Prior to 2020, life was plenty challenging enough, but after? As soon as we entered this new and momentous decade, 2020 took the reins, told us to reach for the sky, and it doesn’t look like its going to stop terrorizing us anytime soon.

After months of isolation and contemplation, as well as witnessing what’s been going on, I wanted to share six things that have helped me change my mood and take control of my feelings in this crazy world.

[Grab a cuppa tea and settle in to read and watch. This is your homework today.]

Turn off the news

I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) which means I’ve had to learn to live in The Age of Information and Whole Lotta Noise. I’ve had to create boundaries around mass media consumption.

But I’ve also had arguments on why you should stay informed versus why you shouldn’t. This moves us into personal values territory, so it bears taking a moment to reflect on why we watch the news.

There have been periods of my life where I’ve done research around current events and times when I had no idea what was going on. Just recently, I was reading everything it seemed on COVID-19 and honestly, looking back, a once a week update would have been enough. If anything, I could make the argument that more damage has been done between us and science and governments because of the news’ constant barrage of insignificant, contradictory, and redundant information.

[This short video is great. He has some zingers like “news is to the brain what sugar is to the body”, “news gives you the illusion that you are understanding and that illusion is dangerous”, and “the more news you consume, the less you understand the world”.]

But that TED talk was years ago, right? so here’s a article from this year, where Rolf Dobelli throws in even more delicious zingers and talks in-depth about the value of rethinking how you stay informed. [Read to the end about what journalist have to do these days. I had no idea.]

What do you value?

I wrote about my values back in 2018, and I’ve written a more specific post about this, but I wanted to publish this first. Plus, you don’t need me to share mine to start thinking about this question because it can help prioritize your time and energy.

Because if you value kindness, courage, adventure that’s going to help you decide what’s important.

Here’s a Lifehack article to get you started. “Values are what you believe matter most in life. Everyone’s values are different. Some common values are love, success, friendship, intelligence, and respect.”

[And these days, the news often (unconsciously?) tells you what their values are and assumes you hold the same. It’s what couples unknowingly fight about, what causes conflict between parents and children. It’s this invisible set of assumptions that are worth exploring.]

Listen to music

This is the one I use all the time, and it has the quickest effect. It’s part of my morning routine, my meditation, when I’m at my desk (which is often), when I’m exercising, cooking, and part of my evening routine too. Don’t get me wrong, I love silence and quiet, but when I’m “doing other stuff” I like instrumentals to give me strength, focus, and lift my mood.

A friend of mine posted on FB that she was depressed and needed a song to help her. I don’t know what everyone shared, but I told her to listen to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. How could anyone stay sad during such awesomeness is beyond me, but her post is actually a great excuse to get a fun song list together for when you need it.

You are welcome.

Consider some of the scientific benefits of listening to music:

  • it improves your mood and reduces stress
  • boosts brain chemicals
  • can make you more productive and creative
  • can alleviate symptoms of mental disorders
  • and help you to be a more prosocial person
It’s crazy, this thing called music.

Get metaphysical, get smart

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decline of organized religion and their related communities coincides with the great rise of extremism and conspiracy “theories”. Humans, it seems, need something to believe in, a framework or system to help them navigate life.

I was raised Christian and Buddhist and took a World Religion class in order to find one. Seriously. I’m not ashamed to admit that I need help, guidance, some answers, damn it, and I don’t mind reading around for something that works. I think this is why I’m attracted to philosophy.

Besides being ideal, I’m also practical, and that’s why I like stoicism so much.

There’s a lot out there on stoicism, and I thought this video did a good summary.

The understanding that there are things in my control and outside of it seems so obvious, and yet how many times have I gotten upset over things that are not in my control? Living in Thailand, especially after all this time, can be really challenging because Thai culture is so different than American. But if I can remember the dichotomy of control, then I can greet traffic, lack of personal space, and so on with much more sanity.

Go dark (or get out of your head)

Another strategy that I have employed is to read material that highlights the horrors of humanity: war, abuse, genocide, etc. The idea is not to get depressed, but to use it as a tool to remind you to be grateful. It can also serve as a reminder that we live, believe it or not, in the least violent time in history. [I know, 2020, I know.]

But this is not for everyone. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was getting into WWII documentaries a while ago and this interestingly enough made our COVID pandemic pale in comparison; this wasn’t my intent at all. I guess you can look at the darker side of history as a perspective pusher.

