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Focus on Your Inner Self to Boost Your Mood

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 21, 2021

When you're trying to tame depression, it sometimes helps to turn your attention inward. Even if you're already getting treatment with medicine and therapy, tending to your inner self can lift your spirit and help you better manage your feelings.

Everything from meditation to just plain having fun can be part of the plan. But remember, it's best to start small. Pick one thing that feels right for you and make a habit of it. Over time, it'll add up to bigger changes.

Be Mindful

The idea behind mindfulness is that you put away the worry about the tense meeting you just had or looming deadlines. You don't stress or even dream about the future or the past. You're just right here, right now. You simply watch your thoughts and notice the feelings on your body, all without judgment.

It can be as basic as noticing the feel of your shirt against your skin, or the burst of flavor when you bite into your lunch.

Activities like meditation, yoga, and tai chi help you step back from the constant thoughts that run through your mind. That turns out to be a powerful way to change your outlook on life and gain more control over the ups and downs. Mindfulness works best when you set aside time to practice each day.

Watch the Negative Self-Talk

Depression has a way of making everything seem worse. That's when you really need to watch your inner voice.

You know the one. It calls you names after making a simple mistake. Always tells you what you should've done or should be doing now.

Here's the thing: Don't believe it. You aren't the voice in your head. When it starts lashing out, put it in its place. You might want to:

  • Think about what you would say to a friend in this situation. Tell yourself that story instead.
  • Ask your inner voice for proof. Is it right or just a cranky loudmouth?
  • Try to reframe whatever triggered it. If someone just treated you poorly, it may not really be about you. Maybe they're under a lot of stress and you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Express Yourself

Art can be a healthy and safe outlet to work through some inner darkness. There's power in giving creative voice to your deepest feelings.

It's not hard to get started. Pick up an old hobby, or look for a new one. Try one of these tips:

  • Write. Studies show that writing about upsetting events in your life -- for just 15 minutes a day for 3 days -- leaves people feeling better. You can show what you've written to family, trusted friends, or your therapist. But you can also keep it private.
  • Sketch. Pick up an art pad and some colored pencils. Then head to your favorite scenic spot -- or even a local art gallery -- and draw what you see.
  • Paint. Get a set of watercolors or acrylic paints, an art pad, and some brushes. You can make your art at the kitchen table or set up a basic studio somewhere else in your home.
  • Play music. If you used to play an instrument, now might be a good time to take it up again. Or you can try something new. Sign up for those guitar lessons you always dreamed of.
  • Take photos. Dust off your camera and snap pics of whatever you like. You might enjoy tinkering with photo editing software, too, if you have the right gear.
  • Make a movie. Use a video camera or your smartphone. Your kids, your pet, or any subject you like can be the star. You can make things up as you go or write a script to follow.
  • Try other hobbies. Take up needlepoint or knitting. Crochet a sweater. Make a quilt. There are so many ways to explore your creative side.

There's no need to feel shy or embarrassed when you're trying to be creative. The result doesn't matter. Push past your doubts and give artistic expression a shot. You may find that you enjoy it more than you expected.

Have Fun

To really be healthy, your inner self needs some serious outer fun. It can't all be meditation and fine art. Do something that makes you laugh or that you normally take joy in.

It can be harder when you're depressed, so it's important to schedule it into your day. Stick with it even if it doesn't make you happy right now. If you keep at it, it'll lift you up in time.

You might want to get back to your hobbies. Or go places you love, like your favorite breakfast place. Maybe take a walk in the woods if being in nature brings you peace.

Find Purpose

It might seem lofty, or maybe like a luxury for people who have plenty of time. But when your life lacks purpose, you might feel lost and like you don't have direction. And studies show that when you feel a strong sense of purpose, you tend to be more skilled at working through life's challenges.

For some, this comes from their spirituality. For others, it's in their work. If you don't know where to start, notice when you have a feeling of flow in your day, where you're just lost in something and time slips away. Write down when that happens. In time, your notes will be like little crumbs that guide you on your way.

Simplify Your Life

If your life feels jam-packed with work and home chores, it can be hard to remember you even have an inner self.

See if you can slow it down. Cut out what you can, especially when you're feeling low. Sometimes, you just need to tell yourself that it's OK to do less.

Give Thanks

It might sound corny, but it works. When you focus on things you're grateful for, it lifts you up. It shifts your thoughts and helps you focus on the positive.

You might try a gratitude journal, where you write down something you're grateful for each day. You can also make a habit of writing thank-you notes. Or actually counting your blessings each night.

Call a Timeout

When you play sports, you take timeouts for good reason. Sometimes, you need a break to get a better handle on things.

So when you feel overwhelmed, don't be afraid to call one for yourself and do something relaxing. Even better, set up specific times during the day to consciously try to relax, and stick to that routine.

It can be as simple as taking a hot bath or listening to soothing music. Or you can try:

  • Meditation or guided imagery. Try to clear your mind by focusing on one thought or word or phrase, or imagining yourself in a peaceful place, like on the beach or in the woods.
  • Yoga. Some types are more physically demanding than others. Try a class or a video at home.
  • Breathing exercises. Clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Slowly inhale through your nose, holding your breath for only a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through your nose or mouth. Repeat for 20 minutes.
  • Biofeedback. A therapist teaches you to control certain automatic physical functions, like your heart rate, your blood pressure, or the temperature of your skin. Then, when you're in a stressful situation, you can use the techniques to help stay calm.
  • Massage or hypnosis. Ask around for a recommendation. The training requirements for massage therapists and hypnotists vary widely from state to state.

Relaxing doesn't mean you’re "doing nothing" or being lazy. Think of it as a necessity, like eating or sleeping, that helps keep you well.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

HelpGuide.org: "Depression Treatment," "Coping with Depression."

National Health Service: "Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing," "Mindfulness," "How to Be Happier."

BMC Psychiatry: "Lifestyle Medicine for Depression."

University of Minnesota: "What Lifestyle Changes are Recommended for Anxiety and Depression?"

Mayo Clinic: "Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)."

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School: "Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier."

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: "Coping Strategies."

Bourne, E. The Anxiety & Phobia Work Book, Third Edition, New Harbinger Publications, 2000.

Pennebaker J.W., Journal of Clinical Psychology, 1999.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

The American Art Therapy Association.

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