Eight Ways to Counteract a Dreary Day

New research helps explain how you can change your mindset when you're down

Posted Feb 10, 2018

Benjamin Lossius/Unsplash
Source: Benjamin Lossius/Unsplash

When you're feeling down, it's sometimes difficult to pull yourself out of a hole.  But new research suggests that the climb out may not be as tough as it may seem.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE: Words are powerful ways to change your emotions. Tagging what you are feeling with a descriptive word is more than just an explanation. Called "affect labeling", in your brain, it calms down emotional overreactions by turning down the volume of the emotion processor. Also, a more extended description called expressive writing can quell the blues too, making you feel better than you had before your outpouring.

2. AFFIRM: If you're feeling anxious, tell yourself that you're not being crazy, and if you're feeling depressed, tell yourself that this will pass with time. Both of these interventions are thought to be helpful. Looking at the brighter side of things is even helpful among cancer survivors who have previously gone through the stress of dealing with a dangerous illness. Affirming that things will be okay changes your brain. It activates the reward system, and the "self" circuits are also impacted, helping you to feel recognized.

3. RECALL: Try to remember things that have cheered you up in the past, or things that made you feel good.. Recalling happy memories repairs the brain circuits disturbed during depressive episodes, and makes people feel better. So try going down memory lane and pick out the good times. It'll likely help you change your mood (and your brain).

4. LISTEN TO SAD MUSIC: It may be the last thing you think of, but sad songs can actually feel pleasurable. And there are some caveats are: the song has to be non-threatening, to your taste, and it should evoke empathy in you by helping you recall your own history. Called the tragedy paradox, this effect is also akin to accepting what you feel and not fighting it off. There's a science behind this too. Some researchers believe that it is the hormone prolactin that allows you to  enjoy the music. Released by the brain, it serves to comfort and console, making you feel gradually better over time.

5. IMAGINE SOMETHING POSITIVE: Research demonstrates that imagining something positive can actually make you feel better. It also connects brain circuits more, and this greater coherence likely contributes dot your feeling better. Imagining is not thinking in words—it is literally having a movie in your head that is as vivid as can be.

6. IDENTIFY POSSIBILITIES IN THE FUTURE: Thinking deliberately about positive possibilities in the future can actually make the difference between killing one's self and not doing so, even when you are not able to do anything. In a sense, it gives the brain a goal, even if the path toward that goal is not known. All you have to do is find a possible version of yourself that shows promise, and it will motivate your brain, even if the initial feeling is just an inkling.

7. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS: Placing your attention on your breath and ignoring your mental chatter will brighten up your mood. Simply observing and not judging your thoughts calms your brain down and helps to perk you up because you don't become absorbed by your emotion.

8. BE CURIOUS: Being curious is rewarding to your brain. It also improves your memory and learning. So poke your nose into something of interest, and tinker with it. As you discover and learn more, it will feel great to your brain.

If you're having a bleak day, it doesn't have to stay that way. As you can see, mindset shifts are possible, and research is beginning to show that us that they work.