Similarly, I remember when I was going through a hard time in Cambodia, and I reached for a book called Written by Herself: Autobiographies on American Women. I had started off with the first chapter by Black women, and then I decided to skip around and read whoever struck my fancy.

Margaret Sanger’s work on birth control was particularly memorable. I had no idea, because I really never thought about it, like really thought about how horrible it would be for women to be in constant poverty because they couldn’t control (their husbands or their bodies) how many children they had. Sanger is so bad ass, too. She actually slugged a guy so she could rescue this woman from her apt.

Trust me, any problems I was having about work drained away as I read about extraordinary women doing extraordinary things.

Hug a crocodile

We have a large plush crocodile toy that’s maybe three to four feet long? I don’t know but she gives the best hugs.

Psychologists consider stuffed toys to be “transitional objects which is self-chosen by a child to provide comfort, solace, predictability, and constancy — representational of a stable and predictable world”. I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like a perfectly legitimate thing for an adult to want as well.

Like I get it, seeing a grown man hug a teddy bear might give the impression that he needs the furniture bolted down and the walls to be padded. However, it’s more common than you might think. No, not the padded room bit but, sleeping with stuffed animals and having them be your most prized possession. Crazy, right? Nah, this Guardian article is great and heart-warming (pictures of adults with teddies!).

As a lifelong fan of these little guys, I can say, they do provide such comfort and joy.


How do you improve your mood?

43 replies on “How to improve your mood (extra strength edition)

  1. Really good work here Lani. Found myself agreeing with all of it. Less news, absolutely. Music, yes. Stoicism? 100%. I’m still knee deep in Stoic titles over here. I would add exercise to the list just for the endorphins.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I thought about throwing in exercise but everyone should by now know this and have been hit over the head re: the amazing benefits of moving your body. Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes to everything you mentioned, plus art/doodling/sketching. A wonderful sheep (https://awonderfulsheep.com/) inspired me to start a doodle-a-day calendar. Sketching and yoga are my current therapies.

    Thanks for the links to the Tao of Seneca, I got my summer reading covered. I’m an aspiring stoic, who knew?

    Bisous!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awesome. Jean’s art work makes me smile and I’m glad she was able to wrangle another artist!

      There have been many times I have thought about an adult coloring book or getting back into some artistic endeavors but alas, during quarantine we couldn’t buy any of those things!

      I would check out https://jeremyjameshongkong.wordpress.com/ as he has written lots of reviews of stoic books which you might find useful. The Tao of Seneca might not be your cup of tea. Thanks!

      Like

      1. Thanks for the blog suggestion, found a great book that’s easier for beginners.

        Also, looked up your HSP link and found out that I am one. Ugh, thought it’s something I could cure. Everything is illuminated, as they say.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this blog post, Lani. I always say that when I grab my colouring book you must know that I am desperately trying to hang on to my sanity. It always slowly drags me out of a dark hole. Yoga has always been a way for me to stay sane and relatively balanced, and I definitely know when I’ve fallen off the mat, as my moods become much more eratic. My latest obsession is Trapeze Yoga – hanging upside down, or doing poses I never thought I could manage has been hugely empowering, and it is definitely helping with the relationship I have with fear.

    Like you, I avoid the news. If it can’t add to the quality of my life, I am just not interested in even knowing about something, and the interesting thing is that I anyway have a fair idea of what is going on in the world regardless. I’m not a big music fan, but it is definitely a great and quick way to lift my mood. My bluetooth earphones, and Cloud Cult’s album Waves was my saving grace from having to listen to every single phone call my husband was on during this time that he has been working from home.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hahahhaa. Yeah, background music is so underrated. We also live in spaces where there’s this low hum of machines that we use in our lives so some classical or soothing nature sounds can alleviate that.

      Trapeze Yoga sounds great! I’ve seen those photos and it looks like a lot of fun. Never thought about the fear factor but you’re right, I can imagine hanging upside down gets you thinking of falling right quick!

      A little yoga is part of my morning routine. Consider it one of the pillars that keep me together – hahahhaa.

