When clients tell me about their wellness goals, some want to lose weight or get fit — but just as many report wanting to feel more lively and upbeat. It’s not uncommon for energy and mood to fluctuate with the seasons — even if you don’t have seasonal affective disorder , which affects a relatively small percentage of the population. Spring is just one day away, but many of us are still feeling the late winter doldrums. Physical and mental health, your social life, work culture, life stage, and family dynamics are just a few of the factors that affect how you feel from day to day.
Here’s the good news — there are practical steps you can start taking today to improve your overall mood, naturally:
1. Get the right amount of sleep. Most adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep to feel their best. Not enough — or too much — and you’ll pay a price in terms of energy, attitude, and well-being. So, for better quality zzzs, power down the electronics an hour before bedtime, establish a relaxing bedtime routine, and practice good sleep hygiene .
2. Work up a sweat — outside. Even a short, brisk, daily walk does wonderful things for mental health ; the effects are even stronger if you exercise in a natural setting — near trees or a lake, for example. And even a single cardiovascular workout can boost mood for up to 12 hours!
3. Cut back on mood-busting foods. As Erin covered in a recent post, consuming too much sugar, white flour, trans fats, food additives, and caffeine can make you cranky, tired, and anxious — and can even contribute to migraines. Gluten is also problematic if you’re sensitive to it. For optimal well-being, choose whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) and lean sources of protein.
4. Reduce your stress. Nothing will exhaust you faster than carrying a heavy load of burdens. Spend some time identifying your major stressors. Take steps towards resolving the ones you have control over, and changing the way you respond to the ones you don’t have control over. Practice stress management techniques like mindfulness meditation, relaxation breathing, and progressive relaxation. For serious issues, seek professional help; if you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), that’s a good place to start.
5. Be more social. Connect with friends and family in person at least several times a week; online networking is convenient and fun, but it’s not the same as having a face-to-face conversation. Spending time with people you enjoy strengthens relationships, enriches your life, and builds memories. If your social life has room for improvement, make an effort to reach out — invite a coworker to join you for lunch, plan a weekend day hike with friends, or ask another family to join yours for a trip to the local aquarium.
6. Smile more. A recent study shows smiling — even when you don’t feel like it — relieves stress, boosts mood, and even improves heart health. Try it while working out, during the morning commute, or when that quirky co-worker is headed in your direction. Ever heard of laugh therapy ? Try it!
We all have favorite ways of boosting mood in the moment; searching “laughing babies” video clips works for me, every time! But adopting healthier lifestyle habits is the best way to increase your odds of feeling good each day. Taking better care of yourself leads to less physical and mental stress — and that’s really something to smile about.
What are your favorite natural mood boosters?
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports. www.wellcoaches.com/beth.shepard