Being happy doesn’t mean you’ve got a smile plastered on your face 24/7. Even the queen of cheer, Leslie Knope, has her rough patches.
Down days are part of life, period. Even after kicking depression almost entirely to the curb, I have occasional mental meltdowns when things seem hopeless and shitty and I become the Grand Marshall of my very own self-pity parade (those floats tho!).
Because all of us could use a little help for how to feel better, here are a few things to do when you’re down. They’ve proved pretty foolproof for putting me back on track, and I hope the same is true for you.
Nature + exercise.
Either of these is awesome on its own, and both are known mood boosters, but taken together they become a powerhouse of happiness. In a world of cubicles and air conditioning, most of us lack a deep and meaningful connection to the natural world. No longer are our lives ruled by the Farmer’s Almanac — which is great in that we don’t have to spend hours churning butter or grinding corn. Unfortunately, we also lose out on the sense of peace and perspective nature offers. And exercise, of course, is an antidepressant all on its own. When you’re feeling down, get outside and get moving, even if it just means a walk in Central Park or a jog alongside a man made lake. When you have extra time to spare, seek out National Parks and other natural landmarks in your area. Nature is a mental health tool we under-utilize (and vastly under appreciate).
Read a positive book.
Reading is amazing (and I’ve thought so ever since my parents introduced me to the library at age four), but not all reading materials are what I’d call “uplifting.” If you’re already feeling down, reading Lonesome Dove or Requiem for a Dream probably isn’t going to help matters. Better to aim for something that’ll turn your frown upside down. When feeling rotten, I tend to get the most enjoyment out of self-improvement and/or spiritual books. They remind me that better feelings are just around the corner, and that life is grander and more magnificent than I generally remember. Here’s a list of some of my faves, and I’d add Beyond Positive Thinking and A New Earth to that list, for sure.
I’m a huge believer in the power of lists, and not just when it comes to grocery shopping. Writing lists of things you love, things you’re grateful for, things you like about yourself, good things that happened that day or week … the list of list ideas is endless. 😉 Keep it positive, and immerse yourself in the good feels that come along with putting your attention on the positive aspects of your life.
Destroy your cognitive distortions.
Most of the time, when we enter a downward spiral, it’s because we’ve been indulging toxic thoughts. Frequently, we’re not even aware of it, ‘cuz they’re tricky little suckers. The key to feeling better in the long AND short terms is to battle back against those irrational, totally untrue thoughts and beliefs. The best way to do so (says research) is via a technique developed by cognitive behavioral therapy legend Dr. David Burns. He came up with a list of cognitive distortions — aka a list of the ways we lie to ourselves on the regular — and a way to beat them. The best strategy is to sit down with this list, and this worksheet, and identify and fight back against your irrational thoughts. It’s enormously helpful, and over time it’ll make a world of difference for your mental health. It’s also an instant mood booster to realize that many of your thoughts are BS, and you aren’t in fact, the stupidest, ugliest, most worthless person in the world.
Do a guided meditation.
Rarely does a guided meditation fail to do anything other than make me feel fantastic. They’re relaxing, they’re healthy and they’re one of the best ways to treat yo’self — because you deserve it. If you’re feeling rotten, make the time to sit or lie down and let yourself be carried away by dulcet tunes and soft voices. The Chopra Center has some awesome ones available on their website, and there are a million apps and YouTube videos of free meditations, too. I also highly recommend Glenn Harrold’s meditations (for download via app/play store). They’re not free, but they’re fabulous and well worth the sticker price.