Real Therapists’ Best Tips for Boosting Your Mood


When anxiety strikes, many of us might try to take our mind off the negative emotions by turning to comfort shows and cry-singing — and it turns out, licensed professionals aren’t immune to that either.

(In addition to the helpful, science-backed methods they recommend to their clients, they aren’t above watching a few oddly soothing pimple-popping videos when the need arises.)

We asked the pros for a peek into their go-tos for a pick-me-up when they’re having an “off day,” for some tips we can try in our own lives too.

Francesca Lazo, MS, Licensed Therapist + Transpersonal Coach

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious or having an “off day”?

My go-to when I’m feeling anxious or having an “off day,” is to use my hands to create, whether it’s creative journaling, crocheting, or taking my time following a recipe and preparing a yummy meal. Being able to move that anxious energy and transmute it into art is incredibly healing and allows us to develop a more open and accepting relationship with our feelings.

How about something unexpected that would surprise people?

People always get thrown off when I tell them to just wrap up their day. Go take a relaxing shower, throw on your jammies, put on some chill TV reruns à la Big Bang Theory or Friends and go to bed. We are constantly doing so much, expecting that everything needs to be figured out, worked through, or pushed through that we forget that sometimes it’s okay to just call it a day. The key here is being intentional, that’s what makes it different from simply disconnecting.

What’s your advice to clients who are having a bad mental health day?

Any time we are not experiencing the natural flow of life, we are going to feel anxiety. So, I encourage clients to become familiar with their full spectrum of feelings. A feelings wheel is a great tool that I recommend they keep on their phones and pull up on throughout the day. They can use it to name feelings in the moment but also to become curious about the feelings they’re not as familiar with because they’ve felt them but were never taught how to name them.

Sarah Oreck, MD, MS, Reproductive Psychiatrist + CEO of Mavida Health

Sarah Noel

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious or having an “off day”?

I take a break and change the scenery. It can be as simple as standing if you’ve been sitting at your desk for too long or if you have more time, taking a walk and getting outside in nature. I’m a huge believer in breath work but I hate that we call it “work” because it’s just noticing what our body does automatically. Box breathing is a great example! This is a type of breath exercise that involves breathing in for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, breathing for a count of four, and holding your breath for a count of four. Repeat this cycle for 5-10 minutes.

How about something unexpected that would surprise people?

I’ve been in weekly therapy since I was in training to be a psychiatrist. It’s helped me immensely in my personal life but also has made me a better therapist. My decision to start going to therapy or even to become a psychiatrist was not necessarily the most popular in my family — they are Colombian and had some deeply held stigma related to mental health. It has been exciting to see changes and growth around their understanding and acceptance of mental health issues and treatments.

What’s your advice to clients who are having a bad mental health day?

I think the first step is acknowledging and identifying what anxiety feels like in your body. Although every treatment is individualized, there are some recommendations that are universal. It’s so important to remember that no feeling is permanent despite how overwhelming and unstoppable it may feel. It will pass.

​​Yolanda Renteria, LPC, Therapist + Somatic Coach

Andree Trillo

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious or having an “off day”?

If I’m around people with whom I’m not close, I tend to mask and pretend I’m doing okay. I feel like avoiding it is a default for many of us who have been taught uncomfortable emotions aren’t safe to feel. It’s common to think our emotions are too much for others and we want to avoid making them uncomfortable.

How about something unexpected that would surprise people?

I just allow those days to exist. I identify the emotions I feel, where I’m feeling them in my body, and normalize that it is okay to have those kinds of days. I connect with the people I’m closest with and share how I’m feeling. I also like to tell myself that things won’t always feel that way because emotions flow in waves, and I just have to wait for the waves to pass. Journaling and grounding techniques are also very helpful.

What’s your advice to clients who are having a bad mental health day?

I recommend grounding tools and moving their body (by running, jumping, playing a sport, etc.) to release some of the energy. I also recommend cold showers or immersing their face in water to balance cortisol levels. If they are not home, carrying a frozen water bottle they can rub on their face can help. Statements my clients find really helpful to address anxious thoughts are: “My thoughts don’t create reality,” “Just because I think it, doesn’t make it true,” or “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that ______,” to separate their thoughts from reality.

Justin K. Dodson, PhD, LPC, Psychotherapist

Justin K. Dodson

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious or having an “off day”?

When I am feeling anxious, I have learned to pause and ask myself, “What’s happening?” Once I can identify the fear (because anxiety is usually rooted in fear), and where it’s coming from, I then get to ask myself, “What do you want to do with this?”

Breathing has become my anchor; taking a few deep breaths in through my nose and exhaling through the mouth is always an immediate follow-up to identifying what’s happening at the moment.

