Life Advice: Healthy Ways to Recover When You’re Feeling Sad

Portrait of sad young girl with the big chocolate

We all know the cliché.  A sad, depressed girl sits alone in her apartment in the dark, unshowered, wearing sweatpants, eating a carton of ice cream while watching cheesy movies and listening to sad music that speaks to her soul.  And let’s not forget the constant bouts of sobbing.

 The worst part of this picture is that the cliche is pulled straight from reality.  At one time or another, most girls (and even some guys) have indulged in just this way.  Often, when life hands you a major disappointment the instinct is to close ranks, wallow and stop functioning until the pain passes.  As a culture, as friends, we encourage it.

“Whatever makes you feel better.”
“Take a load off.”
“Do what you have to.”

But this is the WRONG approach.

All the things people usually do to comfort themselves when life gets hard are, in fact, the exact opposite of what would actually make them truly feel better. Take a day or two away from the rest of the world to lick your wounds, but the longer you shut down, the more likely you are to stay down.

I recently went through some major setbacks that touched on many aspects of my life, creating a domino effect and causing me to question my career, my purpose in life and my qualifications for being anyone’s friend.  I’m not alone in this – turns out this kind of experience happens to all of us at least once.  But I’ve been in the business of making people’s lives better long enough to know that I needed some additional support, especially given that the situation was so unfamiliar to me. I spent a lot of time researching how to get better as quickly as possible.  Here are a few great tips on how to cheer yourself up when life has you down.

Indulge in Healthier Comfort foods

Healthy vanilla frozen yogurt

Image from Desserts with Benefits

We’re all smart enough to know that the things we like to eat when we are sad are bad for us. We are drawn to foods that tend to be unhealthy and make us feel guilty later.  Perhaps the worst part is that after the initial sugar rush, we end up emotionally worse off than before we indulged.  Yet the things that are good for us never seem to have the same kind of appeal in our moments of heartache.

Never fear, there are some treats that fall under both categories!  My friend Annie is quite the foodie, and the first thing she did when I crashed was bring over delicious snacks to keep me going.  Here are just a few examples.

  • Dark chocolate. The darker the better.  Lower in fat, calories, and sugar than other types of chocolate, it also is full of antitoxins and lowers blood pressure, which may help control those emotional ups and down.

  • Spicy foods! Researchers have found that they  release endorphins, which can instantly cheer you up.  Annie’s suggestion: after a meal of curry, try a foolproof dessert like dark chocolate infused with chili.

  • Dried fruit, especially berries, have enough condensed natural sugar to make them a sweet, healthier alternative to candy. Plus, they also contain antitoxins.

  • Banana slices covered in almond butter can help replace a craving for cookies or cookie dough.

  • Annie even came up with a few alternatives for ice cream, the ultimate comfort food! For dairy lovers, toss containers of Greek yogurt in the freezer and then slightly thaw before eating.  It has a consistency and flavor amazingly similar to ice cream.  For a dairy free option,  try a shake with almond milk, soaked figs, flax seed, cacao nibs, organic peanut butter and banana.  Guaranteed to taste like you’re cheating, but it will actually help you.



Image from Conde Nest Traveller

The world is a big place, full of endless options, and when it feels like the life you built is falling apart, it helps to remind yourself that your world is not the whole world.  Depending on your availability and resources, this can mean traveling to another country and culture as I did when I flew off to Italy.  If getting out of the country isn’t an option, think about visiting a new city closer to home, perhaps using this time to visit friends or long distance family members.  Another version of an escape: change up your environment by staying with a friend for awhile and letting yourself disappear into his or her world, routine, and even problems.  It can provide breathing room and perspective on your own issues.

Cheer up your personal space

If you’re going to stay at home, make your environment a healing one.  Open all the blinds and windows, try to keep it relatively clean and clutter free, light scented candles and buy some plants.  Unlike cut flowers, plants will actually produce oxygen which can help you feel better, give you more energy, relax you and help you sleep better.

Go outside and play

It’s the ultimate conundrum.  You know exercise makes you feel better, but when you already feel bad, getting up the enthusiasm to work out is nearly impossible.  Let yourself off the hook, and skip the gym or the workout tapes. Instead, force yourself to just get out the door every day.  Go for a long walk, preferably in a park or near nature, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Enjoy the quiet, the sounds of the natural environment, or bring some music. This simple process will do wonders for your mood without putting pressure on yourself to accomplish a routine.

Give yourself a happy soundtrack

Mood Booster Playlist

Playlist from Spotify

Misery loves company and when we feel low, we tend to seek out songs that reflect our current mood.  It makes us feel less alone to hear someone put into words or melody exactly the way we feel.  But this can become a vicious cycle, keeping us in that dejected, gloomy emotional place.  Instead, put on something upbeat – even just quietly in the background – and it will seep into your subconscious over time until you are able to feel more upbeat on your own.

Shower first thing

Before you check your phone or your computer, before you decide what to wear, before you check the weather or even before you have that first cup of coffee.  A quick hot shower will instantly make you feel more awake, more alive and more prepared for whatever the day holds.

Look the part

The best advice when it comes to clothes isn’t just for job interviews or first dates.  Dress the way you want to be or the way you want to feel. Even at your worst, looking cheerful and put together will help you convince yourself you’ll be okay.

Time travel to better times

Trying to think happy thoughts or reminding yourself of what you’re grateful for is easier said then done. It’s a mental battle that’s often lost when pitted against seemingly dominant dark emotions. A stronger weapon? Physical representations of memories, such a photo albums from happier times or past accomplishments, that can actually help transport you back to those moments and how you felt then. These will remind you that you can and will feel that way again.

Create a To-Do List

things to do2

Image from a Pair of Pears

Your life just collapsed and the last thing you want to do is start rebuilding.  But the longer you let things go, the more insurmountable the future becomes.  Get a head start with a small, manageable to-do list that can include basics like doing laundry, paying bills or buying groceries.  It will help you maintain while you are recovering, and also give you that sense of accomplishment and control that you desperately need at times like this.

Sleep more

The one thing we all want to do when we are depressed that is actually good for us is sleep. However, that doesn’t mean lying in bed all day.  In fact, setting a time to get up every day even if you don’t have to might be a good idea right about now – but make sure you’re getting at least eight hours a night.  Most of us are usually too busy with work, school, family and our social lives to realistically accomplish this all the time.  But now is the time to try your best, even if you have to make adjustments to the rest of your schedule.  Sleep can heal body, mind, and heart.

Remember, these tips might help but they won’t fix your problems.  As I’ve recently learned that takes a bit more time.  Just have faith, hope, determination, and belief in yourself and the next thing you know your life will once again be Emma Approved.