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10 Mood-Boosting Habits To Improve Your Mental Health – Even In The Midst Of A Crisis

Katie Dixon is a psychotherapist and the owner of Healing in Action Counseling Services LLC. Her areas of specialty include grief, complex relational trauma, self-image and anxiety disorders. Katie's mission is to support clients in identifying and exploring the possibilities that lead to lasting change and a more fulfilling life.

Executive Contributor Katie Dixon

At some point in your life, you will have to contend with a mental health struggle or crisis. Although the causes for each person are varied and complex, no one escapes this. Whether you are experiencing changes in mood or behavior due to a specific mental health condition, the effects of a sudden change in circumstances, a loss or a relational conflict, the end result is likely to be the same. You may find it challenging to cope in the ways you normally would.

Sport mature woman sitting and resting after exercise and eating apple on floor

The great news is there are steps you can take each day to safeguard your mental health. By adopting the following habits as part of a healthy lifestyle, you will be more likely to experience a decrease in mood swings and be better equipped to handle difficult situations. Naturally, your mood is bound to shift based on internal and external conditions. Consider that by neglecting vital aspects of self-care, you are inadvertently setting the stage for changes in mood to be more erratic and unmanageable than they may have been otherwise. The following habits are well-researched and scientifically proven to bolster mood and mental health. The more you can convert these actions into regular habits, the more likely you are to reap the benefits and experience less upheaval when life throws something unexpected your way.


1. Establish a routine

It is important to have consistency and stability to fall back on when life becomes unpredictable. This does not have to be overly-structured or rigid. For those who are loathe to the idea of routine, it might be more palatable to think of this step as structure with flexibility. Any well-established routine can easily be thrown off due to unforeseen circumstances. You can adjust to make changes as needed, but it will not hurt to at least have a game plan for each day. On some days you may make the decision to toss the plan. We all need days that feel like freedom. While it is more than okay to go rogue sometimes, if you are consistently winging it through life with no structure or direction, this can exacerbate feelings of instability and uncertainty. Hopefully, the following tips on this list can make it into your regular routine.


2. Keep up with basic hygiene

This may seem obvious, but for anyone who has faced an overwhelming challenge it can quickly become a problem. Neglecting to shower, brush your teeth or change your clothes is a clear sign that you are overwhelmed and very likely neglecting yourself in other areas as well. It is not uncommon for caregivers to prioritize other people's needs before their own. As a result, neglecting your own personal hygiene can unintentionally become the consequence of overextending yourself. Additionally, depression and other mental health conditions can contribute to developing a pattern of not taking care of yourself. This is a precarious path to go down because the longer you continue without being in the routine of taking care of yourself, the easier it is to adapt to this as the norm. Sure, we all have times when we fall asleep without brushing our teeth, maybe we skip a shower for a day or two, or even three depending on the circumstances. Beyond that, your mental health is apt to begin to suffer due to not prioritizing yourself. If your entire world is upside down and you notice you have not been keeping up with your personal hygiene, attend to this first. By maintaining basic hygiene habits, it will be much easier to start incorporating other activities into your daily routine. This is the secret to combating depressive symptoms. The mere act of doing and doing anything at all. We can get comfortable convincing ourselves that we do not have time to take care of ourselves or that it is all too much. Beneath these surface thoughts, a deeply rooted belief about not feeling worthy or deserving may be lurking. Taking simple measures to care for yourself is a strong antidote to all of that. A licensed therapist can also help if this becomes an ongoing issue.


3. Pay attention to your sleep habits

Sleep can be difficult to regulate during times of stress. That being said, sleep may very well be the most underrated mood regulator in your arsenal. Having an off night here or there is to be expected. If your toddler keeps waking up or you made the choice to stay out late with friends you will rebound from the effects of a few sleepless nights. Conversely, if your sleep pattern becomes increasingly erratic you start to feel more irritable, foggy, and notice that it is more difficult to make decisions. Over time this can lead to decreased cognitive functioning to the point that it may not even be safe to drive because you are past the point of exhaustion.

Fortunately, in many instances, sleep patterns can improve simply by making some small adjustments to your routine. It may require setting your alarm earlier or adjusting your nighttime routine. Pay attention to the use of electronics before bed as this is a huge culprit in sleep disruption. Also take stock of your caffeine and alcohol intake as these can also impact sleep and increase feelings of anxiety. Naturally, you may be a little tired and feeling off for a few days when making changes to your sleep routine. If after making some adjustments to your habits you do not experience more regular and restful sleep, you may need to seek the help of a professional. A medical professional can help to rule out possible health conditions and prescribe a sleep aid when needed. If the root cause of your sleep disturbance is stress-related, a mental health professional can be useful in addressing emotional causes that are interfering with getting quality sleep and suggest appropriate next steps.


