Using the Power of Choice to Change Your Mood

Medical Reviewer

We may not always be able to stop depression but by exercising the right choices we can certainly stack the odds in our favor.

Choices vs. Decisions

We often use the words "choice" and "decision" interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. A choice is about being aware of the various options open to us. Making a decision, we weigh up the pros and cons of the available choices and based on these we reach a decision. At times we have to accept our decision may not be what we’d prefer, or even like, but on balance it seems the best for us.

Antidepressants are an example. Having made the decision to see your doctor you may find that antidepressants are recommended. What then? Do you go through the process of trial and error in order to find one that seems to work for you, or do you exercise more choice?

There are three key reasons why people give up on antidepressants. The first is that they hold unrealistic expectations about what the medication can do for them. The second is they feel no therapeutic effects from what they take, and the third is unpleasant side effects.

Annie LeBlanc, Ph.D., argues patient satisfaction is increased if the choice of medication is more patient-centered.  She says that physicians tend to focus on the stated effectiveness of a particular medication rather than the broader needs and preferences of the patient. LeBlanc’s 2015 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, used a simple set of conversation cards to help weigh up the available choices before coming to a decision. Patient satisfaction and comfort with decisions increased as a result.

Self-Help Choices

It’s fairly easy to detect a mood slip. Our attitudes become more negative, we become irritable or bad-tempered, and we begin to feel sorry for ourselves. The more it goes on the more we feel our personal influence diminishing. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness begin to dominate.

Fortunately these mood slips can be turned around relatively easily and sometimes quickly.

We can change our emotions in three ways. Redirecting attention to something more positive may seem overly simple, but it works. Instead of fuming about the traffic, turn on the radio and listen to a play, uplifting or calming music, or perhaps an audiobook or podcast.

Secondly, we can reframe situations so they become less personal. “She keeps picking on me,” becomes “Her job is making her stressed.”

Thirdly, we may be able to alter the situation entirely. Examples here might be walking away from conflict, changing jobs, or getting out of a failed relationship.

Choose to Move

By choosing to move I’m not really referring to geographical relocation (although this could be an option for some). I’m thinking of exercise. Low moods make us feel sluggish and slow. The last thing you’ll want to do is go out for a brisk walk or a bike ride, or visit the gym.

You could choose to sit around in the knowledge that things won’t improve and may worsen, or you could remind yourself that movement stimulates feel-good brain chemicals. Get moving and things quickly start to change. You’ll feel better, your self-esteem and confidence is boosted, and you’ll feel more in control and more sociable.

Other Choices

Every time we enter a food shop we’re confronted by a bewildering variety of choice. If you’re interested in mood, then pay attention to your gut. Fresh foods, vegetables and fruit, low trans fats, and decaffeinated drinks are better choices than sugary foods and drinks, chocolate and processed meals.

Think about your sleep patterns, your stress triggers, your sense of purpose in life and begin to pull everything together.  Now you’re really starting to use your choices in order to improve your mood.

See more helpful articles:

Diet and Depression

How Effective Is Exercise for Depression?

Sleep, Health and Depression