exercise to improve mood

How to Improve Your Mood With Behavior Change Theory

People with and without mental illnesses experience mood shifts as reactions to the world around them. For example, a hectic day at work can leave people feeling stressed or a fight with a loved one can leave lingering anger.

It’s essential to examine how you react to these difficult days. Think of a time in which you had a bad day and what you did that evening. Did you bury your feelings in a pint of ice cream, isolate yourself from loved ones, or even act out in anger?

Now consider how your behaviors at that time made you feel. Most likely, your mood remained low or even got worse. That’s because our actions can change our mood patterns. While it’s important to recognize and process your initial reactions to adverse events, you should not let those feelings derail your life.

Behavior change theory suggests that people can change their moods and patterns by reacting to negative events with healthy habits. This type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is called behavioral activation. For example, hitting the gym after a stressful day at work can get the endorphins flowing, make you feel accomplished, and turn your day around.

Exercise is not the only behavior change that can improve your mood. If you typically isolate yourself after a bad day, try reaching out to a friend. If you usually order take out as comfort food, get your creativity on in the kitchen and make yourself a nice meal. Over time, these behavior changes can make you happier and give you healthy coping mechanisms.

Can Behavior Change Happen Overnight?

While behavior change theory can have powerful effects on your mood and mental health, it takes time to adjust to new habits. After all, you probably developed your current coping techniques over a lifetime, so they will not change overnight. You must go through several stages of behavior change to improve your mood.

First, you must identify the unhelpful behaviors that you have as responses to adverse triggers. This can be difficult sometimes. After all, you may not be sure which coping mechanisms help you and which make things worse. Counselors and therapists can help you determine which patterns you can work on.

Furthermore, it can be perfectly healthy to have an evening to yourself. However, isolation as a response to a bad mood can make things worse. That’s why it’s essential to ask yourself why you want to do something. For example, do you want to order pizza because it’s your family’s fun pizza night, or are you hoping to eat away your sadness? Are you ignoring your group texts because you’re too busy to answer right now or because you’re angry about what happened at work?

Once you can identify your unhealthy behaviors and why you are doing them, you can start turning things around. Your counselor can help you determine which healthy behaviors you should use in place of the unhelpful ones. You base these on your goals and personality.

Each time you notice yourself engaging in unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms, replace those actions with something you identified with your counselor. At first, this process may be complicated. However, healthy activities can become your default reactions over time.

How to Take Control of Your Behaviors and Improve Mood

If behavior change feels overwhelming, start with smaller changes. Anytime you notice that you’re reacting to adverse events with unhealthy behaviors, take a step in the right direction. Even if the first step is small, it can help.

That behavior can improve your move slightly, which helps you feel ready to take another step in a healthy direction, and the spiral continues until you’re in a good mental state. For example, if you want to exercise as your response to bad days, start by just putting on your workout clothes. Then you may feel ready to go for a walk around the block. After that, perhaps you feel ready to jog or run.

If you’re not sure where to start with behavior change, talk to a qualified mental health professional. The counselors at LifeStance Health can help you identify triggers, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and new things to try instead.