When I realized and accepted that I suffered from depression, the first thing I made a decision to do was to find some sort of help. However, getting a therapist and taking medication was not in my budget. Therefore, I had to find ways I could improve and maintain my mood that didn’t cost anything and that I could do easily and every day.
I started experimenting. I became more mindful of how I was being affected by my immediate environment, my physical state of being, and how my daily habits affected my mood. Over the course of several months, I narrowed down these ways to improve my mood that I can do all the time.
1. Get some sleep. I tend to be a night owl and often stay up well past midnight regularly. However, I have a job that starts at 4 a.m. during the week and only getting 4 hours of sleep was affecting my ability to even get up for work, much less work effectively. I started going to bed at different times to see how I felt after getting certain amounts of sleep. It turns out that I seem to function best with six to eight hours of sleep. Too much sleep makes me feel sore, and too little sleep makes me feel like I drank a lot of alcohol the night before.
If you tend to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen at night, you can help your brain prepare for sleep by using programs that gradually replace the blue light of your monitor with orange light. Blue light simulates daylight, so your brain thinks it’s still daytime while you look at your screen. Orange or red light triggers your brain to prepare for night time and to sleep. This has greatly improved my sleep by letting me go to sleep earlier and having much better quality sleep.
2. Get dressed. I tend to not be motivated to do much if I stay in my pajamas all day. I’ve found that if I get dressed in anything but pajamas, I tend to trick my mind into thinking I have things to do that day even when I don’t. A simple t-shirt and jeans works for me.
When you get into the habit of getting dressed every day, you’ll soon find that you will be a lot more likely to accomplish tasks because your brain thinks, “Well, since we have pants on, we might as well get something done.” This has been very effective for me. When I know I should go grocery shopping but don’t feel like it, getting dressed seems to bypass that feeling and I suddenly find myself wanting to go grocery shopping.
3. Eat regularly. When I’m depressed, my appetite disappears. Preparing food seems like such an arduous chore that I would rather listen to my stomach rumble than to get out of bed and grab a sandwich. But when I do fight back against that feeling and drag myself into the kitchen to make a sandwich, I always feel better about making that decision. Eating is often something depressed people forego to wallow in their sorrows longer. It’s comfortable to wallow. It’s difficult to do something that will dissolve that comfort.
I’ve found that eating anything, save for fast food, vastly improves my mood. Fast food lately has given me stomach aches and made me feel bloated and lethargic even though it hadn’t in the past. This has compelled me to cook more at home. Cooking is very difficult for me, so I tend to cook things that are very easy to make and I can stretch what I make over several days.
4. Turn on your lights. When I’m wallowing, I tend to turn all the lights off in my room and just let the darkness envelope me. When you have things to do, this is not a good strategy. I find that if I turn my lights on, regardless of the time of day, the light helps my brain wake up and drift away from a depressive mood. If the mood is a strong one, turn on every light in your house. It’s hard to find a dark corner when your house is completely lit up.
This works opposite of using the orange light generator on your computer monitor. The more blue light your brain is exposed to, the more awake and alert your brain gets, as it thinks it’s daytime and that’s when things get done. I’ve done laundry and cleaned my room after spending hours not wanting to do them, by simply turning on my bedroom light.
5. Improve your personal hygiene. If you’re anything like me, you find it painfully difficult to keep up with your personal hygiene. Showering seems like such a battle when you feel worthless. However, I’ve found that doing something, anything, that gives you a clean feeling can improve your mood immediately. Wash you face. Wash your hair. Take a washcloth to your arms and legs. Anything helps.
I have a pretty substantial beard that gets itchy when I don’t keep up with it. By washing my beard and face, giving my beard a good brushing, and adding beard oil brightens my mood right away. It gets rid of the itchiness and makes my face more presentable to others and myself. When you look in the mirror and see a clean face, it does give a boost to your self esteem.
By doing these very simple, very free things, you can improve your mood every day. Once you get into the habit of doing these things every day, your depression will be a bit more manageable. I’ve found that doing multiple things on this list, or all of them, can keep my mood pretty stable, even trending towards good. While therapy and medication can help even more, these simple things can help keep your mood a little more balanced on a day to day basis.