“Shallow” mood boosters

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Whether you’re struggling with anxiety or just having a bad day, you probably have tricks to make yourself feel better. I recently wrote about one of my favorite tricks for when I’m in a slump, but what about all those other times when you’re sad or lonely or scared or nervous?

There are a lot of things that I thought were too shallow to be real remedies. I should channel it all into being one of those really hot gym chicks or reading a really good and deep novel about happiness and life journeys and stuff or some introspective buddhist poetry or something.

But I am not an eat-pray-lover. Those things just give me more anxiety because I feel like I should be doing that. (Cue Carrie Bradshaw’s ‘Are we should-ing all over ourselves?’ which is top 10 Carrie for sure.)

Some things make me happier, and some things just distract me. Distractions, by the way, are completely legitimate in the realm of anxiety. Distractions, in fact, are something that my therapist recommends, whether it’s counting all the “A”s on the seatback airplane safety card, or spelling out all the vegetables in the grocery store. But there’s also a lot of distractions that take away from real things that you’re avoiding. There’s a difference, and that’s a whole separate post to come. But there are a lot of things that make me happy that seem sort of, well, shallow. And that thought chipped away at the happiness I was getting out of these things. It took me a long time to finally accept these things as totally OK and acceptable and real and impactful.

  • Sun (even if it’s not warm weather). Growing up in Seattle, it was as rainy and overcast as you’d imagine. Some people love it, but some people are hormonally allergic to it. I’m in the latter group. So now, on sunny days — especially when the weather’s been overcast or rainy — I make a massive effort to go for a walk, or sit out by the pool, or just keep my home flooded with natural light outside. It’s a massive boost for me.
  • Planning a trip. This is by far my favorite activity of all time. I think I have as much fun planning as I do actually on the trip. If you’ve ever traveled with me or been exposed to me while planning, you know this. It gives me something to look forward to, to channel my anxiety into (planning is a major source of feeling in-control), and to play to my strengths and therefore make me feel great. The flip side to this one is that in the past I’ve used travel as more of a distraction from dealing with things in my life that needed fixing; I’ve had to work past that (mostly with my trusty therapist, which you should be able to guess by now).
  • Going out and doing something. I usually don’t want to leave the house or be seen or attempt to have fun when I am down. It doesn’t feel genuine. But for the times when I was accountable to someone else to show up to a dinner, or get coffee, or see a movie, or whatever: It almost always brought me out of my funk. It’s definitely a fake-it-til-you-make-it trick, which feels (duh) fake. So now if I’m in an unhappy place, I try to go out to dinner or do something from my spreadsheet of local places I want to visit (yes, I have a spreadsheet of fun things to do. I LOVE SPREADSHEETS LAY OFF ME). PS: Some people — especially those suffering with depression or similar — may not find this to be a helpful or even doable trick, so I want to note that this is simply something that works for me. If it’s not your thing, I do not intent to create any feeling of guilt over not being able to “suck it up and go out.”

  • Having a skincare routine. Early on when I was first seeing her, my therapist introduced the idea of creating rituals in my everyday. She would suggest things like “having a cup of tea” and “putting on a face mask.” I just thought that I had no time for boring stuff like that. But a few months ago (years after she first suggested this), I went to a skincare class at Sephora with my friend Mary, and somehow that experience completely opened my mind to the world of skincare, with which I am now obsessed. It doesn’t take long — only a few minutes every morning and every night — but it makes me feel like I’m really doing something good for myself. Skincare is not something that everyone gets into, but the real takeaway here is having a doable/repeatable daily ritual that prioritizes self-care.

This is a small cross-section of a much bigger list, of course. I’m always learning new things that give me a boost of happy when I most need it — and I’m always looking for more! What’s your favorite way to pull yourself up when you’re down?