Updated: Mar 5
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Feeling sad or depressed can look different depending on the individual, their personal history, experiences, and outlook. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) describes depressive symptoms as the following characteristics:
minimal interest in activities you used to enjoy
reduced or increased appetite
sleeping more or less
impaired functioning in social, occupational or other areas of daily life
thoughts of death or suicide
To receive a diagnosis of depression, these issues cannot be accounted for by another mental health disorder, bereavement, or a major life event (e.g. a traumatic situation).
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, an assessment from a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist is needed to help determine if a person meets criteria for a diagnosis. After the assessment, if there is a diagnosis of depression, it may be suggested that you use mood medication to help stabilize and manage your mood. The pros and cons of this will be reviewed so you can make an informed decision based on your personal beliefs and values.
In addition to consulting with a medical professional, there are also things you can do in your every day life to help you manage your depressive symptoms and boost your mood. Keep reading for some tips that might be useful for you. Feel free to try one or more that stand out to you that you want to take action on.
1. Focus on your basic self-care tasks
You might feel like you have no energy in the moment, however, it is important to know that doing simple self-care acts like brushing your teeth, washing your face, and having a shower can go a long way towards helping you feel better.
Starting your day off with a morning routine and ending it with an evening routine that allows you to prioritize yourself may enable you to maximize your daily functioning in all areas of your life. This, in turn, may help you feel a sense of accomplishment, which can improve your mood.
2. Celebrate your efforts and successes
Notice the little triumphs you have on a given day or week and relish them. Paying attention to our successes can help us see that we are more capable, skilled, and knowledgeable than we may have thought previously.
It could be as small as doing the dishes, clearing your inbox, getting some fresh air and a quick walk around the block, making a simple meal, or getting one item crossed off your to-do list. Whatever it is, celebrate your attempts to do something for you and remind yourself of your achievements.
3. Do what brings you joy
Consider your hobbies and interests and spend more time doing them. Do you like hiking? Playing an instrument? Doing arts and crafts? Yoga? Listening to podcasts on your favourite topics?
Using your downtime in an active way can help you feel refreshed, energized, motivated, and ready to tackle the day. Feeling a sense of rejuvenation from a fun activity can be a powerful way to boost your mood and keep you in good spirits.
4. Use positive self-talk
When we speak to ourselves negatively, that can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and our self-confidence. Learning how to talk more kindly to yourself can help you manage your low mood and other emotions – such as anxiety and stress – by enabling you to see that you can handle a challenge effectively.
Some examples of positive self-talk include:
I am worthy
I am good enough just as I am
I can do this
It’s ok to reach out for help
I can be patient with myself while I deal with my emotions
I can forgive myself for my mistakes
I can help myself through this just like how I help other people I care about
These statements are just examples – feel free to use your own words to create statements that are meaningful to you and help you reframe negative thoughts about yourself into gentle, kind, and supportive ones.
5. Get some exercise
It may be hard to put on those running shoes although getting in any form of exercise – walking, stretching, or something more rigorous like running or high-intensity training – is valuable for improving not only your health but also your mood. Moderate exercise is linked to improvement in depressive symptoms and is helpful in its many forms (aerobic, weight-training, and flexibility/toning exercises, etc.) (Peluso & Andrade, 2005).
Focusing on the mood boost you will have after exercise might be just enough to get you into your workout gear! Small steps in this direction can help you get motivated to start and continue on your health and wellness journey.
Some people find they can motivate themselves, others find motivation in a gym, and still others find a personal trainer can be helpful to keep them accountable and on track with their fitness goals. Depending on your needs and resources, choose a method that works for you and try to stick with it – consistency is key!
6. Prioritize your sleep routine
Sleep is one of the most important factors that influence our overall well-being, including our mood. Research suggests that lower quality sleep can contribute to lower mood (Triantafillou, Saeb, Lattie, Mohr, & Kording, 2019).
