9 Ways to Boost Your Mood – Quarantined or Whatever

Humans are social creatures, and if you aren’t socializing at least a little bit (my mother recently told me we have to interact with two people per day, but no one knows where she got that number), you may start to notice your mood suffer.  And once you’re feeling blue, you’re less likely to go socialize. It can be vicious.  

But you can break the cycle.  You can cheer up, even without face-to-face interaction.  Whether you’re responding to COVID-19, working from home, or just introverted, there’s times when we don’t want to go out and interact with other humans, face-to-face.  There’s still plenty you can do to boost your mood, with or without other living things. It’s ok to feel blue, but it’s also ok to change something in an effort to feel less blue.

And please, feel encouraged to reach out to professional help if you think you might even possibly benefit from it.  

#1: Exercise (Cardio) to Boost Your Mood

Exercise is important enough that it’s on this list twice, because lifting heavy things gives me a different sort of joy than cardiovascular exertion.  The best part about this is that a walk–to the end of the block, or up and down a hallway–totally counts. I can walk for hours in my neighborhood without a face-to-face interaction, but even walking around the apartment counts as steps.  Can you do 10 jumping jacks? 

Cardio bonus points: play peppy music, and dance along to it.  

There’s conflicting evidence about if sad songs or happy songs do us more good when we’re blue, but personally, nothing helps my mood faster than Taylor Swift–the upbeat stuff, the dance pop.  And yes, you get cardio happiness bonus points if you get up and dance, wave your arms, or even just tap a foot to whatever music you choose. We can get a mood-boost double-whammy by dancing to cheerful music, or energetically singing along to whatever gets you moving. 

#2: Exercise (Strength)

You probably don’t want to touch anything at the gym, and that’s reasonable.  So do body-weight squats with, you guessed it, your body weight. Or push-ups.  Use cans or bottles of water for bicep or tricep curls, if you don’t have actual free weights.  A gallon of milk actually weighs slightly more than a gallon of water, but both are between 8 and 9 pounds.  If your weights seem too light, lift them more. Too heavy, lift less. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps, or more–going to fatigue always makes me feel like a real bad@$$.  

Not about to get up from reading online articles and do squats?  Ok, meet me halfway–do shoulder rolls, here and now. A few forwards, a few backwards, and voila–you’ve done something physical, and should feel better about yourself for it.  And maybe do something else, before the day is over?

#3: Video Chat (or Just Phone) Someone

Remember my mother’s oddly specific advice about socializing with a minimum of two people, every day?  Phone calls, video chats, even group gaming with a chat function all counts. You can get credit for–and the mental health benefits of–socializing, without having to leave your house.  I truly believe that hearing one another is better than just typing messages, and seeing faces and reactions (i.e., video chatting) is the best replacement for face-to-face interaction, but any form of communication is better than none.  

Write an email or send a text.  Tell a story to a young cousin or niece.  Call a parent (or whoever!) just to tell them you love and appreciate them.  Heck, start the conversation with, “this article on the internet said to call someone if you want to feel better, so I called you.  What’s shakin’?”

Ok, the “what’s shakin’” is entirely optional.  Hello or hi work in nearly every circumstance.  

If you honestly can’t think of anyone to call or game with–get on social media, or a reddit forum.  They aren’t known for kindness, necessarily, but in my experience, people on either are happy to bond over photos of pets.  Seek out positive human interaction, and you’re more likely to find it. Spend some time blocking people who bring you down–for whatever reason–and Twitter becomes a far more positive set of interactions.  

#4: Play With A Pet

I alluded to pet photos earlier, but even just seeing a cute animal can serve as a small, but real, mood boost.  And that’s nothing, compared to hugging a real, furry loved one. I have three cats, and interacting with them generally brings me joy–I say generally, because sometimes the tabby lives to knock things off my desk, but even when Holly is a hellspawn, she’s at least cute.  And you can hear her purr from outside the house.  

Not all of you are cat people, and that’s ok–I recently met someone who carried a crab around with her for emotional support.  And somehow, it worked–it was easier for this young lady to express the crab’s concerns than her own, but hey–concerns were being expressed and addressed.  Crabs can help. Rats can help. Even tweets of adorable lizard photos can help.  