      Coloring book + music and you got yourself a very nice time 🙂 Thanks so much Jolandi!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There is some very good advice here! Thank you. I’m now wishing my childhood teddy bear was here with me in SA and not collecting dust in my dad’s attic in Maryland.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this post! Definitely watching less news. Glued to the Insight Timer app. Try to hug my giant stuffed dog as often as possible. Have been reading a few novels and non-fiction re: WWII, which is also reminding me that it wasn’t that long ago and that we need to remember how out of control it can get when governments spread lies and aren’t held accountable. Love cozy teas and calming or dancy music. And remembering to be grateful for all that I have, for Nana and for all my working brain and body parts. It’s easy to succumb to the weight of the world. But we also have to stop and look at how beautiful it can be. Penguin, puppy and baby panda videos help too. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you are doing so many great things for your spiritual well-being and health! Being grateful is important and I love all the research surrounding it.

      Funnily, I just had the apt maintenance in here fixing a leaky sink when the office manager noticed my soothing music. 😛 I had to explain why I was listening to “sleep music” – I suppose you could sleep to this but I just like setting a relaxing mood!

      Had to look up the Insight Timer app. And yes, animal videos are so touching. I almost always get teary eyed. Thanks and please hug your giant dog for me!

      Like

    1. It’s seems strange to do it, doesn’t it? But there has always been horrible events and wonderful ones too. Hopefully, we can learn from the bad. Take care, xo

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a fantastic post. I need to read through it again.

    In terms of “going dark,” I read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. Very dark! Today I ordered I biography of Pope Francis. I’m expecting that to be inspirational. We’ll see.

    I’d forgotten how much fun the Bee Gees were. After listening to Stayin’ Alive, I found a bunch of Bee Gees songs on Pandora.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome! I watched a Bee Gee’s documentary and it was wonderful. You really learn about what prolific songwriters and musicians they were. And their earlier stuff was so different than disco!

      Glad you are into some deep reading there, too. Thanks! and stay safe! xo

      Like

  7. Great post. I’m so easily distracted by music–even instrumental, cuz then I want to dance to it–so when I’m working, I’m into silence. But, it’s never really very quiet. Today there’s the sound of a crew of Amish guys putting a metal roof on a neighbor’s house. (The men are quiet, but their drills are not.) And birds–the birds are going crazy, so loud, during this pandemic. I think, with limited human mobility, they know they’re in charge. And we live near the water, where there are a lot of sailboats, so there’s always the sound of rigging clanging on metal masts. And flapping flags. This kind of not-quite-quiet definitely improves my mood! That, and a good walk around the block, and an iced-coffee with whole milk!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see what you’re saying. Those sounds that remind us that we are surrounded by nature and life! I like what you said about the birds too 😛

      We definitely get background noise here. Today though it’s the rain which is lovely.

      Instrumentals do not make me dance. Hahaha. You’re so funny. But I get what you say about writing in silence. I generally can’t listen to anything when writing. I can’t write drunk, tipsy or high either. I need to be 100% there. Can’t even do a coffee shop – too many distractions.

      Thanks, Rebecca! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a brilliant post Lani! You and I share a lot in common and you have provided me with some cool resources here -especially introducing me to Rolf Dobrelli.

    I stopped reading or watching news in 2001 and kept it this way until only 5 years ago when I felt that things like Brexit, and now Covid, meant I should stay informed. I am no longer so sure it was wise and I think I should stop again.

    Thank you! xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, we do have that in common. For the US presidency I also got involved and “informed” because it felt important, blah, blah, blah, but like many Americans, after it happened, we all felt drained and hungover. It was later pointed out that the election “news” and hype was started earlier and therefore was more prolonged. Kind of like when they start bringing out the Christmas decorations and music earlier in the year… Christmas in July anyone?

      Then with COVID I felt the same way! It felt very important, and now I’m so burned out, and once again and wondering, am I any more informed?

      Thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. This is fantastic! And I agree with everything. Especially the news part, which is always controversial. I think there’s a fine line between staying informed and feeding the drama and excitement your brain craves; bad news is more interesting so that’s what’s reported, but it isn’t all the news.

    And double hell yeah for plushies! My big ol narwhal is perfect for cuddles and comfort! Go plushie squad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, my life has enough going on without the news adding to it 😛 Plus I’m reminded that the news is made to be addicting and there’s something about knowing that the “news” wants to manipulate my emotions that really turns me off.

      It’s probably the ‘control freak’ in me. Another reason why I don’t like getting drunk or doing drugs.

