Did you know that there are skills you can practice that are clinically proven to improve your mood? It’s not uncommon for depression to develop in the teen years, and in fact, 5% of boys and 12% of girls will experience a major depressive episode through their adolescence. Many people who experience depressive episodes will seek out therapy or talk to their doctor about medication, but the majority of young people never get the professional support they need. It’s hard work to beat depression, but if you try at least one of these mood-boosting Anti-Depressant Skills every day, you can start building healthy habits to improve your mental health. A 1% shift can make a big difference!
30 Minutes of Daily Exercise: Research has shown that exercise can be just as beneficial for treating depression as taking an anti-depressant! And by exercise, I don’t mean that you have to run full tilt on a treadmill. Daily exercise could look like a walk to the coffee shop, cleaning your house, or doing a yoga class. To find success, it’s best to CHOOSE to make exercise part of your schedule instead of waiting until you feel like exercising.
Mindfulness: A daily practice of mindfulness has been clinically proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in teens. Try listening to some calming music (I recommend the album A Still Quiet Place for Teens by Amy Saltzman), or use a meditation app like Breethe, which has meditations as short as 5 minutes.
Sleep/Wake Routine: Teens should be getting between 8-9 hours of sleep each night, but most do not. Getting enough good quality sleep is critical to learning ability, mood, and emotional regulation. Focus on waking up at the same time each day so that your internal clock will learn to be alert at a consistent time. Although it is alluring to sleep in after a bad night, you are better off to get up and start your day – that way, you will still feel sleepy at bedtime. Definitely talk to your doctor or therapist if sleep issues persist.
Giving to Others or Volunteering: If you struggle with depression, it’s east to inward and become self-focused, so the act of volunteering your time or doing something for another person (such as making dinner or offering to walk the dog) will help you to feel more connected to others, and combat the loneliness that often contributes to depression.
Eat well: It goes without saying that “garbage in” will result in “garbage out.” Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water to promote psychological wellbeing.
Get out in Nature: Simply looking at nature, being in nature, and/or hearing the sounds of nature can help to improve your mood. Instead of walking the halls at lunch, get outside in the sunshine and look at some trees! An added bonus: the vitamin D your skin absorbs from the sun will also help to make you feel better.
Laughter: You can boost your mood by reading a funny story or watching a hilarious YouTube clip. Have a “go to” list ready for when you need your next mood booster.
Socialize to Break Isolation: a hallmark of depression is isolation and withdrawal from people. Making plans with friends or spending time with your family very important for building a connection with others. Seek out relationships with people who lift you up rather than pull you down with their own issues. Moods are contagious, so choose your people wisely. Teens do best with breaking the bedroom “dwelling cycle,” when they MAKE THE CHOICE to be social instead of waiting until they feel like being social.
Replace Unhelpful Thinking Patterns with More Truthful, More Helpful Coping Statements: Jot a few truthful statements down on a “coping card” to carry in your wallet and read them to yourself whenever you need a boost or want to start your day on the right foot. Here are some of my favourites when life feels hopeless and overwhelming:
“This is uncomfortable, but I can handle it if I take a few slow, deep breaths.”
“No feeling lasts forever.”
“I am just going to let this pass through my body.”
Furry Friend: Petting a dog or listening to a cat’s purr can support your nervous system and help to improve your mood and calm you down. If your parents have resisted the idea of having a pet, this research might help your case!
Turn Your Electronics Off Two Hours Before Bedtime: Research is showing a clear connection between looking at screens prior to bedtime and sleeping issues. If getting a good night’s sleep is a priority, plan to turn your screens off 2 hours before bedtime. Use the downtime to take a relaxing bath, read a book, daydream, do some stretching before bed, or even call a friend or connect with your family. You may even find that you really enjoy mucking around in your imagination each night – and getting a better sleep to boot!
Pursue a Right Brain, Recharging Hobby: When you engage in a fun activity that you can “lose yourself in,” your right brain engages your parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system. Writing a poem, doing art, cooking, hiking, playing music, or building a puzzle all help to calm your system and reduce your overall stress level. It’s not frivolous to find time each day to do something that you love… we all need to learn to be selfish sometimes. Self care is important!
Journal: Write down your thoughts on paper to express your inner world. Before your head hits the pillow, write down three things that put a smile on your face or three things that you are grateful for. It takes practice to strengthen the “positive muscle” of your mind, but with consistency, you can learn to rewire your thinking habits.