When you feel really down, even a single positive change can make a real difference. “But if you experiment with three small changes in one week, you may raise your chances of lifting your spirits even more,” says Jennifer McClure, PhD, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.
Here’s a list of activities that have helped others move in a positive direction:
Ask your best friend: “What activity
do you think I should try again?”
If you’re like most people, knowing what’s worked in the past can be helpful. Consider what lifted your mood or lowered your stress before. These questions can get you started:
When you’re getting started, it’s best to focus on activities you can complete in a short time. Make a list of three or four things you can start right away to give yourself an immediate lift. Then choose one or two things that appeal to you best. Focus on the actions that you can make happen during the next week.
Feeling really “stuck” can sometimes mean that it’s time to do something really different, or even a little radical—something you’ve never tried before and wouldn’t usually think of trying.
Brainstorm activities you might try that are completely new—things that don’t fit with feeling depressed. If you can’t help smiling or laughing when you imagine yourself trying one of these things, you’re headed in the right direction.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Paul had always had trouble meeting new people and being around strangers. Lately, the problem was getting worse. In almost any social situation, he’d feel nervous, then ashamed about feeling nervous, and then worthless about feeling ashamed about feeling nervous. He felt like he was sinking lower and lower every week.
When he couldn’t handle his granddaughter’s wedding, he felt like he’d hit bottom. Then he remembered one of his aunt’s favorite sayings: “Sometimes the only way out is through”—and he decided it was time to push through feeling nervous and ashamed. His wife suggested they join a local “mall walkers” group together. Paul liked the idea of getting some exercise, but at first he was reluctant to go. He was nervous about meeting new people and even unsure which clothes to wear, but he agreed.
When Paul showed up for the first walk he still felt timid and unsure. He cringed when one of the regular members of the group spoke to him—and felt sure no one would like him. But after going a couple of times, he started to feel more comfortable. He even met another man from his hometown. He knew he’d never be “Mr. Outgoing,” but it felt good to get regular exercise and to meet someone who shared a common background.