For almost a decade, through my work as a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge, and my own pursuit of the science of wellbeing, I’ve looked at how to become resilient and bounce back from challenges such as anxiety and depression. This research—involving analysing the data of more than 30,000 people, and interviews with hundreds of individuals I’ve met through my radio show and seminars—has led me to realising that there are 10 negative moods or patterns that hold people back in life and get in the way of their happiness, including indecision, procrastination, lack of self-control, anxiety and rejection.
So, I wrote The Instant Mood Fix (Penguin, 2021), which contains 50 science-based coping strategies to help you get closer to the life you want. It includes people’s experiences and research that shows us how we can recover from difficult situations.
Now, more than ever, people are looking for ways to enhance their mental health—it’s the empowerment approach. With consistent practice, you can move forward and find a new way of perceiving the world, connecting to other people, and rebounding from challenges. I firmly believe that no matter what age you are, you can take charge of your wellbeing and turn things around.
Here is a taste of the solutions for challenging life situations that can be found in the book.
If you’re suffering from indecision
Research shows that it’s often better to go with what your instincts are telling you when you have to make a complicated decision, such as deciding which furniture or car to buy or which school to send your children to. Interestingly, the opposite is true if you have to make simpler decisions, such as which brand of towels to buy—in this case, thinking about the pros and cons can help you arrive at a better solution.
If you’re suffering from low motivation
Sometimes we find it hard to begin something because we don’t feel thoroughly prepared or are discouraged by the high expectations we set for ourselves—this often makes us grind to a halt or causes a delay. A quick way to beat procrastination is to do it badly. The quote by writer and poet GK Chesterton sums it up well: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” When we let go of perfectionism and stop thinking about what the final product should look like, things begin to shift. When we jump right in and care less, paradoxically, things begin to go right. We often become more motivated and the next action becomes easier. The great thing is that you can always return to your task later and refine it. But first, do it badly.
If you’re struggling with self-control
What is self-control? Basically, anytime you’re resisting your impulses or trying to not give into temptation—whether that’s stopping yourself from having another beer or cigarette—you’re tapping into self-control. Anytime you’re trying to deliberately act or think in a certain way, you’re using self-control to do that. If you feel that this is something you’d like to get better at, there is a way to do this.
Self-control is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets and this increased strength can start to spill over into other areas of your life. For example, maybe you start going for a brisk walk every day for two weeks, and then notice that you’re also finding it easier to cook or do your laundry at the end of the working day; it doesn’t seem as hard—that’s self-control being built and strengthened.
If you’re suffering from heartbreak
Many people are struggling with breakup and divorce, and in the book, I discuss how the explanations you give yourself for the split can either help you heal or send you into a downward spiral. Interestingly, how you think about the dissolution of your partnership may have a significant impact on your happiness levels. People who place the entire blame on themselves or the other person for the split may become self-critical or resentful. Science shows that there may be other, more helpful ways of thinking about it, such as focusing on how the interaction between you and your partner went awry. Maybe changing values or issues with communication led to an undesirable interaction pattern and the demise of the relationship. When we take the time to think about these more complex issues, it can be better for our wellbeing.
If you’re feeling fearful
Sometimes people are held back by self-limiting beliefs that they don’t have what it takes to succeed. People often don’t go for what they truly want in life because of thoughts, such as ‘what if it doesn’t work out?’ or start envisioning obstacles that might stand in the way. Anytime you’re afraid, unsure, or undecided as to which step you should take next, ask yourself this: what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? The answer to this powerful question can be the solution to key discoveries that you can use to go forward in life and it can clarify your priorities.
The Instant Mood Fix – emergency remedies to beat anxiety, panic or stress by Dr Olivia Remes (Penguin, 2021) is out now