We all feel down sometimes. Whether you suffer from chronic depression or are just battling a short-term bad mood, finding ways to lift your spirits is the key to feeling better and living a healthier, more productive and more energized life.
There are many options out there to help improve your mood. Therapy, significant lifestyle modifications and even medications can be effective long-term strategies. But on those days when you just need a "quick fix," there are plenty of less time-intensive ways to nip a bad mood in the bud.
- Break a sweat. Study after study has shown that physical activity is one of the most effective mood enhancements. "Cardiovascular exercise enhances your happy chemicals and busts a bad mood," notes psychotherapist Dr. Lisa Bahar. And it doesn’t have to be a full-blown workout, either—just 10 minutes of walking can be enough to ditch the doldrums.
- Go for a walk in nature. While any exercise has a positive impact on mood, energy and feelings of well-being, those effects are doubled when they happen in green space, notes Stephanie Wijkstrom, M.S., L.P.C., N.C.C., a nationally certified counselor and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh. "The stress marker cortisol was significantly reduced in participants who took walks in nature compared to those who took walks in a city space," she says.
- Smile. Sure, it’s amazingly simple, but it’s also proven to work. "Smiling releases serotonin and dopamine into your brain, and these neurotransmitters improve your mood," says Karen R. Koenig, L.C.S.W.
- Giggle the gloom away. Whether it’s spending time with a funny friend or watching a comedic movie, laughter has been shown to relieve stress, increase endorphins and help you to relax.
- Eat when you’re hungry. Skipping meals is a surefire way to get "hangry." Pay attention to your body’s hunger cues and give it the healthy fuel it needs to keep your energy and mood on an even keel.
- Grab some crayons. The adult coloring books that have gained popularity in recent years aren't just a fad, says Dr. Kristin Bianchi from the Center for Anxiety & Behavioral Change. "Research has demonstrated that when people color, they respond to stressful situations with greater focus, heightened awareness, increased creativity and more flexibility," she says.
- Pay someone a compliment. The smile and appreciation you’ll likely receive in return will have the added benefit of boosting your own mood.
- Catch a catnap. Lack of sleep has a significant effect on mood, often leading to heightened stress, irritability and trouble focusing. If sleep deprivation is taking a toll on your temperament, try to sneak in a quick nap to recharge and refresh.
- Write it down. Journaling can be a great way to jettison a bad mood. Write down whatever is weighing on you, whether it's a demanding boss, distant spouse, overdue bill or just an overall downcast feeling. You just might find that the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) will reveal some potential solutions—or, at the very least, make your problems seem more manageable.
- Rewrite your internal script. Pay attention to the way you frame a bad mood and how you talk to yourself, says Dr. Wijkstrom. "If you run into an annoying situation, refrain from allowing that to define the whole day or week," she says. "For example, if your alarm doesn’t go off and causes you to be late for work, instead of saying, ‘This is going to be a bad day,’ you can say, ‘Well, this situation happened and I am devoted to making the rest of the day better.’"
- Spend time with a pet. Whether it’s walking the dog around the block or snuggling with your cat on the couch, getting in some quality time with a furry friend can help lift your mood.
- Meditate. When you’re feeling down, take a quick break from the demands of daily life and spend a few moments in mindful meditation to relax, relieve stress and calm the mind.
- Dose up on omega-3s and take that fish oil. "Research has shown that oily fish and omega-3s enhance brain function by reinforcing the myelin sheath of our neurotransmitters, which could help to boost happiness," says Dr. Wijkstrom.
- Breathe. Paced breathing can help a bad mood due to the effects on the vital organs and brain, notes Dr. Bahar. "When we’re angry, blood vessels constrict," she says. "Paced breathing opens the airways and gets oxygen to the vitals, which creates a more balanced feeling."
- Uplift with aroma. Some early research has linked aromatherapy with relief of depressive symptoms, when used in tandem with other treatments. Try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a diffuser. Lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang and bergamot are the oils most commonly associated with alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Have a good cry. There's truth to the idea that, when we're feeling upset, it's good for us to "cry it out," notes Dr. Bianchi. "When we cry, our bodies excrete cortisol—our stress hormone—through our tears," she says. "Therefore, it's unsurprising that we tend to feel somewhat more relaxed after we've cried. The next time you feel yourself on the verge of tears, just let them fall."
Listen to joyful music. Create a playlist of songs that make you feel happy. Next time you’re down in the dumps, put in your earbuds and let the music work its magic on your mood.