Sunshine and smashing stuff: 7 free mood-boosters for blue days and depression

Guest post by Ducky
By: Zak GreantCC BY 2.0

As someone who fights with chronic depression and unemployment, I’m always looking for the things to help boost my mood — and, well, the closer to “free” they are, the better. So over the years I found a few things some people might not think about as mood-boosters!

I wanted to share my list of mood-boosters with everyone because we all have down days and maybe these could help a Homie out…

1. Hugs

I know it sounds corny, but I’ve read that they have actually done “science stuff” to prove they are good for you. Like hugs for over 30 seconds boost levels of serotonin. Hugs relieve stress, contribute to a better self-image, create a sense of peace and security. Google it if you don’t believe me!

2. Breakfast

If you want to fuel your day I recommend eggs, toast, orange juice, and fresh fruit. The egg is rather important due to its mood-boosting ability. It’s packed full of high-quality protein and omega-3s (from hens eating a diet rich in omega-3s), eggs are also an excellent source of vitamin B12 (riboflavin) and a good source of vitamins B2, B5, and D. I avoid the coffee as well because, even though it helps pick me up quick, it dumps me twice as hard a few hours later. Also, my breakfast happens at noon so you can really eat it at any time of day.

3. Comedy and horror

I’m not much for horror, but an occasional shock to the system isn’t a bad thing, especially when you feel too down to even crawl out of bed. Horror movies can get endorphins flowing to help you get up. (Note: I watch these first thing in the day so I can forget about it before bed thus skipping nightmares.)

Horror may not be for everyone, but comedy most certainly is — and if you’re feeling blue, to borrow the old phrase, laughter is the best medicine. (If you’re going through a breakup maybe avoid romantic comedy, and if you’re depressed maybe skip the dark comedy.) I like to pop over to YouTube and listen to some clips of standup comedians — standup deals with a wide range of topics, which means I’m sure to find something to laugh at. For some good comedic movies I recommend Spaceballs, Super Troopers, and Blazing Saddles.

4. Sweet sunshine

Go outside, get some fresh air, but most of all bask in the sunlight. (But make sure you wear sunscreen!) The sun helps boost mood and they think it may be a low level natural antidepressant. You can read more about it here.

5. Smash stuff

I don’t mean smash everything and anything. Here’s what I do: while out yard sale-ing, I look for old plates that are super cheap, like five cents a pop, and save them in a box. When feeling blue or frustrated, I lay a sheet out against a tree, get my plates out, and throw them. As I throw I focus on something that was getting me down and as the plate breaks, I visualize it breaking, too. It may sound lame, but my therapist when I was a kid taught me this one, and it has worked well for me. Visualization is key though; if you struggle with that, this maybe a hard task.

6. Remember to shower and put on clean clothes

Sounds easy enough right? Well, when you’re depressed it can be hard to move and think clearly. (Full disclosure: in a deep bout of depression I once went a week without a shower or change of clothes, and it took a family member to kindly tell me this before I realized it had been that long.) Time doesn’t always flow right when you’re depressed because you don’t always sleep well. So when feeling blue, I now set a timer on my phone to remind me to shower today and put on clean clothes. This simple act is a mood-booster in itself, because when you feel clean, some part of the body feels better.

7. Be social

I know all too well this is easier said than done, and that in the age of social media it’s becoming abnormal to actually interact with your fellow humans. That being said, we are social creatures by design and staying locked away from the world feels natural when you’re blue, but it is not the answer.

Make an effort even if it starts as a two-minute phone call to order pizza. Then call (yes, I said call) a friend, skip the Facebook chat for a real chat even if it’s a five-minute ordeal to see if they want to walk in the sunshine with you. You don’t have to do it all in one day, but if all you do is stare at the computer screen you’re missing out on opportunities. If you don’t want your friends to see you when you’re blue, then volunteer at a shelter or retirement home. Help someone else and it will help you feel better.

What are your go-to mood-boosters for when you’re feeling blue?

Comments on Sunshine and smashing stuff: 7 free mood-boosters for blue days and depression

  1. When I need a pick-me-up, I do something creative: knit, play flute, sing. When I play flute, I can feel the negativity streaming out of me into the music, and I’m empty when I finish, but in a good way. It helps. With the knitting, it’s the satisfaction of having created something with my own hands. And I sing in a lovely local choir full of wonderful people, so that combines creativity with being social. (And some rockin’ alto lines – Purcell, I’m looking at you!)

      • Yes! The breathing benefit hadn’t occurred to me. But oh, Purcell – I was in the chorus of a semi-staged Dido and Aeneas over the summer, and it was magical.

    • Oh man, Purcell is SO SATISFYING to sing. We did an entire Purcell concert in college and it rocked. (Though I’m a soprano, but still.)

      The year I studied abroad I had no access to choir (they cancelled choir at my school that year for some stupid reason) and I was completely miserable. I have to have choir in my life for any chance at happiness, and it never fails to boost my spirits.

