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Three Things I Do Every Day to Lift My Mood

My body's default setting is called Stay in Bed. Every morning of my life there's an annoying little dude in my brain who reasons that staying in bed after the alarm rings is the best choice.

"How bad would it really be if the kids were an hour late to school?"

"You don't have to do anything important today."

"Catching up on sleep would be best for your body."

"Stay in bed today. No one will miss you."

This little dude keeps talking for about an hour after I get out of bed -- sometimes longer.

"Who will even know if you go back to bed for a few hours?"

"Your worth is not tied to your to-do list."

"Appointments can be rescheduled."

Every single day.

I didn't talk back to the little dude for years, so I spent A LOT of time in bed. I know that's only a problem if I make it a problem, but I decided to talk back, and it's working.

I think my success has grown through a few channels. One was the idea of bringing more joy into my life. I asked myself: "What do I like to do?" And, because I'm practical: "What activities have a high emotional return on time invested?"

Another channel was a therapist's direction to make a list of three things each day that I could reasonably accomplish. Not ten things, or 20 things, which I might attempt during a manic phase. When I'm depressed: three things. Sometimes showering is on the list, or other basics like washing dishes or picking up the kids. Sometimes lame chores, like calling the insurance company or paying bills, make the shortlist for the day.

After following these two guides for some time, I realized that there were common components in the days that felt better to me. The components are things I enjoy, things that make me feel more like myself. Now I aim to make each day include people, movement, and light.

I am a people person. I'm more of an introvert/ambivert than I used to be, but I still feed off the energy I receive from others. I've learned that conversation must be present in the interaction or it doesn't fill me; I can't sit in a movie theater/chapel/classroom full of people and feel recharged.

People are the reason I belong to book groups, scripture study groups, and lunch groups. I have walking buddies and accountability partners. I enjoy meaningful conversation, even if it's electronic. Positive interactions with people improve my mental health.

Movement - specifically, exercise - is the second item on my list. My brain responds positively when my body moves. Having a continually injured and aging body means I miss hardcore exercise, but I've found that even casually walking a few miles gives me the dopamine hit that my brain needs. Yoga and stretching can have a similar effect. Sometimes vigorously cleaning my house or mowing the lawn can check the mental health box, even though those things are not as fun.

Just a note: combining people with movement - like going for a walk with a friend - really amps up the benefits!

Light originally made my must-do list because having actual sunshine in my eyes is a strong antidote to depression. While this is certainly true, I have come to understand that light can also be figurative. I can bring light into my life through uplifting music. I can invite light through religious practices and places. I can experience light through a good book or the right person. I can create light through playing the piano. Light dispels my mental darkness, so I focus on gathering it in various ways every day.

Yesterday I woke up in a funk. I had spent the weekend enjoying lots of light through a virtual religious conference, but I was very sedentary and mostly alone or with teenagers who did NOT want to participate. I took a walk at noon on Sunday to dispel the encroaching clouds, but my physical limitations kept the walk short. I retired to my room early Sunday night so I didn't distribute my emotional pain.

On Monday morning I knew I needed my formula. I needed people, STAT. I needed light. And I needed to move my body. I enjoyed my regular scripture study group online. I had an appointment to practice Christmas music with two friends, and that helped immensely.

After a healthy lunch, I met a group to play volleyball. This is a recurring gathering, but I don't always go because my body objects to strenuous exercise. However, I needed the mental boost that team play and silly banter would provide. And you know what? It worked. I fed off those endorphins the rest of the day. I had enough positive energy to make dinner with my teenager and go grocery shopping, too.

Some might say that I didn't accomplish much during the day. I went to a couple of appointments in the morning and played all afternoon. I don't see it that way. I see a successful formula that boosted my mood and gave me the energy to accomplish tasks and be with my family.

My formula: people + movement + light = better mental health.

Here's your homework: Brainstorm three must-do practices and start adding those things to your days. Ponder what makes you tick. What do you like doing? What small things could you add to your life that could improve your mental health? Maybe you need a quiet room with a book and chocolate!

In the beginning, you might not notice a huge change. With persistence, however, I am sure you will. That little killjoy in your brain won't have quite as much to say, and you can focus instead on things that you love.


Are you looking for a great tool that will help you talk about mental illness? When Mommy Feels Sad is an illustrated children's book that teaches about depression and the difficult feelings and experiences that go along with it. Start a conversation about depression with your loved one today.

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