Feeling Down? These Activities Will Help You Feel Better Right Now

Brain health

Have you been feeling down lately? If you have, you’re not alone. Over the last month or two, dozens of patients have told me that they’re experiencing low moods and emotional ups and downs. Especially if you live in a colder climate, this time of year can be difficult when you see friends and family out in the sun but it’s blizzarding outside your window. 

We could spend months teasing apart how this past year has affected our health both physically and mentally; but today, let’s focus on how to feel a little bit better.

If you’re struggling with depression, it’s important to work with a professional to make sure you’re getting the care you need. If you’re just feeling the ups and downs and you’re looking for ways to boost your mood, try one of these tips: 


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1. Exercise for 10 minutes or more 

I know you’ve heard it before, but there’s no better mood booster than exercise. And the best part is that even a little bit can help! Research shows that people who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, 16 weeks of regular exercise is just as effective as an antidepressant medication, and exercise can help treat people who haven’t responded to medications. (1)  I know that if you’re feeling down, exercise is the last thing you want to do. That’s why I suggest starting very small, with just 10 minutes of activity. Then, you can slowly build up. Research suggests you can get benefits from just 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week. (2) And interestingly, that 30 minutes didn’t need to be continuous. You could do three 10-minute workouts if 30 minutes of exercise feels like too much at the moment.  

Exactly what to do: Do this free 10-Minute HIIT Workout from PopSugar Fitness. It requires zero equipment and you can do it anywhere. 

2. Get 10 minutes of direct sunlight 

If you live in a colder climate, this time of year can be tough. It might be dreary, snowy, and dark. Spending so many months indoors can also put you at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, which could be causing your low mood.  Research has shown that this vitamin, which we get mainly from direct sunlight on the skin, plays an important role in warding off depression and boosting mood. In fact, one study tested vitamin D supplements on 441 patients with depression and found that high-dose vitamin D could help reduce symptoms. (3) In the short-term, sunlight itself can act as a mood-booster by increasing levels of your brain’s happy chemical, serotonin. (4

Exactly what to do: No matter how hot or cold it might be, try to get outside and let the sun hit your face, hands, and neck and chest for 10 minutes a day — preferably in the morning! 

3. Put your phone away, and get lost in something creative 

You don’t have to watch The Social Dilemma to know that social media and technology have a strong hold on our mood and self-esteem. One of the best ways to improve your mood in the short-term is to put down the phone and get lost in something creative. One study showed that small acts of creativity daily can increase well-being and make you feel happy and energized.(5) The creative action itself could be anything — you could draw with your kid’s crayons, sing along to your favorite song, learn a new instrument, try out a new recipe, make up a TikTok dance, or try painting. I guarantee if you let yourself get lost for just a few minutes, you’ll reemerge feeling refreshed and a little bit lighter. 

Exactly what to do: Order this Paint-By-Numbers Kit ($13.99) from Amazon and try it out. 

4. Write down one thing you're grateful for

Gratitude — which is defined as a general state of thankfulness or appreciation — is like the ultimate antidote for a bad day or week (or in our case, year!). Research has revealed a direct link between gratitude and well-being. (6) I know it can be hard to feel grateful if things are tumultuous or frustrating, but I challenge you to try this anyway. There’s always something to be grateful for! This doesn’t have to be anything big like your job or your relationship, it can be as small as a great cup of coffee, a beautiful flower that’s blooming in your yard, or a sunny day. 

 Exactly what to do: Pull out a piece of paper and write down one small thing you’re grateful for.  Keep that list with you throughout the day and add to it whenever something good pops into your mind.  

5. Give a compliment to a stranger or a friend! 

Sometimes it takes getting outside ourselves to feel better. And there’s no better way to spread happiness than to give someone a compliment. This could be a friend who recently got a new job or a family member who started a new healthy eating plan. Text them and let them know that you’re proud and list a few things that you admire about them. It could also be a stranger! Let someone know that you like their shoes, or that their kids are so polite.  In my experience, this is a foolproof way to get a smile back on your face.  

Exactly what to do: Next time you’re at the store or in the park and you like a person’s shoes or earrings, tell them! Say it out loud and let them know. You’ll see their face light up and you’ll get a mood boost as well. 

6. Bonus: Feel your feelings. 

Sometimes emotions simply need our time and attention, and running away from them or trying to cover them up just makes them grow bigger and stronger. If you’re feeling down, giving your sadness, frustration, anger, or disappointment a little space to just be is sometimes the best path forward. This has been a hard year, our lives were completely disrupted, and there’s a lot of processing we all still need to do. It’s normal if you’re feeling the ups and downs! It’s helpful to think of yourself in quicksand; the more you struggle, the more you sink. Instead, extend your arms and legs and float on top, allowing yourself to relax and release. 

Exactly what to do: If you’re feeling down, take a few minutes to write down how you’re feeling. Don’t try to fix it, just write down how you’re feeling and why without judgement.  

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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  1. “Exercise and Mood | Betterhealth.Vic.Gov.Au.” Better Health, Victorian State Government, 2018, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/exercise-and-mood.
  2. Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
  3. Jorde R, Sneve M, Figenschau Y, Svartberg J, Waterloo K. Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial. J Intern Med. 2008 Dec;264(6):599-609. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02008.x. Epub 2008 Sep 10. PMID: 18793245.
  4. Lambert GW, Reid C, Kaye DM, Jennings GL, Esler MD. Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet. 2002 Dec 7;360(9348):1840-2. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11737-5. PMID: 12480364.
  5. Silvia, P.J., Beaty, R.E., Nusbaum, E.C., Eddington, K.M., Levin-Aspenson, H., Kwapil, T.R. (2014). Everyday creativity in daily life: An experience-sampling study of “little c” creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. 8(2), 183-188. doi: 10.1037/a0035722
  6. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(11):18-22.

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Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.