#5: Read Fiction – Heck, Read Most Anything*

Heck, read poetry or fiction, essays or blogs–but *try to stay away from social media where people only show their best lives.  Pick a book, and try to read a set number of pages each day. I keep track, roughly, of how many pages I read each day, and then I try to beat my own statistics.  If you say you aren’t a reader, I say you haven’t found the right things to read. Try audiobooks. Try Young Adult fiction–I love books geared towards teens, personally.  

I read at bedtime while I’m waiting for my sleeping meds to kick in, and I love reading in a long, leisurely bath.  Other than that, it takes a conscious effort to read more during the day–but, I promise, it’s worth it.  

Going to the library in person might break the rules of a quarantine, or just be too overwhelming, but many municipal libraries have more digital options than you might realize.  My local library has audiobooks and e-reader books, all available without any face-to-face interaction.  

#6: Find an Online Course – or even a YouTube Speaker – That Pumps Up Your Mood

If you find the right course, lesson, speaker, or tutorial, the best-case scenario is that you’re simply too busy to remember that you’re blue.  I’m slowly making my way through a free college calculus class–thanks, Saylor Academy! (Though, side-note, my therapist thinks I’m ridiculous for advocating the therapeutic, mood-boosting properties of calculus, but hey–to each, their own.  Find your own.)  

Resources include Khan Academy, Saylor Academy, YouTube, and heck-google itself

#7: Make A Gratitude List

This is something my father regularly advises me to do, especially at the first sign of a down mood.  

And that’s saying something, because my father also regularly warns against excessive writing–writing can lead to ruminating, which can lead to a big ol’ bummer.  But writing a gratitude list is, by most standards, safe writing: the more gratitude in one’s life, generally, the better.  

So.  Pick a number–10 is a nice start–and list that many things that you are thankful for.  You can specify individual people, individual songs, authors, actors, whatever–or group as you see fit.  You are running this show. That said, we are generally more thoughtful when we hand-write, so consider pulling out the paper for this one.  Or type it up–that’s still significantly better than nothing.  

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#8: Make Something In The Kitchen, Even if Just PB&J–or Yogurt & Granola

There’s a few levels here: accomplishing something, even if simply feeding yourself, gives a boost of satisfaction.  Plus, drastically changing one’s schedule means one may lose cues for meals, and nothing plummets your mood quite like failing to keep a schedule. If you drink a yogurt shake in the car on the way to work, and are no longer driving to work–then you may need to actively remind yourself that it’s time for food.  

I write down what I plan to eat ahead of time, and do my best to stick with it.  This is generally a good strategy for time management–write stuff down, then stick to the plan as well as possible.  I also check off “real meals” on my daily habit tracker, so I can see how well I did over a period of time.  
If you’re feeling ambitious, make something a bit more complicated: we found a recipe for {instant-pot broccoli mac and cheese} on a blog, and while it’s quick and relatively simple, it feels so fancy.  Plus, it’s enough food for two people for days–generally, we get at least 6 meals out of 1 batch. 

#9: Light – Natural or Artificial

This one can be as easy as opening window coverings throughout the home–or far more difficult, if, say, one lives in a cloudy climate or windowless apartment.  Even people without a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can benefit from more real or artificial sunlight each day. I’ve invested in an phototherapy light to improve my mood, but that’s just the beginning.  I have plants and aquaria all around the house, and most of the lights are on timers, to automatically come on in the morning and go off before bedtime.

It’s actually kind of amazing to have a sunrise effect indoors, at the same time, every day.  Assuming I go to bed at a reasonable hour, the “indoor sunrise” helps me wake up and get moving.  Outlet timers, in general, are just as magical–if you struggle with using social media after a certain hour, set the computer–or the wifi for the house–to simply shut off at a certain hour.  Have a lamp come on next to the bed 15 minutes before you mean to get up. Set the coffee pot to come on at 6 AM. Whatever. Get more outlet timers than you think you need, because they may change your life.  

Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to do something—act!  Taking one small piece of action is better than reading about dozens of things you could do. 

Bonus Act: Meditation

I’ve never learned to meditate properly, but those who like it, love it. Figure it out; try meditating today!

1 thought on “9 Ways to Boost Your Mood – Quarantined or Whatever”

  1. great list thank you for it. i especially like the excersice part , even though it is hard for me to actually do lol. thanks prof puig!

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