Getting adequate sleep each night can help you function better in your work, school, and family life. If you can, try to reduce your use of electronics about an hour before bed and create a calming atmosphere in your room with lower lighting while you enjoy a quiet activity, such as listening to calming music, doing meditation or deep breathing, or choosing something else to do that relaxes you. Creating a tranquil space for sleep can be what is needed to allow you to fall asleep more easily and also achieve better quality sleep throughout the night.
7. Eat nutritious foods
The mind-body connection in terms of our mood is very strong and there is evidence to suggest that eating well can help manage mood-related concerns such as depression (Firth, Gangwisch, Borsini, Wootton, & Mayer, 2020).
By eating fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated, and limiting processed foods, you may begin to see a positive shift in your mood that will last long after that apple you ate! You can check with your doctor as well to see what particular areas you may need to focus on given your health history and any current health concerns. You may also seek support from a nutritionist to help you reach your goals.
It can be hard to change eating habits but, again, by taking small steps and making little substitutions to start, this can begin to get you on a new track to a healthier you in many areas of your life.
8. Break tasks into smaller pieces
When we feel overwhelmed, one of the best things we can do to cope is to break a large task down into smaller pieces. Almost immediately, you might feel that the task seems less daunting. By working on a big project in sections, it may seem more manageable, you may feel a greater sense of progress as you finish each piece, and you might notice that you are more confident in your ability to complete it in its entirety.
Create an outline of the framework of the whole project and a timeline for when you are hoping to have the entire project done. Decide what is your first step and a timeframe to complete it. The following steps and timeframes may become clearer thereafter. Track your progress towards each step, identify barriers, and develop solutions to overcome them. Before you know it, you will be done and can celebrate your achievement!
9. Surround yourself with your loved ones
Reaching out to those you love - your closest family and friends - can be so important in getting your mind off your troubles, helping you feel calmer and more at ease, feeling happier, and sometimes even giving you a different perspective on a difficult situation that you had not considered before. Whether it is a phone call, video call, text message, or seeing your loved ones in person, make time for them – you will be glad you did!
You might need to space out social gatherings if you are more introverted and that is ok. The goal is to get a level of interaction that feels good to you and leaves you feeling more energized rather than emotionally drained. Find what works for you and figure out how to build that into your schedule to battle feelings of isolation and loneliness.
10. Reach out to a mental health professional
If you have tried different coping strategies and your symptoms continue to persist or you find it difficult to maintain your work, school, social, or personal responsibilities, it may be time to see a mental health professional. Speaking with a therapist may help you express your feelings, share your thoughts, receive emotional support, and learn new perspectives and approaches to help you cope better.
If you are an adult in Ontario, Canada and are looking for virtual therapy, feel free to click on the “Contact” section of the Meaningful Independence website or click on the “Book A Free Consult” button in the top left corner of the screen to reach out for support.
Mental Health Crisis Resources
If you are in a mental health crisis, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.
You may also want to use a crisis resource to get immediate emotional support if needed. See below for some mental health resources that may be helpful to you.
Assaulted Women's Helpline 1 - 866 - 863 - 0511
Distress Centres of Greater Toronto 416 - 408 - 4357 or 408 - HELP
ConnexOntario Helpline 1 - 866 - 531 - 2600
Canada Suicide Prevention Service 1 - 833 - 456 - 4566
Kids Help Phone 1 - 800 - 668 - 6868
Hope For Wellness Helpline 1 - 855 - 242 - 3310
1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
2. Peluso, M.A.M. and Andrade, L.H.S.G. (2005). Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood. Clinics 60(1), 61-70.
3. Triantafillou, S., Saeb, S., Lattie, E. G., Mohr, D. C., & Kording, K. P. (2019). Relationship Between Sleep Quality and Mood: Ecological Momentary Assessment Study. JMIR mental health, 6(3), e12613. https://doi.org/10.2196/12613
4. Firth, J., Gangwisch, J., Borsini, A., Wootton, R., and Mayer, E. (June, 2020). Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ 2020;369:m2382 https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2382
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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