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5 Ways to Improve a Persistently Negative Mood

  • A barrier to improving a persistently low mood is negative expectations.

  • If our mood is low, whatever bothers us will tend to get stuck on repeat in our minds.

  • Thinking errors include hopelessness, self-criticism, or blaming others for our stuckness.

A persistently low mood is when you feel flat, negative, irritable, and low in energy and drive lasting more than a few weeks. You may have been feeling this way for months or longer. Here are some solutions:

1. Try evidence-based treatments, even if you don't think they'll work for you.

A barrier to improving a persistently low mood is negative expectations. These are a symptom and a perpetuating factor, meaning they contribute to why the problem (your low mood) keeps going.

Negative expectations can be believing that interventions

  • that work for other people won't work for you, or

  • aren't possible for you to try or maintain.

The mind is crafty and tends to tell us stories that support maintaining the status quo, even if it's not a very pleasant state.

You can see examples of evidence-based treatments in these two tables from the UK's National Health Service, divided into less severe and more severe depression categories. This will give you an idea of some of your research-supported options.

2. Don't fixate on a treatment you're not interested in trying.

Rumination is an extremely common symptom of low mood. If your mood is low, whatever bothers you will tend to get stuck on repeat in your mind. This could manifest as you thinking repeatedly about how and why you don't want to try one particular treatment.

These days, there's enough variety in evidence-supported treatments that you should be able to find an option that appeals to you. For example, this recent review covers different exercise modalities well.

Trying one treatment option that helps a bit may make trying others feel more possible or appealing, even if, initially, those seemed unappealing or too hard.

3. Solve underlying stressors.

It will be difficult to turn around a low or negative mood if it feels like your life is on the wrong track for a valid but unmanaged reason, which could be your job, your relationship, your broader health, or your finances.

If big stressors are contributing to your low mood, address the underlying causes to the extent you can.

De-shame these.

Not everything may be immediately (or ever) fixable, such as certain health challenges. However, you can come up with a plan to be on the best track possible.

4. Don't trust thoughts that keep you stuck.

Thinking errors keep us stuck. These could include hopelessness, self-criticism, or blaming others for your stuckness. Don't trust your mental explanations for why you're struggling or why your life can't improve.

When we're making thinking errors, our thoughts may be flat-out wrong, or they may be partially right but focused on the wrong things (the small stuff, missing important factors).

Most likely, you won't recognize your errors as errors. For instance, you'll think your self-criticism or hopelessness is deserved, real, and/or the full story.

A solution to this problem is to, broadly, suspend your trust in your thoughts and stories. You can assume there are likely errors and omissions. You can get different perspectives to reality test your thinking.

5. Do something differently.

If you're finding yourself overwhelmed by picking the perfect path forward, concentrate simply on doing something or anything differently that has a reasonable likelihood of being helpful.

For example, instead of fixating on all the different types of exercise you could try, or that maybe you should join a gym, work with what you have to try some exercise today.

Feeling sluggish, stuck, and grumpy for long periods is no fun. You don't deserve that. Try these suggestions to get beyond stuckness, negative thinking, and lethargy, and reclaim your zest for life.


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