Exercising, meditating, socializing, and volunteering can lift you out of a funk.
Getting the blues can happen to anyone, but it doesn’t mean you have a chronic medical condition like depression. A little diversion might help you feel like yourself again. “If you’re down about something, step away from it for a period and do something else,” suggests Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Consider these boosters, and take the steps to fit them into your life.
1 Mood booster: Exercise
“Exercise is healthful right down to the cellular level. It improves circulation and nerve function, it helps to regulate mood, and it makes you feel better about yourself,” says Dr. Miller.
Action steps: For a quick pick-me-up, try a medium- to high-intensity workout such as a brisk 30-minute walk, an aerobics class, or a game of tennis. For a remedy that will stay with you, go for a daily activity you can sustain, such as a daily lower-intensity walk.
2 Mood booster: Meditate
Meditating produces brain changes that promote positive emotions and reduce negative emotions such as fear and anger. It can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, adrenaline levels, and levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress.
Action steps: Many medical centers offer meditation classes. Sign up for one, or consider taking yoga, which combines physical and mental practices. If it’s hard for you to get to a class, buy a guided meditation book or CD, which can introduce you to meditation practice.
3 Mood booster: Socialize
Being isolated can lead to loneliness, which can make you sad. Spending time with others helps improve mood. “We’re wired to be social,” says Dr. Miller. “Focusing on others can move you off a preoccupation with self-defeating thoughts.”
Action steps: Avoid isolation. Get together with a friend, family member, or group at least once a month. Visit with friends at home. Get out of your house, go to a movie, or check out an art exhibit. If you don’t have someone to spend time with, go to church or take a class.
4 Mood booster: Find purpose
Dedicating time to a meaningful activity improves mood, reduces stress, and keeps you mentally sharp. The activity can be as simple as taking up a new hobby or volunteering your time. “You worry less about every little ache and pain in your own life when you move the focus to a new interest,” explains Dr. Miller.
Action steps: Volunteer for a library, hospital, school, day care center, or charitable group. Tutor neighborhood kids. Babysit. Contact the chamber of commerce to mentor young business people. Take up gardening, painting, dancing, or gourmet cooking.