      • So true! I was in the chorus of Dido over the summer, and it was spectacular. I like how the alto lines are for real altos – why yes, I can hit the D below middle C, thanks for noticing. There were some lovely soprano lines, too, in that and some of the other works we did.

        I need to be in some ensemble too, whether orchestral or vocal. Both is better!

        • You might have a Terrible Orchestra in your area! I know there are a few lurking around, my husband and I participate in the Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra in the bay area. It’s a super fun no-stress orchestra that meets once a month and sightreads and we don’t care how we sound (although we’re actually not bad, haha). It’s a great pick-me-up because it’s really satisfying to just make music together and not have to worry about practice or perfection.

  2. Exercise. When I am having a particularly bad day, I hop on the elliptical and sweat it out. I also live a few miles from a nature preserve that has over five miles of hiking trails, so I’ll grab the furbabies and get into the woods. For some reason being out in the open woods makes me breath easier and relax.
    I also love a good dance party. Throw on a happy upbeat song and dance around the living room like no one is watching! (if you happen to have children or furbabies, be sure to include them, they LUV this)

    • Seconding the exercise, for both anxiety and depression. My mantra is “You know you’ll feel better after you work out.”

      And there’s also something about immersion in nature that resets your mood. Even if you are unable to exercise, sitting in a park does wonders.

    • Sometimes depression feels so deep that exercise feels impossible. But even little things can help. When depression was bad for me, I would congratulate myself on a walk to my mailbox and back. Even that little bit can help your brain to rewire.

    • I genuinely really hate exercise, but it’s really surprisingly good for my anxiety and depression. This may be due to what I have (moderate anxiety, which makes me all antsy, and mild depression which makes me frustrated and low but rarely totally motionless), but throwing on a pair of running shoes and running down the road really helps get the frustrations of the day out on a bad day.

      And when I say run, I’m not really doing it in a sensible jogging way. I’m running as hard as I can and getting myself out of breath. It’s a little masochistic, but it seems to work and make me feel less anxious and angry.

  3. These are all great ideas. Driving (fast, if possible) while listening to good music is usually very therapeutic for me…as is getting outside and going for a short hike or just sitting somewhere in the woods for a little while. If I can’t do those things and I’m stuck at home with the kids, they are my therapy. I put aside whatever adult chores I should be doing, and focus solely on playing with them – usually we end up wrestling around and laughing, or dancing to cheesy 80’s music videos on YouTube. It’s damn near impossible to be in a crappy mood when you’re dancing to The Safety Dance with your 7 year old.

    • Driving and singing is TOTALLY how I get out of a slump. And if I can’t drive fast (like when it’s heavy traffic time in LA) I just leave a LOT earlier than I need to, so I can just enjoy the time I get to have in my own private karaoke room. 😉

  4. These are all so great! I routinely struggle with depression and I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve to help deal with it.

    Run or long walk – I’m a runner and if I don’t get out and stretch my legs at least 3 times a week my mood begins to crash. If I’m feeling really low and the thought of actually exercising seems like too much I’ll just go for a long meandering walk and listen to music.

    Baths – I love to just sit in a bath for a while and relax. If I’m really struggling and showering seems like too much I can usually coax myself to at least take a bath by listening to an audio book or streaming podcasts while I soak.

    Cup of coffee and a snack – I know that coffee can make some people jittery and crash, but it’s a comfort thing for me. When making an actual meal seems too hard I make some toast with peanut butter, banana slices, drizzle some honey and sprinkle a little cinnamon. I get some fruit, carbs, and protein and it’s pretty healthy and quick.

    Listen to music and work in my sketchbook – I use a Moleskine as a kind of sketchbook/diary/collage book, so when I’m having a hard time I’ll put on the Urban Meditation Mix on Pandora (very calming), make some tea, and just work in my book for a while. Sometimes I’ll write long entries about what I’m feeling or what had been happening. Sometimes I’ll just bust out my favorite inks and make pretty abstract paintings. Other times I’ll scribble and scratch on the page and get my frustration out. In the end I feel like better and like I got something accomplished that day.

    Other things that help: reading books, knitting while watching an old favorite movie, marathoning Doctor Who while curled up on the couch like it’s a sick day, getting outside and doing urban sketching, tackling one chore like filing or putting away laundry, writing up a plan for the week with do-to lists so I don’t feel so overwhelmed, making plans with my husband to go out (I work at home and sometimes my mood crashes when I haven’t left the house in a while), writing letters to my friend out of state, taking a nap, listening to Ted Talks, cuddling my cats, and visiting galleries to look at art.

  5. I echo all of this post and the comments, but especially the note at the end about doing a little volunteer work–it can be so meaningful, when you’re struggling to get out of bed, to know that if you do, you can help someone else.

    And when volunteering seems like too much interaction, planning, everything, another little thing many of us can do (not everyone is eligible, unfortunately) is give blood. You don’t have to be nice or friendly or in a good mood, yet you can make a difference in someone’s life. That’s something I’ve done at my low points, and it’s weird but it helps a lot. Plus: free cookie!

