“I’ll try that…..when I’m feeling better” Getting started when you’re stuck

October 21, 2020

“Go for a run!” “Eat healthier” “Smile it will make you feel better!” Have well-intentioned people in your life given similar unsolicited advice when you’re feeling low? Although scientific evidence shows that each of these recommendations can improve mood, sometimes hearing them can make you feel lousier and…you just don’t feel up to doing them.

If you’ve been down, fatigued or stuck in the same old routine, you’re not alone. This happens to most of us at some point. It’s especially common now that our lives are more limited by COVID-19 and uncertainty. But what to do about it?

For each of us, there are unique activities that either boost, decrease, or maintain current mood. These activities are different for each person! Pay attention to the little things in your day. What’s the difference in your mood when you have your morning coffee? Ignore a stressful email? Feel some sunlight on your face when you’re at your desk? Let the dishes sit in the sink? Each of these things can tweak your mood little by little for better or worse.

According to behavioral activation, an evidence-based treatment for low mood, there are categories of activities that can lift our mood: mastery and pleasurable activities. Pleasurable activities are what they sound like—activities that we enjoy. We’re not talking about “curing depression” “ecstatic” level joy but say, boosting your mood from a 3 to a 3.5 or 4 out of 10 (where 10 is the happiest you could be). For example, watching a funny movie, taking a warm bath, or hugging a loved one may elevate a person’s mood. These activities are different for each person.

Mastery activities are the things we may not enjoy doing in the moment, but they make us feel more in control and accomplished. This isn’t like writing a novel or running a marathon-again it’s the little day-to-day things. For me, it’s taking out the garbage. I don’t ever feel like doing it but after I throw that trash bag in the can outside, I feel relieved and my mood is a little lifted. For others, it could be responding to that call they’ve been ignoring, flossing, filing taxes, watering the plants, exercising…the possibilities are endless. The important thing is figuring out what for you what tasks or activities influence your mood.

So what’s the point? Find some activities that in teeny tiny ways make you feel a little lighter and more accomplished? What will that do? Actually, it can do a lot. When we feel down and have low energy, these “little” mastery and pleasurable activities tend to go the wayside. We put them off. We think they won’t help. We stop doing all these “little things.” So start to pay attention to the shifts in your mood and what you’re doing when your mood changes. This information can guide you into what activities you can increase, decrease, or keep doing to enhance your mood.


By Naomi Ennis, PhD