Date issued: March 2019
For review: March 2021
Ref: C-375/JD/Child Health/Understanding low mood
PDF: Low mood [pdf] 410KB
Understanding Low Mood
For young people and their families
Why do we experience low mood?
Lots of young people experience low mood at some point in their life. It may be more likely to occur when people are going through a difficult or challenging experience such as:
- Stressful time at school (e.g. exams or a big project)
- Illness or poor health
- Coping with a long-term health condition
- Losing someone or something important to you
- Relationship difficulties
- Big changes in your life (e.g. Moving schools)
- Hormonal changes
Despite this, some people experience low mood when there doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause for it.
What are the symptoms of low mood?
When young people are experiencing low mood they may have long periods of feeling some or all of the following:
- Anxiety or worry
- Lack of motivation and enjoyment of things
- Low self-esteem and low confidence
- Frustration or anger
You may also notice the following physical symptoms:
- Tiredness or lack of energy to do everyday tasks
- Poor appetite (either eating too little or too much)
- Difficulty sleeping or getting up in the morning
Why do people feel low?
Low mood can influence the way people feel physically and mentally. It also influences our thoughts and behaviour. This can create a cycle that is difficult to break which is why some people continue to feel low for long periods of time. To understand this a bit more clearly, take a look at the example in the diagram below.
As you can see from the diagram, our thoughts, feelings and behaviour all influence each other and can lead to low mood. If you are feeling low, it may be helpful to think about this and how your experiences may fit into this cycle.
What can you do to improve your low mood?
If someone is feeling low, the best thing to do is to break the negative cycle shown in diagram 1. Ways to do this include:
1. Challenging unhelpful thoughts
2. Keeping busy
3. Improving nutrition and sleep
4. Problem solving
5. Noticing the good bits about yourself
6. Connecting with others
We will now explore these ideas in a bit more detail.
Challenging unhelpful thoughts:
We have lots of thoughts throughout the day, often about ourselves, others, the world and the future. Some of these thoughts are unhelpful and not always based on fact, even if we think they are.
To challenge these, we can think:
Is there any evidence that suggests this thought is not true?
What would you say to your friend if they were thinking this?
I don’t find you annoying, I like spending time with you.
What are the pros and cons of this thought?
* It can be helpful to think about how we act around our friends, and accept that we can all have good and bad days.
* I could stop spending time with my friends and feel lonely.
* I may feel less confident about myself.
* I might stop trying to make friends as they may feel the same.
Is there another way to look at this situation?
I often get invited out and my friends tell me I am fun to be around.
When you feel low, it is important that you continue to do things that you have enjoyed, even when you do not feel like it.
Try to find a good balance between doing the things you need to do, like homework, as well as doing the things you enjoy.
Some examples of things that can help this are:
- Spending time with people, even for a short time
- Continuing with hobbies and interests or try something new
- Try to do some physical activity; this is good for our bodies and our minds.
- Try not to sleep in the day, this makes it harder to sleep at night.
- If you’re feeling tired, go for a walk, get some fresh air.
- Relax before you go to bed! Try to chill out for an hour or so before bed time to help wind down.
- Try meditation or reading. You could ask for a relaxation leaflet from the therapist.
- Don’t drink any stimulants before bed such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate or sugary soft drinks. Try decaffeinated drinks as a replacement.
- Have a bed time routine every night which will help your body regulate. A good sleeping pattern will help improve your mood. Ask your therapist for a copy of our sleep leaflet for more ideas.
- Snack on healthy things like fruit and vegetables.
Feeling powerless in a situation can often be a cause of low mood.
If you feel as though you are trapped in a situation and
You do not know how to fix it, this could send you into a low mood cycle. A good way to solve a problem is to break it down. If you feel like you are stuck with a problem that you cannot solve, try using diagram 2. It may help you solve your problem
Is low mood the same as being depressed?
Some of the symptoms of low mood can be the same as depression. The main difference is that low mood generally passes with time and can come and go. Depression tends to last for longer and can be more difficult to overcome. There are also some extra symptoms that people experiencing depression may have:
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling irritable and snapping at others
- Little motivation or interest in things
- Difficultly making decisions
- Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
- Weight loss or gain
- Finding it difficult to sleep or difficulty waking up
- Not wanting to spend time with others
- Difficulty getting on with people
- Poor concentration and/ or memory
If you ever feel like your low mood goes on for a long period of time, or you develop any of these symptoms, it may be worth talking to an adult you trust. This could be someone at school, a doctor or someone in your family. You could also use some of the helplines at the back of this leaflet.
It is good to talk!
Choose a solution and break it down into a step by step approach: e.g.:
1. Call them
2. Explain how you feel
3. Ask them how they feel
4. Apologise if helpful
5. Arrange to spend some time together again
Noticing the good bits about yourself
We tend to focus on things we do not like about ourselves, more than the things we like. When you are feeling low in mood, make a list of all the things you like about yourself. It sounds silly, but it’s a great way to give your self-esteem a boost. If you cannot think of anything, this list may help:
- Things people say you are good at.
- Things you are proud of.
- What qualities do other people like in you
- Compliments you receive
- Times people ‘thank you’
Good things about me:
(I know this because…)
I am really helpful
Mum always thanks me for helping her
I am really good at maths
I do really well in class
Connecting with others
Spending time with other people can help you feel better, even if you are not doing very much. Often when we have low mood this is something we do not want to do, but this is when we need it the most. You could let others know how you are feeling, so you can join in as much or as little as you want to. Whist talking and getting advice can be important, just being in the same room as others could help your mood.
These techniques should provide you with some ideas to help to improve your low mood. It is important to realise that you are not alone and that your low mood will not last forever.
If you feel like your low mood is getting the better of you, make sure you talk to someone you trust about it. This could be someone at your school, a family member or your GP.
Useful Contacts, Apps and websites:
If you are a parent or carer, you could contact ‘Young Minds’. This is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. Young Minds offers advice for parents or carers who are concerned about a child young person’s mental health.
Parent Helpline: 0808 802 5544
A free 24hr helpline for children and young people based in the UK to call at any time anonymously and confidentially about any concerns you may have.
Helpline: 0800 1111
Free, safe and anonymous online support for young people Website: www.kooth.com
How to be a friend to yourself –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFUxiIjp-Nk
Get self help
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been proven to help mental health problems. This website provides CBT self-help and therapy resources, including worksheets and information sheets and self-help mp3s
Starving the Depression Gremlin: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Managing Depression for Young - Kate Collins-Donnelly.
App for Phone/tablet
This is a free App to help with relaxation.
The skills taught include mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation practice, tips for increased relaxation and concentration.
Stop, breathe & think