Feeling sad or low? Try some simple steps to improve your mood and rejuvenate your body, suggests Neeta Jain, M.D., medical director of the integrative medicine program at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “You might be surprised at how much better you can feel with just a few simple changes,” she says. Here are some of Dr. Jain’s favorite tips for beating the blues.
Nurture Physical Health
Eat and Move
Eat healthy and get some exercise no matter what — even during vacations, holiday seasons and stressful times. Eating poorly, drinking alcohol and slacking on exercise can worsen stress and depression. A simple exercise like walking, even for just 30 minutes a day, helps reduce stress.
Get Plenty of Sleep
You might not make rest time a priority. But not getting enough sleep can lead to a slowed metabolism and increased appetite — putting you at risk for unhealthy food choices and inactivity. Curl up with a good book and some hot cider or herbal tea before lying down to help you fall asleep faster during stressful times.
Care for Emotional and Spiritual Health
Dig into the feelings that may be behind your depressed state — guilt, trauma, anxiety. Open up to a counselor or trusted friend. If you’re dealing with an identified issue, such as addiction, find a support group of others going through similar situations.
Build Faith and Optimism
If you belong to a religious group, talk to a spiritual leader and attend religious services. Try to change your overall focus in life. Shift your outlook from what’s wrong to what’s right and what’s possible.
Acts of altruism have been shown to activate parts of the brain that produce feelings of positivity and well-being. Assist a friend in need or volunteer with a local organization, such as a homeless shelter or animal rescue group. You also don’t need to look too far outward. Create something, even in a small way; cook a good meal or redecorate a corner in your home.
Expand Your Joy
Think about what makes you happy and lifts you up, and then spend more time doing it. Enjoy relaxing activities such as reading, painting, gardening or whatever you love. Block out the time on your calendar so you’ll be sure to fit it into your day. And never underestimate the power of a healthy sex life and reconnecting with your partner.
Make Time to Relax
Take up mood-boosting yoga or tai chi. These practices incorporate moves that help you to relax and stretch. You’ll improve your balance and coordination while also lowering stress levels. Also, spend time in nature. A short hike in the woods or an hour of gardening can be a powerful mood lifter.
If a massage isn’t in your budget, the next best thing is a hot bubble bath with some soothing music. You get the added benefit of increased blood flow to muscles, which helps them relax.
Listen to Music
Try turning the volume down so low the music is almost imperceptible. This little trick allows you to focus on listening and helps silence racing thoughts.
Laughter helps lower stress hormones and improves blood flow, which increases your energy levels. Rent movies, watch comedy sketches online or go out to see an improv group. Organize a fun outing for friends or family; head to the beach or ski slopes or go to a roller rink or bowling — any place where everyone can engage in lighthearted physical activity.
You don’t have to say yes to every event invitation or extra project at work. Give yourself the freedom to decide what you truly want.
Keep Finances in Check
If you’re feeling financial stress, see where you can cut some expenses. Put off making any large purchases until you’re out of debt. Build up some savings, even if you can add only a dollar a week. Check out free online forums where people discuss ways to live more frugally and improve their financial lives.
Set Realistic Expectations
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting everything to be perfect all the time. Focus on what you can be grateful for and avoid comparisons. Your friends’ lives may appear perfect on social media, but in reality, no one is perfect.
Find a supportive network of people. Reach out to family, friends and acquaintances and take steps to build your connections with them. Invite your neighbors over for a potluck dinner.
If you don’t have much of a support network now, try to build one. Make new friends by taking a class or joining a professional, volunteer or activity group. Consider an online support group for whatever issues you are facing. Avoid isolating yourself and make an effort to spend more time with others, even in small doses.
Learn how to meditate or take a mindfulness meditation class. However, if you feel like you’re experiencing signs of clinical depression, be sure to talk with your doctor about treatment.