By Jennifer Hu
The older I get, the more I realize how a short walk around the block, treating myself to a fancy caffeinated beverage, and listening to a familiar song on repeat instantly boosts my mood. I’m also realizing and learning what drains me or brings my mood down – reading too much news, sitting still for long periods of time, or not getting enough sleep. One second, I’m going down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts, and it feels like nothing will ever improve. The next second, I feel hopeful about the future and more positive towards myself.
The good news is that moods and feelings are temporary, no matter how permanent they seem. Feelings are not final. They’re more like guests in the house of your heart. I don’t know about you, but I feel different on an overcast, rainy day or when there’s been a streak of days where the sun hasn’t come out at all. I feel gloomy and down on cloudy days compared to days in the summer when the sky is blue, and I can feel a light breeze on my skin.
It’s not just you – there’s a science to it! We’ve all been there, especially if you live in a place that has four seasons, and one of them happens to be dreadfully cold.
Finding ways to cope with gloomy weather and feel better when everything feels awful can feel challenging. But the good news is we have some control over what we allow to impact us. We can make small changes to allow us to feel better, like how going outside for a few breaths of fresh air makes me forget how I was feeling down moments before.
What Can Impact Mood
Let’s start by understanding yourself and becoming more self-aware of what does and doesn’t work for you. Here are some factors that can have an impact on mood:
- Movement and exercise
- Stress levels
- Media (social media, books, movies, tv, podcasts, news)
- The people you surround yourself with
- Your surroundings (your home, your place of work)
- Noise levels
- The day of the week
- The time of day
- Weather, sunlight, temperature
- Physical pain
- Illness/medical condition
- The way you talk to yourself
- Your beliefs about yourself, about the world, about others
This list isn’t conclusive, but hopefully, it’s a starting point. There are so many factors that can have an impact on our state of mind. Did any resonate with you? Did anything surprise you?
How can you identify what impacts your mood?
Awareness starts with checking in with yourself. Look within. Slow down. Notice. Observe. Notice without jumping to judgment or conclusions.
Here are a few questions I’d recommend asking yourself to learn more about what your own energy boosters and drainers are:
- What were some of the best moments or highs in the last day, week, or month?
- When did I feel happiest? When do I tend to feel happiest?
- When did I feel lowest or saddest?
- What made it better? What made it worse?
- When do I feel more distracted, antsy, anxious, or agitated?
- When do I feel more calm, peaceful, content, or relaxed?
- What gives me energy?
- What takes away my energy?
Where do we go from here?
Noticing and learning what impacts our mental state can be the driving force to propel us to make the changes that will help us feel better. I want to encourage you by reminding you that some factors are within your control. Maybe not all, but I think more is within our control than we’re led to believe.
For example, if social media tends to make you feel worse about yourself and leads to comparison with strangers on the internet, as it often does for me, maybe limiting the amount of time you spend on it by setting a screen time limit can be the next step to take. Maybe sitting at your desk for long periods makes you feel sluggish and low.
A change could be to set an intention to leave your office twice a day and set breaks for a short walk at certain times. The clutter around your home may make you feel more distracted and less productive. Or certain music or radio stations make you excited about the day ahead.
What matters most is knowing that we are in more control of our surroundings and environment than we think. Even the smallest changes can have a far-reaching impact. We have the power to make decisions that will help us move closer to where we want to be. We have the power to say no to the people and the places that drain us or make us feel worse about ourselves. We get to decide where we will direct our energy and time.
We all feel low and hopeless from time to time. It’s a normal part of the human experience. But I hope it can also be comforting to know that we don’t have to run away from sadness or pretend we’re fine. Becoming more aware of what impacts our mood can help us to feel more in control over what’s within our control.
We can’t instantly snap out of a low mood, and the goal shouldn’t be to make all sadness disappear. There are things that can help the blues to feel less heavy so we can continue living a life of meaning and spending our time on the things that are fulfilling to us.
How can therapy help?
Suppose you feel down, hopeless, irritable, or losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. In that case, it might be worth discussing your feelings with a medical or mental health professional. Feeling low, tearful, or hopeless for two weeks or more can indicate that intervention would be beneficial.
Working with a therapist can be the next step to learning more about yourself and how to cope with life’s stressors. A therapist helps make observations about your life and what’s serving you or not serving you well and asks questions to help you work towards the kind of life you’re hoping to build. Sometimes, an observation from someone else in a truly safe and nonjudgmental space can make us aware of habits or tendencies that we’re not able to be aware of as fully as when someone else gently points them out.
If you have any questions about how therapy can help or what the process can look like, feel free to reach out to us! We’d love to help you get started on your journey to wellness.
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