A Zero Frills Way to Improve Mood
Maintaining our mental health and getting it back on track after hardship and tough times can seem like an overwhelming task. In honour of mental health month, I want to share one of the most common-sense, practical, and backed-by-science ways to see positive change and get you, and your kiddos, feeling good again.
The technical term is ‘behavioural activation’ but the non-nonsense term would be ‘doing things.’ Simple as it sounds, it can seem impossibly hard to achieve as well. Anyone who’s experienced depression can attest.
When we feel depressed, our brain tricks our body into the idea that we are unwell. Our body responds in a protective way by keeping us in bed, at home, and away from others. Unfortunately, those behaviours then reduce our ability to be active and spend time with people, things that help to get the rewarding chemicals flowing, which ultimately help us to feel better. Lying in bed and staying at home can also stop us from doing necessary life tasks, which then pile up and make us feel even worse. This is why this time during Covid-19 has been particularly hard for so many people.
Using everyday activities to boost mental health
To counter this brain-trick, we want to force ourselves (and yes, it will feel forced at first) to do simple, daily things, that we would have no trouble doing if we were feeling our best. The best way to do this when it isn’t coming naturally is to schedule it. Grab some paper and write up your week, scheduling in things such as wakeup time, what to eat for breakfast and when, what time to leave the house, walks, meetings with friends (even if you really don’t want to), and all the self-care activities that you really-don’t-feel-like-doing-right-now-and-are-sure-aren’t-going-to-make-you-feel-any-better-but-you’ll give-a crack-anyway-because-it’s-in-your-schedule. Do spend a little extra attention on meals and bedtime as eating and sleeping well have enormous positive effects on your mental health.
When the going gets tough
Executing your schedule is going to be tough and you are not going to feel like doing it. Of course, you don’t feel like doing these things though, that’s why you’ve had to schedule them in the first place. Fake it until you make it! Force yourself to do every task and break it down further if you need to. If you’re struggling to get out of bed, ask yourself: what do I actually need to do? Sit up and put my feet on the ground?
The science behind this tells us that as our body begins to act as though it is actually healthy, our brain starts to believe it as well. The good chemicals we get flowing just by being up and about and ticking off our daily tasks helps to rebalance our brain.
The mental health benefits of family time
How can we apply this to kids and teens? Spending too much time in their rooms, isolated from the family? Schedule a few hour-blocks during the day they have to be out and interacting with the family. Spending too much time on devices? Schedule in some activities that take them outside or turn off the modem for a few hours each day. And parents, when we feel overwhelmed it can be easy to see the challenges all around us. It may feel as though all we are doing is pulling our kids up for things they shouldn’t be doing; things that make our lives harder. I highly suggest scheduling in blocks of time to sit on the ground and play with them with zero expectations, even scheduling in times for hugs. Nice little glimpses of positive interactions maybe just the mood boost we need.
Chloe leads our Psychology Team and is also a member of our Senior Leadership Team.