Pleasant Activities Reduce Anxiety and Improve Mood
Pleasant activities are activities that bring you positive feelings such as happiness and joy. They can be anything from entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and relaxing to sporty, silly, or just plain fun. The main effect of pleasant activities is that they make you feel good overall. They are activities outside of your regular responsibilities where the only purpose is to add enjoyment to your life.
When is the last time you truly did something for yourself that you enjoyed?
Our busy schedules often require us to take care of the important stuff first. Work, household chores, caring for our children and other life issues seem to take priority over fun. Moreover, some of us struggle to identify what it is that we like to do in the first place! What brings you joy may be something that you haven’t done in weeks, months or even years!
We can get stuck in the same old routines and patterns and forget to add the fun! Adding pleasant activities to our lives has great benefits. This is even more true when anxiety, stress and depression are part of the picture. In my work as a therapist in Rockland County, NY, I encourage my clients to seek out fun as a way to combat symptoms and improve wellness.
Pleasant Activities Improve Mood
Depressed moods in general are associated with lower energy levels and little interest in doing things. Sometimes one of the first signs you may be depressed is feeling that you want to isolate or stop engaging in activities that you once did. You may find that pleasant activities that used to be enjoyable have lost their luster.
The usual important tasks become more cumbersome and difficult to get done. Furthermore, you may find that the pleasant activities that used to be enjoyable have lost their luster. And so doing something enjoyable falls even lower on the list of priorities. We can really get stuck in our own minds and feel down on ourselves or guilty for not doing more.
Even with the best intentions, we may still procrastinate or make excuses. We get into a pattern of putting things off that have the potential to bring us joy. Why is that?
Think about a particularly difficult week in which you experienced low mood and tiredness. How likely were you to go to that early morning walk with your friend? Probably not so likely. You may have thought to reschedule so that you can sleep in. Believing that a few extra minutes of sleep will increase your energy and your mood, you opt to cancel.
This seems to make sense. Except, this thought process and behavior is counterproductive. Even though you know spending time with your friend will be worthwhile, the action taken is often inaction. Sleeping in will not always increase your energy as much as doing something enjoyable and fun.
The real truth is, the more active you are, the better you will feel. You don’t need to wait until you “feel like it” or “have the energy” to do something.
Improved Mood Comes After You Engage in Pleasant Activities
Remembering that improved mood comes after engaging in an action may help to motivate you even during the toughest moments. Doing nothing will almost always make you feel worse. Reason one is that it is very hard to know what we have to do and then not do it. Our thoughts become negative and less motivating as we continue to think about why we didn’t just do that thing! We will feel bad about feeling bad. And can spiral into a very negative space.
The antidote is to get moving. Sure, we want to aim for doing the important things on our to-do list. But, doing something for yourself that makes you feel happy is incredibly necessary for overall mental wellness.
Nurturing the mind, body, and spirit builds resilience and helps to maintain and improve mental health. Self-care involves regularly participating in and doing something for ourselves that is restorative and replenishing.
Creating a self-care routine is essential in keeping stress, anxiety and depression symptoms at bay.
Take a few minutes to remember things that you enjoy or have enjoyed doing in the past. What was it about that thing that made you feel good? Now, think about something you believe would be fun to try but you haven’t done yet. What good feelings do you anticipate you would have if you started?
These questions are a jumping point to begin thinking about which pleasurable and self-care projects to incorporate into your daily life.
Pleasant Activities Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Stress is inevitable. When we experience a large amount of stress or anxiety, our system can react in different ways. For many people, a stress response is to experience paralysis. The mind and body connection shuts down and it is difficult to try to engage in helpful tasks.
When the body and mind aren’t connected, an “autopilot” mode of being becomes a coping response. Autopilot mode means that the mind is not focused on what is happening in the present moment. We become unaware of what we are doing and how we feel and just go through the motions of life. This is likely to happen after a panic attack or other strong stressor.
When anxiety and stress feelings are intense, we can forget to use positive coping strategies. Not knowing how to distract the mind can prolong the anxiety and stress response. This is why having a few enjoyable and relaxing things to do and look forward to can mitigate stress.
Enjoyable and pleasant activities restore and replenish the brain, sending signals that reduce stress hormones. When you are anxious and engage in breathing exercises, go for a walk, or other stress reducing activity, it helps to calm the mind.
Maintaining a daily or weekly routine of relaxing activities will help reduce stress and anxiety over the long run. This is because you will have tried and true things you enjoy doing that have proved to help. It reduces the chance that you will freeze and get stuck in a cycle of worrying and panic.
Create a Pleasurable Activities Schedule
As mentioned prior, we can easily fall into a trap of putting our self-care on the back burner. Actively scheduling pleasant activities during the week highlights the importance of doing them. It reduces the overwhelm and makes it more likely for you to follow through and experience the results of reduced stress.
As with anything beneficial, consistency is key. There will be days when it is easier to follow through and days where this is not the case. Aim to choose activities that are likely to bring you joy and make a plan to stick to them more often than not. As your mood improves and anxiety reduces, you will be happy that you did.
Tips to Keep In Mind As You Activity Plan
- Choose activities that align with your values and are personal to you. Your activity of choice does not need to be enjoyable to anyone else but you. For example, watching your pet fish swim and eat their food may be enjoyable and relaxing to you. That’s all that matters.
- Write your activities goal down in a calendar, planner, or on your phone. The simple act of writing it down somewhere increases accountability and opportunity for follow through.
- Set reminders. Set your cell phone to ring at a certain time to remind you that you need to take a moment to yourself. For example, setting reminders to take a few deep breaths during the day can do much to reduce anxiety symptoms.
- They can be free. Pleasant activities don’t have to be costly. A walk around the block to ease up on stress during the work day is sufficient.
- They don’t have to follow a specific time frame. A 10 minute conversation with a friend can be very beneficial. You don’t need to set aside a huge amount of time to socialize if it doesn’t fit into the schedule. More important is to pick a friend with whom you can share an enjoyable moment.
- Focus on the present moment. If you are just getting back into an old activity that you used to enjoy and find that you are struggling to find it fun, don’t worry. This can be a good moment to check in with yourself. Are you putting too much pressure on your performance? For example, if you haven’t painted in awhile, are you stuck in striving for the painting to have a certain look? In this case, focus instead on the activity and not so much the outcome.
- Adjust your expectations. Pleasant activities aren’t going to be pleasurable every single time. They have the ability to make you feel good overall, but may not work on a particularly difficult day. Don’t try to force yourself to do something that “should be fun” just to check it off the list. If it’s really not bringing you joy after trying a few times, move on to something else. There are plenty of things out there for you to try.
- Use pleasant activities as rewards. When you feel unmotivated to do a task but follow through anyway, reward yourself with something you enjoy. For example, cleaning your kids’ room may not be on your “fun” list. Make sure to reward yourself afterwards with something that is reinforcing and healthy. Treat yourself to a warm bath or schedule a meeting with a friend for right after you finish.
The of scheduling pleasurable activities into your routines are numerous. It is never too late to start taking care of your health and improving your lifestyle.
Begin Counseling with a Therapist in Rockland County, NY
The Counseling Perch Mental Health Counseling, P.C. offers therapy to residents in Rockland County, Westchester County, and all around New York State via online video platform. Call to schedule an appointment or schedule online using the online scheduler.