At this point, my goal is to decrease my anxious feelings so my next step is to do what’s available to me that is safe and won’t bring harm to myself or others. My go-tos are sitting still, listening to a podcast or music, exercising once I can, and sometimes, I get on social media or close my eyes. When I do use social media, I make sure to fill my timeline with videos of dogs and funny things. It’s important to have several “tools” in my box because some of what you identify as helpful, may not always be feasible at the moment.

How about something unexpected that would surprise people?

Something that may surprise people is that taking a walk after you feel stressed or anxious about something helps purge the experience. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive, or complicated. We can start with what’s free and accessible, and work our way up from there if we want to. I also like to hype myself up as if I were about to crush whatever my next task is by making up raps.

What’s your advice to clients who are having a bad mental health day?

Questions to ask yourself during anxious moments: “What am I afraid of?” “What’s good about what’s happening?” “What am I learning at this moment?” “How can I use myself as a resource first as opposed to calling someone?” Then, reach out to a trusted person if you’re in need of support. It’s important to decide for yourself first so that you don’t become dependent on others dictating your feelings for you. Breathing, as I mentioned, is always encouraged.

Sarah Edelman, LMHC, Psychotherapist


What do you do when you’re feeling anxious or having an “off day”?

I have a whole menu of things I might do to self-soothe, depending on my needs. Going on walks to grab an iced chai and taking time for a well-deserved nap helps me to decompress. I also often find baths with my favorite music and Epsom salts can be really relaxing for me. Finally, cuddling my dog is essential and if all else fails, chocolate does not. Oh yeah, I also talk to my therapist every week!

How about something unexpected that would surprise people?

People are often surprised when they learn that I do actually use the same calming techniques I teach my own clients in therapy. Specifically, I have found that body scanning and progressive muscle relaxation help me a ton when I’m feeling like my anxiety is getting out of control. These techniques allow my mind to calm down by focusing on my physical body instead of my swirling thoughts or fears. I wouldn’t teach these techniques if I didn’t know they worked!

If you are looking for something juicier though, I definitely enjoy pimple-popping videos and watching murder documentaries/serial shows like Criminal Minds. There is something so calming about watching the criminal being caught and a case being solved or watching a really wild release from a pimple!

What’s your advice to clients who are having a bad mental health day?

Anxiety can feel all-consuming and terrifying, but I promise you that you can and will live through these feelings. A lot of people become hyper-focused on avoiding anxiety triggers, which can create a loop of feeling anxious about triggering your anxiety. When I feel anxiety creeping up, I say, “Okay, I am along for this ride.” Then I let the anxiety pass through my body like a rollercoaster going up and down those peaks and valleys. Many of us will live with anxiety in some form for our entire lives — depending on our brain chemistry and life circumstances, the goal may not be for anxiety to completely disappear. Sometimes, the goal is to learn to live with it, manage it, and still have a wonderful, colorful life.

Tania DeBarros, LICSW, LCSW-C, Psychotherapist

Flavio D Photography

What do you do when you’re feeling anxious or having an “off day”?

Typically, I sit on a soft surface like a carpet while doing simple things like eating, watching TV, and reading. Sitting in the grass is also grounding. In the past, particularly in college when I had a hard time, I also intentionally sat on the bathroom floor because the tiles were cool and helped ground me. Cooking creatively is another one. On “off days,” I’ll think of a meal I used to eat before I eliminated dairy from my diet and try to recreate it at home. If I can’t fit in a trip to the grocery store, I’ll just open the fridge, think of what I can make with the ingredients I do have, and pretend I’m on Chopped!

I also often intentionally listen and sing along to songs that allow me to feel my emotions. Additionally, I love to watch videos on the @theyhavetherange Instagram account. They post the most amazing singers, and listening to people who have beautiful voices always moves me and cheers me up!

How about something unexpected that would surprise people?

Honestly, I am typically not a fan of washing dishes, but when I’m stressed or anxious, it really does the trick. I can be present and focused, or drift off and come back. It’s kind of like built-in mindfulness practice.

What’s your advice to clients who are having a bad mental health day?

In every session, workshop, or group I lead, I have clients check in with themselves and I provide three options:

Check in with yourself: The anxiety might be trying to tell you something. It could be a warning; it could be two opposing thoughts or feelings about something, or it could even be a part of themselves that feels unacknowledged.

Body scan: Start at your head or toes and move through the rest of your body, noticing each part and tending to the areas you feel are holding the anxiety. For example, if your jaw is clenched, try and relax it. If you start feeling hot, drink cool water.

Rate how you feel: Sometimes emotional identification or body awareness is hard, especially for clients who have learned to not feel anything as a way to “feel better” or people who are not often asked how they feel. Scaling can help start a conversation around what someone is feeling. For example, if someone says 6, I can ask what’s keeping it from being a 5 or what would make it a 7.

Practicing this at the very least, weekly, helps clients practice tools to bring awareness to what they’re feeling.

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