Here is a list of 5 practical things you can do today to improve your mood. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is the professor of positive psychology at Harvard University. He has researched the difference between happy and unhappy people, and came up with these steps to teach people to truly train their brains to be happier.
This does not mean we won't ever get into a low mood or experience some anxiety from time to time. The chance of this is 100% for all of us. It means these steps can help us effectively respond in a healthy way during these crappy moods so we can move forward with life and not get stuck in depression or anxiety for weeks, months, or even years.
1) Give yourself and others the permission to be human.
This means allow yourself to have all of your human emotions instead of stuffing them because of the "shoulds." Moms often have a lot of shoulds from society. You shouldn't feel angry, you shouldn't feel sad when you're pregnant or after having a baby, you should feel happy/excited/grateful, you should feel guilty for not getting it "right," etc. When it comes to human emotions, the more we try to stuff them, the more they magnify and can create anxiety. Think of our emotions as going out of one channel, when we block our fears, hurt, pain, anger, guilt, any other uncomfortable emotion, we also block our joy, hope, optimism, etc. Allow others their emotions as well.
Action step: Open up and tell another person all the feelings you've been hiding. This allows you to feel them and work through them in a healthy way, unclogging the channel for other emotions to flow through again. Emotionally accept each human emotion as they come up instead of running away from them.
2) Simplify your life.
We often think we need more for happiness, but research has shown that simplifying your life leads to more joy. Doing too much at one time and multi-tasking takes away joy from each of the individual activities and even decreases IQ points. They've done studies that found mothers did not enjoy spending time with their children. Why? It was not at all because they didn't love their children. They loved them very much, but they were trying to spend time with their children while emailing, working, being on their phones, doing chores, etc. Dr. Ben-Shahar states it's like listening to your two favorite songs at one time. The enjoyment of each song becomes nearly impossible.
Action step: Declutter your life. Think of one thing you can remove from your life to simplify life for you and your family. Make time for breaks and recovery from the chaos of life, doing something daily for 20 minutes just for the sake of doing it because you enjoy it, not for money or to please anyone; this is called getting into the "play state of mind." Get creative. Have fun with simple things. Collect mindful meaningful experiences with the people you love instead of things. Get unplugged during this time. Your phones will survive without you for 20 minutes (and yes, you will survive without it too. :-D).
3) Move that body.
Healthy movement that you enjoy does wonders for the body and mind. If going to the gym to run on the treadmill sounds gross to you, then you're going to keep this up. It's hard enough to keep up movement that you enjoy. For some reason, we resist movement, and have to force ourselves to take the first steps before the motivation follows. We've become a more sedentary society. This is our average day: sitting for 8 hours at work, sitting in the car for an hour commute, sleeping 6-8 hours, and on sitting with 6 hours of screen time. Lack of movement ironically leads us to feeling more fatigued and tired, but does not aid in quality sleep. Movement actually energizes us while helping us to sleep better.
Action step: Find a form of movement that you enjoy. If you can find a partner to engage in it with you, even better. Engaging in walking the dog, walking around the neighborhood with your kids, gardening, yard work, swimming, joining a dance class, etc. can change your mood and your life.
4) Train your mind to meditate.
No you don't have to go sit in the Himalayas for 6 hours a day and try to clear your mind. That would be hard to do as a mom. It does not have to be time intensive either. Meditation is just any single-point focus. It can be any grounding technique where you're focused on your 5 senses. Master meditators have been documented for the first time in history to eliminate the startle response. While others had a drastic startle response when hearing a loud noise, these master meditators stayed calm and relaxed. Greater startle response = greater experiencing of anxiety.
The simplest form of meditation includes just taking 3 deep breaths throughout the day. It can help us to clear our minds and get re-centered and more focused on the day. The best way to take a deep breath is deep inhale through the nose, slow, slightly forceful exhale through the mouth like you're blowing out a candle.
Action step: Download an app like Headspace or Calm and listen to the nature sounds, guided imagery, and take your deep breathes. Find another grounding technique to engage in (smelling oils and other aromas, listening to music, focusing on feeling the water when taking a nice hot bath, etc.)
5) Teach your brain to focus on the positives.
While there are biological and environmental factors that contribute to depression and anxiety, we have the power to train our brains with practice and consistency. I've already shared the GLAD list with you all. The key is to actually write it down, type it out, or share it verbally with another person. It sounds simple, because it is, but the simplest things can have some powerful effects when implemented consistently.
Action step: Complete a daily GLAD list. Check out the GLAD blog post here.
You'll get positive results even if you just apply 1 of these action steps. You do not have to engage in all 5, which can be overwhelming. Just pick one and go from there!
Hi, I'm Thai-An. I'm a postpartum therapist and mother who is passionate about helping pregnant and postpartum parents overcome depression and anxiety so they can feel like themselves again and enjoy life with their baby and family. After overcoming my own battle with postpartum depression and anxiety, I opened Lasting Change Therapy, LLC in South Oklahoma City to dedicate my counseling practice to helping families have postpartum recovery and wellness, and I truly love it!
For more tips and techniques to feel like yourself again, click here for exclusive access to my free guide and 4-day e-course for overcoming postpartum depression and anxiety.