4. Eat regularly, mindfully, and well (this includes staying hydrated)

What you put into your body can impact the way you feel and the way you function. You may recognize times when you have fallen into making choices that do not benefit your overall

well-being. Examples of this can range from emotional eating or binge-eating to an excessively restrictive diet, to feeling so anxious you may forget to eat or feel sick at the thought of it.

Consequently, when you do not make optimal choices with your diet you may experience the emotional cycle of guilt and shame. Obviously, none of this is good! This is where we can circle back to the idea of routine with flexibility. Try to stay on a regular eating schedule. If your stress levels are impacting your appetite, try eating something small. Even a handful of nuts will provide some energy and nutrition. Some people have an easier time drinking their nutrients during times of stress. A smoothie, protein shake or even a dietary supplement such as Ensure can help your body to stay balanced.


If food is something you tend to use as a reward, by all means do it! Let moderation be your anchor. If you want to enjoy a bowl of ice cream or some potato chips, then stick to a serving. Instead of telling yourself that eating this particular food is bad, you might try telling yourself something like this:


“I am really enjoying this ice cream.”

“I am so excited to sit down and eat these potato chips.”

“This (fill in the food of our choice) is so delicious!”


Then sit down, enjoy it and be done with it. If you can move away from obsessing about food whether you have been eating too much or too little, you will become more attuned to your body and what it actually needs. Rather than seeing foods as good or bad, you might start categorizing foods as deeply nourishing or thoroughly enjoyable. That is simply going to feel better. Food is necessary to your daily life and it will help to view food as another way in which you can choose to nourish yourself. If you need additional information about developing a healthy and satisfying eating plan, a registered dietician or nutritionist can be a great resource of information. Eat and drink plenty of water!


5. Get moving

We all know the benefits of exercise for both our physical and mental health. This does not have to include a gym membership or an intense workout routine. You can literally just get moving. Go for a walk, play with your pet, stretch. You may decide to start with something small and build your endurance. The direct correlation between exercise and improved mental health is well-researched and has earned exercise the title of nature’s best antidepressant. To reap the benefits of increased endorphins, you will need to get your heart rate up. On the days you may not feel motivated to do this, simply focus on moving your body in whatever way you can. As we experience a continuous growth in technological advancements and the conveniences that come with them, we are also developing a more sedentary lifestyle which does not promote well-being. The key to this habit is just to get your body moving every day. This can be as simple or involved as you choose.


6. Stay connected

When you are experiencing a crisis it can be tempting to withdraw and isolate yourself. It is very important that you resist the urge to do this. Yes, some alone time can be very helpful in collecting your thoughts and avoiding relationships that may further exacerbate your distress.

However, being completely alone in times of trouble is not sustainable, nor is it healthy. Lean into relationships that are affirming with those who have historically supported and encouraged you. If you are not feeling support from family and friends right now, it might be a good time to reach out to a therapist or consider joining a support group that pertains to your specific circumstances. There are support groups centered around just about anything you can imagine. You can easily find groups that meet in person in your area or virtually by doing a quick Web search. Many people find comfort in being with others who can relate to their experiences. If you are not interested in attending a group of this nature, now is the perfect time to invest in a new hobby, meet up group or volunteer opportunity. When you find yourself feeling stuck in a problem, being alone with your thoughts for extended periods of time will only serve to make you feel worse. The decision to connect with other people has the potential to lead into a more positive mood and outlook by getting you out of your own head for a little while. If you are not able to be with others in person, consider connecting through a phone call or video call platform.

Human beings are built for connection and, yes, this includes introverts. Some of us may need more interaction than others, but we all need to interface with other people on a daily basis.


7. Find “that thing”

“That thing” is essential to maintaining a stable mood. You may be asking yourself, “What is that thing?” The answer is up to you. It can be something creative, relaxing or simply enjoyable and should not be connected to work or external validation. Some people may say they enjoy working, but there is often pressure and expectation related to work. “That thing” should really be something that you do just for the pleasure of it. You may have a rotation of a few things to choose from so that on any given day you can switch up your chosen activities depending on your time constraints and energy levels. Examples of “that thing” could be playing a sport for fun, walking, running, cooking, dancing, playing an instrument, stretching, painting, writing, reading, meditation, having a relaxing bath or bedtime ritual. Research has shown that people who experience the most consistency in maintaining a positive mood do something every day that they enjoy. If you are not already doing that regularly, this may be the most fun habit to experiment with and start incorporating into the rhythm of your day.


