BRAVE: Improving Your Mood

On this page, you’ll see how depression can create a vicious cycle in your mind – before thinking about how we can reverse that spiral. You can click the image below to download it.

Depression Spiral

Here is a YouTube video on how depression can affect you, followed by a number of suggestions to boost your mood, with roots in neuroscience.

35 actions to improve your mood, based on the neuroscience book The Upward Spiral

Sources from 

Go out in the sunlight Bright sunlight helps boost the production of serotonin. It also improves the release of melatonin, which helps you get a better night’s sleep (chapter 7). 
Think of happy memories Happy memories boost serotonin in the anterior cingulate (chapter 8). Try to think of one happy memory before you go to sleep—write it in a journal or just reflect on it.
Make a decision Anxiety and worrying are provoked by possibility, not certainty. In fact, many people are less happy when they have more choices, because they have more to worry about. So if you tend to worry, reduce your options and make quick decisions whenever possible. As soon as you make a decision, however small, everything starts to feel more manageable (chapter 6). 
Pay attention to what you can control You can do this by simply paying more attention to what is in your control, which helps modulate your brain activity and quickly reduces anxiety. Beware of thinking this is about changing yourself to fit in with others and getting into the habit of self sacrifice.  
Take a deep breath 


Taking a slow, deep breath—inhaling and then exhaling slowly—calms down the sympathetic nervous system and reduces stress (chapter 9). 
Go for good enough If you try to have the best of everything, you’re likely to be paralyzed by indecision or dissatisfied with your choice. In fact, this kind of “maximizing” has been proven to increase depression. 
Avoid catastrophizing It usually starts with a perfectly reasonable worry, and then, through an incorrect assumption, it snowballs out of control. Well, you can’t control noticing the “alarm” in the first place, but you can reduce its negative impact. First, remind yourself of the more likely (and better) outcomes (“Maybe my friend is busy right now”). Second, whether or not the worst-case scenario is actually likely, make a plan to deal with it (for example, “If my friend doesn’t call me back in three days, I’ll just call again,” or even “If my friend doesn’t like me anymore, then I’ll hang out with another friend”). 
Stay in the now Improving your ability to stay present, a practice known as “mindfulness,” helps enhance these activations and leads to long-term improvements in anxiety and worrying. 
Notice what you notice non-judgementally Try practicing non-judgmental awareness. Non-judgmental awareness is a form of mindfulness that simply means noticing without reacting emotionally, even when things don’t turn out as you expected. 
Have a long  hug A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone called oxytocin. 
Good nights sleep, regular exercise and massage  These all reduce negative views of the world ( see chapters 5, 7, and 11, respectively). 
Do activities with someone else Not only is social interaction good for depression (chapter 11), but social pressure will also help you exercise. Ask a friend, hire a trainer etc. Having an accountability partner makes it more likely you’ll show up.  
Think about what’s important to you – values When you connect your exercise or socialising with others to a long-term goal, it helps your brain overlook momentary discomfort and makes your exercise/actions more satisfying (chapter 6).  
Make exercise simple and easy It’s much easier to convince yourself to do simple, easy activities. Try starting with one push-up after you check your email in the morning. If you start feeling better and want to do more, go for it.  Also consider yoga.  
Stairs or walking Consider a rule to use stairs instead of elevators for short rides and consider walking rather than driving short distances. 
Make a good decision, not the best decision Remember, it’s better to do something only partly right than do nothing at all.  
Take action  A decision without action is just a thought, and while thoughts can be helpful, they won’t have as powerful an impact on your brain. A decision with action is something else entirely: it’s a robust way to start an upward spiral. 
What’s important to you -your values Focus on what’s really important to you. What activities make you feel most fulfilled? What achievements are you most proud of? What good qualities would you want co-workers or friends to use in describing you? 
Decide for something you want, not against something you don’t want For example, instead of “I don’t want to do a bad job,” say, “I want to do a great job.” This type of positive thinking is more effective at changing your behaviour. 
Avoid bright lights after the sun goes down You don’t need to walk around in the dark, but when it’s getting close to bedtime, turn off most of the lights in your house. 
Brighten your day Bright lights during the day help synchronize your circadian rhythms and improve your sleep. So take a few minutes to go walking in the sunshine.  
Resolve/commit to change Making a resolution to change is more effective than simply wanting to change, and dramatically increases your chance of success. Being specific in what you want to change helps make it more achievable. For example, “I resolve to work out more” is not as effective as “I resolve to go to the gym before work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Remember the good times Maybe you can remember a special birthday from childhood or a fun trip or even something as simple as a pleasant Sunday afternoon. If you’re having difficulty, talk to an old friend, look at photographs, or read your diary from happier times. 
A splash of cold water on your face Sudden cold water on your face slows down your heart rate by indirectly stimulating the vagus nerve.  
The power of music, singing, and dancing  All three can elevate your mood. 
Smile.  It’s simple and improves your mood. The complex and amazing process of biofeedback will jump into action. 
Laugh The brain doesn’t distinguish much between genuine laughter and fake laughter, and fake laughing can often lead to laughing at yourself for real. 
Wear sunglasses On bright days, we often contract our eye muscles while squinting to reduce glare from the sun. So while it might be a beautiful day, you’re sending signals to your brain that you’re slightly upset.
Write a detailed thank-you letter Think of someone who has been especially kind to you—a friend, a teacher, a co-worker—whom you’ve never properly thanked. Write a letter thanking this person, being specific about what he or she did that affected your life. Consider delivering the letter in person. This form of gratitude can have a long-lasting  effect.  
Keep a gratitude diary Take a few minutes every day to write down three things you’re grateful for and say how you have made that happen. “I am grateful for my friend Susan -I keep in touch with her.”
Be around people and keep up your social connections Downward spirals are more likely when you’re alone. If you start to feel your mood sliding downhill, try going somewhere where there are other people around, like a library or coffee shop. You don’t need to interact with others; just being in the same physical space can help. 
Reflecting on rejection We often experience something as rejection when it’s really just a misunderstanding. One option is to hold this lightly until there is clarity, but if it is true rejection, it will still need to be held lightly.  
Talk to people you care about  Email them. Call them. Even better, go for a walk with them or meet for coffee—do something fun. 
Do what you used to enjoy.  It can be stressful if you don’t enjoy hobbies or activities anymore, but you can overcome this with your own form of behavioural activation therapy. Make a list of things you used to enjoy (playing tennis, going to the movies with friends, and so on). Recognize that your lack of enjoyment is only a temporary situation and keep doing the things you used to enjoy, even if they don’t seem as much fun as before. 
See a professional Make an appointment with doctor, a nurse or nurse practitioner, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. They’ve undergone years of training to help people like you.  

 Copyright © 2015 by Alex Korb The Upward Spiral – using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression one small change at a time 

New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 

5674 Shattuck Avenue 

Oakland, CA 94609 


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