Feeling Blah in 2021? How to Boost Your Mood This Year
Things to do to get out of that “blah” space and ignite a spark in your life.
Posted Jan 11, 2021
It is now January 2021. Many of us expected it to be a time for a fresh start, with 2020 long forgotten! But what I am hearing from my work as a faculty member and counselor is that many of us are feeling disappointed; nothing really changed with the flip of the calendar from December to January. Clearly things are not yet different this year. It’s understandable that many of us have lost our typical New Year's burst of motivation for creating a fresh, exhilarating life in these trying times.
While it may seem harmless to remain burrowed into a mundane and unfulfilling rut, it is important to pay attention when we may be moving towards a downward spiral that can eventually result in an episode of depression. We need to be intentional to keep from slipping into patterns of negative thoughts, feelings, and self-destructive actions. In the spirit of prevention, I have compiled a few strategies from cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy that might help you get back on track1. Keep reading for strategies you can use today to get out of that “blah” space in 2021.
Strategies to Boost Mood in the New Year
1. Develop a routine and stick to it. Do things that help you stay well even when you don’t feel like it. Don’t wait until you feel like doing an activity; you have to do it first, and your feelings will follow.
2. Schedule small, achievable self-care activities in your day. If your day is crammed full of only things you have to do (but don’t necessarily want to do—like for me, yet another Zoom meeting!), then it is hard to look forward to any day as it stretches out ahead of you. What are small things that bring you joy that you can sprinkle throughout your daily routines? Is there a friend you could call or meet for a walk? A brief time for spiritual renewal or reflection? A coffee or tea you enjoy? Taking time to cuddle with a pet? Journaling a list of things for which you are grateful? Music that boosts your mood? A self-care activity, no matter how small, can go a long way.
3. Increase positive social support. Try to interact with supportive people every day. Include people who truly care about you and who encourage you to be your best self. Note: scrolling through social media does not count. In fact, too much social media use (especially when it replaces real-life interactions) can be harmful to mental health.
4. Enhance your sense of meaning, purpose, and competence. What is one thing you can do each day to increase your sense of competence? What contributes to your sense of meaning and purpose? What can you do to feel you made a contribution to your job, family, neighbors, society? No matter how small, how did you make a positive difference in the world today?
5. Be mindful. Be aware of what you are thinking and feeling in the moment. Rather than mindlessly engaging in self-defeating activities, be aware of what you really need. Then decide what skills are most effective in the given situation:
- Am I in a situation that can’t really be changed? Use coping strategies (See #6)
- Am I in a situation that I can take steps to change and actively make things different? Use problem solving strategies (See #7)
6. Develop a repertoire of coping strategies for when you are distressed. If you are in a situation or life season that is discouraging but you can’t really do anything to change it, consider ways to cope with your negative emotions. Plan some strategies in advance for different situations:
- What are three positive things you can do when you need to release energy?
- What are three positive things you can do when you need to relax?
- What are three positive things you can do to boost your energy? What are activities that make you feel more alert and focused?
- What are ways you can think about the situation differently? Ask yourself when you are thinking negatively, “Is this thought actually true?” “Is this helping me or hurting me to believe this?” “Would I say this same thing to a friend?” Gradually learn to replace harmful thoughts with more helpful thoughts that are less harsh and are more self-compassionate.
7. Use problem-solving skills when you need to take action. As simple as this might seem, sometimes writing out these steps can make a complex problem seem more straightforward and solvable.
- What is the actual problem I am facing?
- What are the alternatives I can consider in this situation?
- How can I weigh the pros/cons of each option I have listed?
- Based on this list, what is my plan of action?
- What is one small step I can take to move forward on my plan?
These strategies may seem simplistic. But sometimes we only have the extra energy to take one step. So take one step today. Maybe in a few days you will notice that you are ready to take yet another step. Over time the small things will add up to a more positive outlook. And with intentionality, you may even feel a spark of hope that 2021 will be a brighter year.
1. See also Choate, L. H. (2020). Depression in girls and women across the lifespan: Treatment Essentials for Mental Health Professionals. New York: Routledge Press.