Updated: Jun 15
I was feeling pretty down a few days ago. No particular reason: it was just one of those days where nothing seemed to be going right. I started beating myself up about some of my shortcomings and feeling frustrated with my lack of progress in certain areas of my life. Just that feeling of "blah" that tends to spiral into a sticky depression if I don't intentionally do something to pull myself out.
Whenever I feel like this, I remember the acronym "BACE." I learned about this acronym years ago from Get Self Help UK when I was a medical student searching for a worksheet to print off for one of my patients. The "BACE" acronym has stuck with me for years because it really does help pull you out of a bad mood. It requires a bit of a push to get going, so you may need to enlist a friend or family member to help motivate you. Alternatively, you can just jot the acronym down and put it somewhere you are likely to see it when you are having a hard time (such as posting it as a note on your refrigerator or your bathroom mirror). Now, after practicing it for many years, I've found that I think of it automatically when I'm feeling down.
BACE is an acronym for "Body, Achievement, Connection, Enjoyment". These are all essential areas of life that contribute to our happiness, but they are especially important when we are struggling. Here is what the BACE acronym means and how I put it into practice when I was in a funk.
Our minds affect our bodies, and our bodies affect our minds. It's no secret that regular exercise can improve your mood and decrease your anxiety. But even a brief increase in your activity level that gets your blood pumping can do wonders for your mental health. Exercise is known to stimulate the release of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, all neurotransmitters that you may recognize from their role in mental health issues. When you are feeling down, you may need to start small. Don't tell yourself you need to complete an hour-long workout routine. Start with just a five-minute walk. If you can do it outside, that's even better. The feeling of getting your blood pumping along with the satisfaction of knowing you are doing something that will help you feel better can be the jumpstart you need. If you know me in real life, you know I like high-intensity workouts like CrossFit. But I wasn't feeling up to that level of intensity, so I told myself to just do a few light barbell squats and jog down to the end of my block and back. It certainly wasn't the most intense workout I've ever done, but it gave me a much-needed mood boost.
If you can't (or don't want to) exercise, find some other way to take care of your body. Maybe it's taking a bubble bath or painting your nails. Maybe you feel like taking a quick nap or going to bed early. Maybe you can cook yourself a nourishing meal. Anything that takes care of your body will help!
When we feel down, we often start to feel unmotivated and sluggish. We feel discouraged: like we have too much to do and not enough energy to do it. In these moments, if we can remember that action precedes motivation, we can start to make headway on our goals and our low mood. Getting something done can be really empowering and can give you a great mood boost. When I was feeling down, I decided that I wanted to clear off one of my messy kitchen counters. It didn't take me long, but seeing this small project through from beginning to end gave me a sense of accomplishment.
You have to be careful, though. Sometimes, our low mood can result from burnout because we've been too focused on achievement. For example, if we are feeling down because we've been putting in late hours at work, it may not be a great idea to make yourself sit down and work on a report to try and get a sense of achievement. In that case, try choosing a different area of your life to foster that sense of accomplishment. Perhaps organizing a section of your pantry or booking the appointment you've been putting off would be a healthier way to feel like you've achieved something. It's also important to remember to start small. You don't want to tell yourself that you need to organize your entire house- a task that daunting could discourage you and make you feel even worse. Pick something that you know is more than possible, and start there.
Connecting with others is a biological need. Physical, emotional, and social closeness are required for health and wellness beginning at birth. When we feel close to other people, we get an increase in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, all of which are important for mood regulation and our overall happiness. And you don't have to talk about how you are feeling- any interaction will do. The funny thing is that when we are feeling down, we tend to isolate. Connecting with others seems like a lot of work when we feel low. We may feel unlovable, or like we are not worthy of connecting. But in reality, connection is exactly what we need (and deserve, just by virtue of being human).
Connecting in person with someone you care about is probably ideal, but this is not always possible and has been especially hard during the pandemic. Thankfully, anything you can do to connect with someone, no matter how small, can help you feel just a little bit better. When I was feeling down, my daughter and I gave my mom a call over FaceTime. Chatting briefly with her made me feel a lot better, even though we didn't talk about or try to problem-solve my mood.
Some other ideas for connecting with others when you are feeling low could include calling an old friend, sending an email, commenting or direct messaging someone on social media, or even going out to the store and asking the cashier about their day. Bonus points if you can weave gratitude into any of these interactions: expressing gratitude is a surefire way to boost your mood, even if you express gratitude about something seemingly small.
Although our society sometimes tries to convince us otherwise, we need to take time just to relax and enjoy life. A feeling of burnout can come from working long hours and not allowing enough time to recharge. If you are like me, you may notice that sometimes you go so long without taking a break that you start to forget what you enjoy! When this happens, try to think back to your leisure activities as a kid. Did you enjoy painting? Doing puzzles? Stacking dominos? Or you can try something new like an adult coloring book (there are some hilarious ones- click here for links) or Sudoku. I ended up working on a puzzle with my daughter and was surprised by how fun it was (I hadn't done one in years!).
Try going through each of these areas at least once when you feel down, and you'll get a mood boost in no time!