Whether you’re dealing with work stress, personal problems, or just getting bummed out watching the news these days, it's easy to fall into a funk—and may be tough to pull yourself out.
If you’ve been feeling blue for a while, it can help to talk with a mental health professional. But research also suggests there are some quick and easy things you can do to feel better, at least temporarily and perhaps even long-term, says Stephen Schueller, PhD, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies. If you’ve got a free hour and you’re looking for a pick-me-up, here’s how he suggests you spend it.
Get some exercise
Exercise has been shown to boost the production of endorphins in the brain, and numerous studies indicate that the feel-good glow after a workout can last at least several hours. Now, a new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that getting as little as one hour of exercise a week may even help prevent some cases of depression from developing.
In this study, protective effects were observed for exercise of all intensity levels, from casual walking to hard-core sweat-fests. But Schueller says that for short-term mood-boosting benefits, it’s best to really get your heart pumping. “It definitely doesn’t have to be a very long workout,” he says. “But other research has shown that it does need to be somewhat intense—more than just easy walking—in order to get those immediate mental-health benefits.”
Catch up with an old friend
Whether it’s calling a childhood pal you haven’t seen in a while or meeting up with your neighbor for a cup of coffee, spending an hour in meaningful conversation can have serious benefits for your mental health, says Schueller. Turning to a perpetually cheerful friend may even help you “catch” his or her good mood, according to a recent study in Royal Society Open Science.
“Spending time with friends and family is something we don’t do enough, and it has a lot to do with our happiness and wellbeing,” says Schueller. For double the mood-boosting benefits, he suggests combining exercise and social interaction—by inviting a buddy along for your regular walk or jog, for example.
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Write down (and reflect on) what you’re grateful for
Keeping a gratitude journal has been associated with both short-term mood improvements as well as a reduced risk of depression over time. Some experts recommend writing down three things a day you’re grateful for, but Schueller says he prefer to take a more reflective approach to counting his blessings.
“I write down one thing every day that I’m really grateful for, and at the end of the week I look back and think about the best thing that happened to me that week,” he says. “I do the same thing at the end of the month, and at the end of the year, and that’s what keeps me going back to my journal and keeping everything in perspective.”