  6. These are all such wonderful suggestions. As someone who has struggled with moderate depression for most of her life, I do many of these things routinely. It’s also great to have someone close to you to remind you to do some of these things, because when you’re in a slump, it’s hard to remember to do things that you know will actually help you. For instance, my husband is great at knowing when I need one of those big, long, pick-me-up hugs. And most of the time, I don’t want one when I need one. But he makes me, and then I feel better. I’d like to also add cleaning the house as a pick-me-up. This is another one of those things you won’t want to do when you’re down, but I always feel SO MUCH BETTER after I’ve started the process and especially after it’s done and I can enjoy a clean, nice-smelling house. There’s just something about putting things in their place and cleaning up messes that’s metaphorically satisfying.

  7. A little bit of relaxing/pampering goes a long way. I know it sounds cliche, but a candlelit bath or hot shower with just you and your favorite jams can be great. I rarely plug things, but my sister, who suffers from anxiety, depression, and a history of substance abuse (going on a year and a half sober!) finds solace in a LUSH bath. Their bath bombs are excellent. You can also find similar things at the dollar store, and on Etsy.

  8. I second the getting clean thing. My mom always said, when life is bringing you down, then take a shower and dress cute. Even if you have no where to go, just taking the time to wash your face (do all those crazy steps, exfoliate, moisturize, etc), brush your teeth (floss and mouth wash!), and you’ll physically feel fresher and a little bit better.
    Getting dressed first thing in the morning (after making the bed) can help motivate you if you need to leave the house but are dreading it, because the first step of getting ready is already done!

  9. Time alone is the best thing for me, as is no exercise bar dancing or sex and cutting out high-sugar foods (including fruit – boo!). Finding out that a lot of what works for me is the opposite of what most professionals recommend has been a long and unpleasant process!

    I think further to the mention of sunshine, I’ve found that just opening a window helps a lot, though I have to put a lot of clothes on first to do it at this time of year, and breaking tasks like showering/getting dressed down into small pieces and being proud of myself for doing even one part of them can help a lot.

    Also I try to spend as little time as possible with people who won’t accept how difficult the basics can be, even when I’m feeling good; they’re a real drag.

  10. If you are suffering from depression, I recommend the Destroy Depression System.
    Written by a former sufferer of depression, it teaches a simple 7-step process to eliminate depression from your life.

  11. For me, getting out of the house is the sure way to break the hold of a really bad day. Even if it’s just throwing on the worst clothes I have and going to the shop, I feel like I’ve achieved something. Staying inside when I’m feeling awful is a sure fire way to feel even worse.
    Even better is buying lots of exciting ingredients and the coming home and making something really nice. My most recent bad day bake was lemon and poppy seed cake.

  12. A lot of you mentioned exercise. its one of the things i left off my list on purpose because for me the chronic pain that comes with trying to exercise outweighs any attempt at mood boost . I feel even worse by the end. If it works for you that’s great but i know a few other people like me who find that it only makes the depressed mood worse.

    • That’s why I thought it was worth commenting that it’s a big no-no for me, despite feeling like my comment sounded as if I were wilfully contradicting the article. The vast majority of exercise makes me feel like absolute crap if I’m not 90%+ psychologically, and yet just about anyone who goes to a doctor about a mental health problem is told that exercise will definitely help, which for people who aren’t helped by it is invalidating at best and dangerous at worst. I think in addition to pain issues like yours or exhaustion issues like mine, people can get an endorphin crash, where the come-down from the slight high of exercise brings them lower than they were to start with. Exercise involves quite a dramatic physiological process, which is presumably why it helps some people so much, but like anything powerful it’s got the ability to have the same level of negative effect.

  13. I would also add that, especially if exercising just feels like too much work, the low level exercise involved in cleaning is SO helpful. Forcing myself to do that can be tough too (I feel lousy; who cares if our apartment is a mess?), but I find that even washing the dishes can make me feel like I’ve accomplished something important, and then afterward you have all these clean dishes. My husband and I are slight slobs, so it can be really comforting to survey the results of even 10 minutes of cleaning.

  14. This post was started a year ago, but I found it again, and it was much needed.

    Here are a couple of things that help me with anxiety and depression (not all these will work for others.)
    -Call my mom – she’s still just as comforting as she was when I was a child.
    -Make myself my “depression snack” that I only treat myself to it when I’m feeling especially down. It’s a specific recipe that I already know is healthy so I don’t get anxiety about the nutrition facts, and I already know I absolutely love it. (For me, it’s an avocado/mango smoothie!) It is such a mood booster.
    -Schedule an appointment with my therapist. Even if I can’t see her the same week, I can mentally make a list of all the stuff that I need to get off my chest.
    -Check something major off my to-do list. Whether it’s a chore, or something I’ve been wanting to do for fun, I take the next step to make it happen.
    -Make a list of preferences or positive memories (ex. Top 10 Celebrities I find sexy, Top 10 Cutest Breeds of dogs, Top 5 most memorable vegetarian meals, etc.)

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