8. Engage your senses

Engaging your senses is a very effective way to calm racing thoughts. This will allow you to

focus on the present moment and take you out of overthinking about past regrets or fears about the future. There are many exercises you can try to practice this. To get started, it may be useful to perform a reset of sorts by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. It is beneficial to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, taking a slightly longer inhale and exhale than you would when breathing normally. Placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach while focusing on your breath serves to make this experience more grounding.

Now you are ready to engage your senses. When you open your eyes you can focus on what you see around you and describe it to yourself out loud. You can look at artwork, images of nature, get outside or even open your window and take in the sights. Listening to your favorite music or sounds of nature is a great way to engage your sense of hearing. You can pause to notice the hum of the air conditioner, your dishwasher running or the sound of a pet snoring. You can incorporate aromatherapy to engage your sense of smell. Candles or essential oils with citrus or floral scents, lavender, ylang-ylang, vanilla and rosemary are attributed with providing calming effects. You can choose to cook with aromatics such as rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme or sage which can produce a similar effect. You might enjoy a warm cup of tea, coffee or even hot water with lemon to engage your senses of touch and taste. To focus on the physical, you can stretch, sit in a sunny spot, massage your arms and legs, take a warm bath or shower, and add to the experience with a scented candle or incense. The goal is not to do everything at once. The goal is to slow down and bring your focus to at least one of your senses. If you can do more, great! The important thing is to be able to use whatever is available to you in a moment to redirect your focus.


9. Get outside

This one is pretty self-explanatory. You need to leave the house. Sunshine is good for you, fresh air is good for you, human interaction is good for you, getting up and getting dressed even in sweatpants is good for you. Being consistent with this habit can come with limitations due to weather or possible issues with mobility. However, when the weather permits, it is a good idea to get outside if only for a brief period and breathe in some fresh air. Go for a walk, run an errand, sit outside your door for a few moments if that is all you can muster. Isolation can start to feel deceivingly comforting when facing difficulty. There is nothing wrong with pulling back and limiting your comings and goings, but fight the urge to deprive yourself of this natural mood booster. Being outside has medicinal benefits including, a boost in serotonin levels, absorption of Vitamin D, sleep regulation and improved immunity. If you have been suffering from a low mood and you have not been outside much, making this your new habit will be a game-changer.


10. Mind your thoughts

Ah, the inner voice. You know it well. It is chattering and chiming in regularly, if not, constantly. At times your inner voice may be coaching you up and other times it may be tearing you down through harsh criticism and unnecessary judgment. If you notice that the thoughts you are having about yourself and others seem overly critical, it may be a good time to reach out to a mental health professional. A licensed therapist can help you identify thought patterns that may be hampering your mood and hindering your future goals. Some examples of common inner criticisms include,


“I can’t do it.”

“I am not capable of handling this.”

“I hate myself/I hate my life.” “I hate everyone.”

“No one helps me.” “I can’t trust anyone.”

“No one likes/loves me.”

“I am such a (fill in the blank)!” The blank is likely a rotation of insults and name-calling.


If you are not convinced that your inner critical voice is creating obstacles for you, consider whether you would say the things you say to yourself to another human being. If you are shocked at the thought, it is time to start responding to these thoughts differently. No one deserves to be spoken to in a cruel manner. No matter what mistakes you have made or what you are going through, there is a difference between being corrective and being flat out mean. You will be amazed at the way your life will improve once you begin working towards improving the quality of your thoughts and the way you speak to yourself. Undeniably, challenging your inner voice is not an easy thing to do and it may be best to seek the help of a licensed therapist when getting started. The quality of your thoughts has a dramatic impact on the quality of your life. Opening yourself to the possibility of looking at situations differently and releasing any negative mindset you may be harboring will free you in ways you may never have imagined.


To sum up, the biggest take away from this list is to incorporate these actions into your life as regularly as you can manage. The efficacy of these mood stabilizing habits backed by science and the proof will be in how you feel after trying them. If you are experiencing a crisis right now, it may not be reasonable to expect that you will follow every suggestion listed here each and every day. This is merely a framework to get started with prioritizing your wellness. If you notice a few areas that may be in need of attention you can begin to introduce them little by little. You will know the right time because it will feel good and relieving rather than overwhelming. If your life feels reasonably stable at the moment, this is the perfect time to start building your routine around these principles! The more you turn them into habits, the easier it will be to maintain when things feel upside down. You are your greatest asset. Take good care of yourself.

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Read more from Katie Dixon


Katie Dixon, Licensed Professional Counselor, Business Owner

Katie Dixon is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the owner of Healing in Action Counseling Services LLC. Through a number of professional and personal experiences, Dixon realized that life's most difficult moments can lead to feelings of isolation when connection is often what is most needed. Therefore, it is her mission to establish a unique connection with every individual she works with in order to help her clients encounter their unique strengths in the midst of challenges while exploring the possibilites for lasting change.



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