      Ohhh, I like calling them plushies. Yes to the plushie squad and plushie family! xxoo

      Like

  10. I go for a bike ride or look a photos of wild birds, nature for the days just too crappy to go outside. Yes, for me, classical music helps. Music with no words. I’m free to think, feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, music with lyrics is too distracting. For some reason I end up following along, appreciating the rhymes or not, and I can’t stop.

      And a big yes to nature, always. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Heck yes on the turning off the news to get some peace in your head! I had to do that in 2016, which was a shame because it was also right after I got married, too! BUT it was necessary. I really appreciate your honesty that you took a religion class to find one and your personal recs for music that helps you get out of it too! I usually read or create an art piece – I love to give mixed media pieces to my friends and family as gifts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I could get back into being artistic, coloring, painting, etc. You’re lucky. I just don’t have the space, but maybe when life starts to feel settled again, I’ll pick up a brush or two!

      Yeah, the news is one of those industries that has gotten more toxic and less about telling the truth or being all investigative. I understand, it’s about clicks and being first, but being first often means getting it wrong.

      Good for you, I’m glad you have good anchors in place for peace of mind. xo

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha when we were in Colombia and had limited space my students were the ones who encouraged me setting aside time to draw and paint… for many of them it was their only reprieve in hard living situations and erratic schooling. So I can’t take credit for it! But it made a huge difference and has continued to 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nice. I knew ‘lack of space’ was an excuse as soon as I typed it 😛 so the honest answer is, it’s simply not a priority right now. When COVID struck and when I would have liked to have done some art, the option was not on the table. Nice to hear those students of your taught you something too 😛 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  12. A great list—I like how you pointed out there are many different things we can try. I didn’t consider diving deep into things like you did with your WWII documentaries, for example. The stuff you linked to was also interesting. (And I can confirm the journalist struggle described in that interview is true for a lot of them. The journalists I know share similar experiences though some are thrilled by the challenge of keeping up.)

    I too agree about the correlation between the increase of conspiracy theories with the lower popularity of organized religion. Social media adds to the herd mentality on top of that, with outraged people climbing on the train without factchecking. People want short summaries these days but they don’t realize that often comes without the foundation that builds up how we think about things. Which is scary when we almost always end up needing to believe in something.

    And our approach to faith has some similarity. I also took a world religion class, read a lot, and interviewed people of different faiths before I committed to Christianity. It was important to me to believe in something that my heart and mind aligned with.

    Thanks for sharing this, Lani! It got me thinking, which I’m sure you can tell from the long comment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, well you know after you write a post like this the universe says, “Oh yeah, well take this!” so I’ve had to take my own medicine. 😛

      But these are trying times and it’s worth the effort to figure out how to stay sane in it.

      I like your train analogy. I see friends leaving FB and social. I was surprised by how many don’t read the news anymore. I’m also surprised by people sharing opinions as if we all had the same ideas which confirms how much of a bubble we can live in.

      Unfortunately it’s a lot of work these days to find the truth, and even that word is up for debate as many go with their feelings over facts. I think there’s something to be said about sitting with information before jumping to share your opinion on it.

      Thanks, Daisy! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Truly fantastic post, Lani!! When this current crisis started I had two things happening: first, I stopped watching the news for 3 weeks because I felt absolutely overwhelmed and it gave me nightmares. Second, I woke up several times with ‘Staying alive’ by the Bee Gees playing in my head! And I didn’t listen to it the night before so I don’t know where it came from but it helped a great deal to feel much more positive with the whole situation. 😀

    Now I have to confess I’m back to the news but skip them from time to time. And like Dobrelli said, if there’s something really important we will know about it through other sources.

    And I totally get that you hug your crocodile – I cuddle my stuffed animals every day (a lion, a sheep and a polar bear – I’m sure that’s how some hilarious joke must start 😉). Do you know this wonderful story ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’? It has been written about the same time as Peter Pan I think and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s about the unconditional love between a stuffed animal and a small boy it belongs to. If you haven’t read yet I know you’re going to love it! xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I know about The Velveteen Rabbit. It’s such a touching story. Glad to know I’m not the only person who loves her animals! I love them so much! 😀

      You were good about the news in the beginning so you should congratulate yourself. I was the opposite. I spent so much time reading everything and because the virus was such a moving target, as is most information, it feels like I’ve learned/gained nothing. In fact, if I was still reading it, it would be the same ‘ol same ‘ol. Now that’s sobering.

      Agree! If it’s important enough we’ll find out! Thanks, Sarah!

      Liked by 1 person

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