Along with the holiday coping tips article in the November/December print edition, below are a handful of mood boosters you can use during the holiday season or anytime you need a little boost.
When you first open your eyes, slowly inhale through your nose for five seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds. Repeat five times. (If you’re congested, inhaling through your mouth is fine).
Try to hold your thoughts at bay by focusing your attention on the sensations of the inhale and exhale – the air streaming in, the coolness or warmth, etc.
Make your first thought of the day an intentional and encouraging one. Consider something like, “I’m going make the most of this day” or “Today is another chance to feel better.” You can choose anything that will help you be hopeful and proactive.
Cold water splash
Splash your face with cold water to stimulate your vagus nerve, which will help to create a sense of calm. Do this at least five times. (Learn more about why that’s a good thing here).
Be kind to your reflection!
When you see your reflection in the mirror first thing in the morning, if anything unkind comes to mind, nip it in the bud by doing one of the following:
- Take a deep breath.
- Refocus your attention on something else.
- Send yourself a more assuring self-message. (i.e. “I am far more than a face or body.”)
A little yoga (or stretching)
Sun salutations are a series of fairly simple yoga poses that help expand the lungs, limber the spine and strengthen your arm and leg muscles – while also giving your whole body a great stretch. By combining movement and breath, your blood starts pumping and oxygen flows to your brain, which creates energy while it calms you.
Even two sun salutations can make you feel as though you’ve done something good for yourself and help set a positive tone for the day. Check out this video to learn how. And if you’re not up for yoga, you can try these simple stretches from the comfort of your bed.
The most effective (and always accessible) tool to regulate our nervous system and create a more relaxed state is conscious breathing. When combined with physical touch, it can also help us feel grounded in our bodies.
Create an anchor thought
This one is extremely helpful when you begin feeling despondent. Creating an anchor thought is done by visualizing yourself doing well in the near future. This image can be you in a place or with people you love, doing your favorite activity, or simply looking and feeling well. Once you’ve created that image, stay with it until you feel like you can really believe in it.
As you start to feel what it’s like to be a happier, healthier future-you, reinforce that feeling by saying, “This is me,” “This is where I’m heading,” or a similar message that resonates with you. Whenever you feel yourself resisting a self-supporting action (exercising, socializing, eating well), you can use this anchor thought as a reminder of why you should do it.
It’s extremely hard to motivate ourselves to exercise when we’re in a compromised mental state, but the positive impact makes it well worth giving ourselves a serious push. Even just 20 jumping jacks, taking a walk, swimming, hiking or yoga will work – anything to get your body moving. Check out this post to learn more about why exercise is so important for our mental health and some helpful tips on how to work it into your daily routine.
Sunshine (or at least some fresh air)
Even if you don’t consider yourself a nature person, being amidst trees, watching the ocean, strolling through a park, being in any natural environment can help you feel at ease. It’s essentially a place free of ‘triggers’ (assuming, of course, you’re not venturing through snake-infested terrain). And there’s a good bit of research supporting nature as a stress reliever, energy and memory booster, as well as anxiety reducer. So, try to give yourself the gift of some ‘green time’ at least once a week.
And if nature’s not accessible, you can still get the benefits of fresh air, Vitamin D, sunlight and exercise from a 20-minute walk anywhere.
Give yourself some good news
We often have bad news coming at us from every angle – conflict, disaster, terrorism, scandal and crises of every kind, so inject some positivity whenever possible. Check out these alternative news sources for a dose of good: Good News Network, YES Magazine, The Optimist Daily, Greater Good Magazine and Positive News. And if you’d prefer your news the good old-fashioned way, check out The Happy Newspaper.
Reading a good book or listening to an audiobook can be supremely relaxing, or if you prefer TV, make it something humorous or otherwise uplifting.
Take a hot bath or shower with essential oils
Lavender, rose, geranium, jasmine and sandalwood are all known for their sleep-promoting, stress-relieving, pain-reducing and mood-regulating benefits. Our sense of smell is directly wired to the brain’s center of memory and emotion, which is why a familiar smell can instantly trigger a flood of emotions.
White noise is like a sound-blanket that covers other existing sounds (think whirring fan, wind in the trees, streams, waves); the consistent focused sound has a calming effect for many people. Pink and brown noise operate on the same premise but at lower frequencies (think thunder or a waterfall). Any of these can help you fall and stay asleep, and you’ll find many options when you search “sleep sounds” apps.
Recall the good
Before sleep, take a few minutes to think and/or write down in a journal anything that felt good during the day — a pleasant conversation, a moment of calm, a smile from a passerby – anything kind you’ve done for yourself or others. Large or small, everything counts. As you recall these positive moments, try to focus on them for a moment until you get a full sense of their benefit.
Doing this exercise before bed can combat nightmares and ensure a good night’s sleep. This is also a great breathing technique for whenever you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or dysregulation during the day. You can do this sitting or lying down.
- Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four.
- Hold for a count of seven, keeping your body relaxed.
- Exhale for a count of eight.
- Repeat a minimum of 10 times; fewer repetitions are significantly less impactful.
If you feel your jaw getting tight, you can soften it by stretching out your tongue as far as it can go, then keep your teeth separated when you close your mouth.
Doing several of these mood boosters daily can help improve your mood at any time, and making them part of your daily routine can prevent some of the ups and downs you may experience during the day.
Elizabeth Kemler is a seasoned curriculum designer, social entrepreneur, performer and mental health advocate. She has 25 years of experience supporting the development of clients’ communication skills, social-emotional competence, and mental health through dynamic programming, courses and wellness-based goods and services.