In the thick of depression, anxiety, or even those everyday mood swings, the idea of self-help is almost absurd. You might feel like you’re already underwater, so how exactly are you supposed to throw yourself a life vest? The good news: we all have many of the tools that can help us to feel better. By learning which to use and how to do so, you can begin to move through tough times a little easier.
Even if you feel like you can’t fix your own problems right now, helping others can make our own worries feel more manageable. Our bodies physically react to acts of altruism by sending out chemicals that make us happy. Making your partner a coffee, volunteering, helping your neighbor with their garden: big or small, all these actions can boost joy, reduce stress, and help our sense of worth. Simple acts of kindness can evoke a sense of connectedness, accomplishment, and an improved outlook on our own lives.
When we’re really down, our friends and family can be a great help. Social contact on any level helps, so if you can’t even fathom meeting up for coffee but can consider sending a text- do it! Connecting with people we care about can do more than just boost our mood in the moment- research suggests loneliness can increase our odds of chronic illness and even contribute to an early death. Being honest with others, sharing your experiences, and listening to theirs can keep our perspectives fresh and our moods up. Our problems might not be as hard to solve when we work with others, and even if there isn’t a solution, it can help to just connect with the people who care about us.
We don’t just talk to others- we talk to ourselves all day, and so much of this dialogue can be negative. The messages we tell ourselves matter so much that we have forms of therapy devoted to challenging negative thought patterns! Learning to use positive affirmations to challenge negative thought patterns is an especially helpful skill. A mantra might sound ridiculous or like it won’t do much good, but telling yourself daily, “I am enough,” can help break up our negative thoughts of what we should of, would of, or could have done better. To start, try talking to yourself like you would talk to your best friend. If they were going through a break up, you wouldn’t say that they were never loved or that they weren’t good enough. You’d do your best to pick them up, to be their biggest cheerleader, and you deserve to show yourself that same kindness.
Sometimes, though, learning to let thoughts pass by without labeling them can be just as helpful. Mindfulness is a term most of us have heard even if we don’t fully understand it. As I wrote about in a previous post, it’s pretty simple but takes practice. Mindfulness is the act of purposefully calling your attention to what is happening in the present moment without judging your thoughts. There are all sorts of benefits, from reducing stress and anxiety to helping avoid relapses into depression. Negative thoughts are going to happen, but we don’t need to hold onto them. Instead of feeding into the anxiety, simply acknowledging fears as thoughts merely passing through our minds can stop them from stopping us. Implementing this practice in your day-to-day doesn’t need to take the form of longer meditation. Challenge yourself to find moments throughout the day like when you’re walking to your car, making coffee, or doing the laundry.
Taking a Break
Finally, there are times when the best strategy can be doing nothing at all! Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let our brains catch up with all of the information being thrown at it throughout the day. Productivity can be great, but we’re not machines. Our bodies aren’t built to go go go. Actually take time to sit and enjoy your coffee break instead of checking your email and going over your to-do list. Mindless tasks give our brains the chance to reset and to process: just taking a walk without your cell phone can allow our thoughts to wander. This process allows our minds the opportunity to be more creative or solve problems that may have felt just out of reach.
Even when we try our best and things are going great, we all struggle with our mood from time to time. While our feelings are an important part of our lives, they don’t have to control them. Even when our emotions feel overwhelming, there are always steps we can take to feel better. Sadness isn’t permanent, and by learning how to support ourselves through it, we can begin to navigate through challenging times more efficiently and confidently.
Torie Cueto, LMFT is a licensed therapist in San Diego, California. Torie provides in-person therapy in San Diego and online video therapy throughout California.