I would…” happy hour. Here’s the one rule: only “happy” things can complete the statement (that includes hard choices that will lead to happy things!). And yes, it can include the “smaller” choices like no more wine before your bedtime hour, to having an earlier bedtime hour; all the way to “bigger” choices like changing an uphappy job for a happy job in a pandemic (yes, they do still exist), to ending an unhappy relationship and setting sights on a happy one (yes, they still exist, too!).
As a child, my “If I could, I would…” was limited in a manipulated trap of abuse. As adults, we often may be limited in the same or different ways that we experienced as children. Yet, we must come to know that we can reach out for help. Our prompt to reach out is often feeling unhappy. Our opportunity often comes from asking for help.
3. Identify What You Need To Shed and To Restore
It should seem simple to identify the things you want to let go, and the things you want to restore and step into. Yet, our brains don’t see as clearly as we would wish when we are feeling anxious and stressed. By asking yourself simple questions and allowing the time for your answers to come, the things you need to shed and to restore will soon become top of mind.
Start with the simplest of questions, “What do I want?” Have a pen and paper ready to allow your stream of higher consciousness to flow answers to you about the things you want to restore in your life.
To shift your mind to look for the positive beyond the immediate challenges, ask yourself “What is the upside of this downturn?” Asked differently, pose the question, “What is the positive change I can create from this challenge?”
Challenging your mind to shift from “survivor solutions” that just keep your head above water, to “thriver solutions” that will restore and revive your spirit, can uncover the changes you want. When you uncover those changes, you’ll feel motivated to make positive choices to shed the unwanted and restore all that you want in your life.
Remember, the law of nature is that all things shed before they are once again transformed. Allow your nature to guide and transform you!
4. Dump the Guilt-Driven Gratitude & Feel “True Gratitude”
“Be grateful” may be one of the most overused and “tiresome tips” that is most readily handed out to help shift your mood. Yet, gratitude is shown over and over again to positively shift a negative and pessimistic mindset into a strong, optimistic, and choice-driven mindset.
The key is feeling and expressing “true gratitude,” beyond the guilt-driven “I should” gratitude that goes something like, “I should be grateful that I have a job through COVID, even though I hate it,” or “I should feel grateful that I don’t have COVID even though it’s messing up my life,” or “I should feel grateful that I have somewhere to share my life with even though I’m unhappy in my relationship.” You get the picture?
Positive psychology research through Harvard Medical School has shown that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps feelings of more positive emotions, relishing good experiences, improving health, dealing with adversity, and building strong relationships. The University of Pennsylvania’s world-renowned Positive Psychology Center has amassed a multitude of studies showing the positive impacts of expressing gratitude on all aspects of well-being.
So, here’s a gratitude challenge: truly find it and truly feel it! Try finishing the sentence, “If I were to be grateful for something it would be….” Sometimes, that simple prompt might provoke the one thing you need to hear from yourself, for yourself!
5. Move Through Your Moods – Literally!
Movement can change your mood – as fun as a dance or as slow as Qigong, and starting with as little as 20 minutes. Studies by Harvard Medical School have shown that your mind and body are intimately connected, and the way you move affects the way you think and feel.
Movement therapies are often used to help overcome depression and anxiety when mental therapists alone are not enough. Movement has been shown to help view a challenging situation from a more positive perspective, allow the mind to see a creative solution to an otherwise clouded situation, and generate solution-oriented thinking to help problem resolution. Next time you’re feeling sad or bad, move!
Whether it’s more relaxed movement such as Tai-Chi, Qigong, yoga, or simply stretching; or more active movement such as a workout at the gym, a run in the park, a walk on a treadmill, or dancing like no-one’s watching—your body will automatically start connecting to the mind to create a positive mental shift.
Need Help? Remember – there’s help available for you and your loved ones if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. HealthGuide.org provides a toolkit to guide you through exercises and resources to help overcome challenges (and specifically addressing COVID challenges).
For Suicide help and prevention, call the National Suicide Prevention 24/7 Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Important Note & Disclaimer: The information contained herein is not professional or clinical advice, but only informational for your consideration. Please consult your doctor, medical health practitioner, or mental health practitioner for specific advice for your individual circumstances and needs.