How to Improve Your Mood Even in a Pandemic

How to Improve Your Mood Even in a Pandemic

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been practicing a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skill called “Improve the Moment” quite a bit. When we can’t change the world around us, we often get stuck in fear, frustration and negative thinking patterns rather than doing things that help us feel better.

Since incorporating this skill, I have noticed an improvement in my mood and the ability to manage intense emotions with ease. As we are living in very unpredictable, and often frustrating times right now, this skill helps us literally improve our mood and manage frustrations that come up with our current circumstances.

Like many skills in DBT, IMPROVE is an acronym. Look over the list below and see which skills you can add into your daily life. You don’t have to try them all at once, just try one or two to see what works for you.

IMPROVE stands for:

I – Imagery

Imagine a peaceful place in your mind or look at an image and focus on that. One of my clients has been using visual meditations (the Calm App has these) when she’s feeling stuck. Try to imagine coping well in the current situation, rather than the doom and gloom.

M – Meaning

Problems and frustrations are assignments for us to fix or change something in our lives. What can you learn from the current situation? If you notice that your anxiety is higher after having the news on in the background or after speaking to that relative, what is the meaning of this experience? Maybe mute or turn off the TV. Or, avoid talking to that person next time. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”

P – Prayer or Practice

If the word prayer doesn’t connect with you, try to replace it with practice. In my DBT groups, several clients have discomfort with this word, so we encourage them to practice something they are trying to improve on in their life—an instrument, learning a language, getting better at a yoga pose or practicing a meditation. The act of learning and practicing improves your mood and confidence. If prayer is up your alley, prayer can mean becoming aware of your connection to the universe. It can be asking your wise mind, how can I shift my energy and mood in this situation?

R – Relaxation

You may be thinking, “how do you do this during a global pandemic?” It’s not impossible, nor is it something to ignore. Our body desires and needs some exhales and some calming energy. So, make it a priority to do something soothing—put on spa music or engage in a sensory experience that is calming. I love essential oils in a diffuser or a good candle to shift my mood. Progressive relaxation, listening to a guided meditation, or engaging in abdominal breathing are powerful tools in changing your body’s stress response.

O – One Thing in the Moment

Try to focus on one thing at a time–that’s right, actively avoid thinking about your frustrations for a minute, if you can. Mindfully play a game on your phone, wash the dishes, organize your desk, just keep putting your attention back on the task at hand—even when your thoughts wonder. Doing one thing in the moment provides time for your brain to settle down. It helps you reduce the intensity of the negative emotion or thought, just try to stay focused on the present rather than the pain of the past or fear of the future. If you can be present with your emotion and accept the situation, focus on just this moment and let the intensity pass.

V – Vacation

Not an actual vacation, rather a break from the task at hand and the current situation. Go run an errand safely, engage with someone on FaceTime in the other room, or simply change locations to get your brain to focus on something else besides the frustration.

E – Encouragement

Activate your inner cheerleader, talk yourself through the crisis like you would if you were with a good friend. Some examples include:

  • I’ve already had other stressful experiences, and I survived.
  • I can get through this.
  • I am learning to do things that make me feel better.
  • I am safe and supported.
  • I’m strong enough to handle what’s happening to me right now.

How can you incorporate some of these skills into your life right now? We may not be able to solve the current circumstances, but we can improve the way we manage them.

Authored by: Emily Roberts, MA, LMHC