Originally published on my Psychology Today blog.
Springtime is on its way. The sunshine is returning and bringing with it the promise of blossoming trees, long days and summertime fun. The typical spring day carries the smell of blooming flowers on the breeze and the chirping of birds to remind us that life is indomitable, and that better times are just around the corner. Coming after a long dreary winter, the season is a natural mood booster for most of us.
But not all. Some suffer from a persistent, hard-to-describe gloom that even the brightest sunshine cannot penetrate.
So it seems like a good time for reminding ourselves that if the “wintertime blues” refuse to be chased away it may be more than just a funk caused by lack of daylight and snowy weather. It could very well be clinical depression. Perhaps you’re noticing yourself seeing more of the negative in the world and less of the positive, being less optimistic and more solitary, and less energetic both cognitively and physically. Maybe you feel you lack the energy and motivation to do things you know will make you feel better. These are all hallmarks of depression.
The most effective approach tends to be medication to boost your low serotonin levels paired with mental health counseling. These, like most to-do items, seem like insurmountable tasks when mired in the throes of depression. However, there are small (and cost-free) steps you can take on your own to moderately boost your mood and begin to make progress in conquering your low mood.
Physical: Exercise is key. Although you may not have enough energy for a workout, just walking around the block can help. Stretching is good as well, and try some basic calisthenics. Studies have shown that even these moderate exercises have mood-boosting benefits, helping to mitigate the damage done by so-called “stress hormones” like cortisol.
Emotional: The simple and easy act of talking to a friend can help immensely; it can distract you from your own world of gloom and worry that is so easy to dwell in when in depression. It can also help you gain perspective on your circumstances. Practice being kind also; the emotional benefits make being kind a definite win-win scenario.
Cognitive: Read a good book…really. A good story can arouse emotions and the simple act of reading provides important exercise of your brain, both hugely beneficial when in depression. A good book can also provide distraction. Further, the visualization your brain must carry out when reading a story can engage circuits that can be useful in revving up your brain’s cognitive capacity, a capacity which is depressed when you are.
Mind you, these are just a few of the easy-to-do activities that can help boost your mood right now, regardless of whether you’re clinically depressed or not. If you’ve been feeling mentally and physically drained for an unreasonable amount of time, see a doctor or therapist without delay. Diagnosing and treating the underlying problem is too important to put off, and research has consistently shown that the one-two punch of medication and counseling is vital to piercing the veil of depression.
Above all, remember the great lesson of springtime: Even after the harshest winter, renewal is always possible.