Feeling a little down after receiving some unpleasant news? Trying to beat the Sunday scaries (or Monday blues)? Having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad (or even just a little blah) day?
Even minor disappointments and frustrations can derail your daily activities and leave you grumpy, miserable, and completely disinterested in the things you need or want to take care of. You know you need a little pick-me-up to make it through the day smoothly, but you’re less sure about exactly what to do to feel better.
That’s totally normal — emotional distress doesn’t have to be extreme to make spotting solutions difficult. But a bad mood left to simmer often boils over, leaving you feeling worse.
Ignoring the source of your bad mood won’t make it disappear, but there’s nothing wrong with setting it aside temporarily to focus on something that makes you feel good instead.
Below, you’ll find seven ideas to try when you want to give your mood a little jump start. Bonus: You don’t have to pay for any of them.
A short wander through the nearest park, or any other green space, can do a lot to bust a low mood. Walking in nature, as a matter of fact, takes a 3-for-1 approach to boosting the production of “happy hormones,” the chemical messengers that help regulate mood.
If it’s the midafternoon slump or a long night leaving you a little gloomy, a brisk 10-minute walk can increase blood flow to your brain and energize you, easing feelings of fatigue and sluggishness. Walking can also help lower the level of stress hormones in your body and prompt the release of endorphins, hormones that can ease stress, pain, and discomfort.
Of course, sunlight has benefits, too. Spending just 10 or 15 minutes in the sun can trigger the production of serotonin, along with more endorphins, making for a hefty dose of mood-improving chemicals. Plus, natural light may help you feel more energized and alert, especially if you’ve been sitting in a dim room.
And let’s not forget about nature.
Research increasingly suggests that people who spend time outside regularly, or look at images or videos of nature when going out isn’t possible, often have better moods overall.
Nature can boost feelings of happiness and reduce stress, but it can also help improve your ability to focus, which could be key to improving your mood when you find it tough to get things done.
Spending more time in natural environments could even help lower your risk of mental health symptoms, which can have more long-term effects on mood.
There’s a good reason why so many teachers and other public speakers tend to get things rolling with a joke or witty remark. Laughing in a group can help relieve tension and leave everyone feeling a little more energized — and often, a little more bonded.
Laughter works on an individual level, too. If you’re feeling a little anxious or stressed about something — say, a big presentation at work or a heavy discussion with a loved one — humor could help you shake off some of the tension and leave you in a lighter frame of mind.
Forcing a real, deep belly laugh may prove something of a challenge when you aren’t feeling very funny. If your go-to sources for humor fail to spark much joy, give these a try:
- Funny videos. Not sure what to watch? Head to YouTube to check out dozens of Vine compilations — these short videos are designed to get you laughing quickly.
- Animal videos. When it comes to beating a bad mood, pets can pack a double punch. Their antics can be hilarious, but they’re pretty darn adorable, too. Seen every cat and dog video out there? Birds can be surprisingly funny, too.
- Look up comedy writers. If you prefer the written word to visual content, you might prefer humorous books to funny videos. Get started with NPR’s list of 100 funny books.
- Go online. You can find some quick laughs online at websites like Reductress, The Onion, or r/funny, Reddit’s subreddit dedicated to all things humorous.
- Share jokes. At work or with friends? Ask if anyone knows any good jokes, or share a favorite or two of your own.
Your sense of smell can communicate directly with your amygdala, a part of the brain that helps regulate emotions. That’s why scents that trigger positive or nostalgic memories often help relieve tension and anxiety. The connection between your brain and sense of smell may also help explain why things that smell good can make you feel good.
Aromatherapy generally refers to the use of essential oils to improve mood or mental health, but you don’t necessarily have to purchase essential oils to get these benefits. You might already have some mood-boosting fragrances around your home or office:
- Have a favorite scented soap or lotion? Take a moment to mindfully wash your hands or give your arms and shoulders a quick scented rub.
- Feeling low because you miss someone you love? Smell something that reminds you of them.
- Got neighbors with impressive gardens? Take a short walk to (literally) smell the roses. Other fragrant plants you might encounter in the wild include lavender, jasmine, honeysuckle, rosemary, and sage.
- Head to the kitchen to catch a scent of vanilla, cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice. Alternatively, slice a lemon and inhale the fragrance.
- Make a cup of peppermint or chamomile tea. Earl Grey, which contains bergamot, is also a good option. You can also pour boiled water over lemon, inhale the steam as it cools, and then enjoy a hydrating, warming drink.
A whiff of lotion or tea isn’t quite the same as a concentrated essential oil, of course, but
It’s completely natural to turn to the people in your life for physical and emotional support when dealing with a low mood and other frustrations. You might even know already that hugs and other physical affection can cue your body to release oxytocin and help you feel closer to your loved ones.
But what happens when your mood plummets in circumstances where you can’t readily access that comfort?
Maybe you suddenly start to feel sad, overwhelmed, or just plain rotten at work, or in a crowd of people you don’t know. A supportive embrace seems like exactly what you need to turn your mood around, but there’s no one around to do the honors — no one other than you, that is.
While giving yourself a hug might feel a little silly, it could actually do the trick. Touch (yes, your own included) can ease feelings of stress, helping you feel safe and relaxed. It can also promote self-compassion and self-kindness, both of which can pave the way toward a more positive mood.
Hugging yourself can be as simple as wrapping your arms around yourself and holding for a moment or two, just as you would when hugging someone else. But you can also check out our guide to giving yourself a hug.
Picture this: You’re cleaning your house, sorting paperwork, or doing some other task you don’t particularly enjoy. Your radio station or music streaming service of choice plays in the background.
When the song changes over, your ears perk up as you recognize the first notes of one of your favorite songs. The cheerful, upbeat melody infuses you with new energy. You tap your foot to the music as you return your attention to your task with new enthusiasm, singing along under your breath.
You didn’t imagine that instant leap in your mood. Music can offer plenty of benefits, in fact.
It can help to:
- improve mood and emotion regulation abilities
- ease stress and tension
- reduce anxiety
- promote healthy brain function, including better memory recall
- improve your focus, in some cases
In short, if you’re ready to kick your mood to the curb, a playlist of favorite songs offers an all-around excellent tool for the job.
Maybe you feel trapped or stuck because you can’t do anything to change your current situation for the moment. Instead of getting caught up in a downward spiral of worry and stress, try focusing your energy on someone else instead.
Doing something nice for another person could make their day a little better and bring a smile to their face, potentially improving your mood, in turn. Simply knowing you’ve made someone else’s day better can leave you in a more positive frame of mind.
A few ideas to consider:
- Ask a co-worker if they need any help.
- Do a chore for your child, roommate, or partner.
- Give your pet a treat — you’ll probably earn some cuddles, as a bonus.
- Leave a detailed positive review for one of your favorite shops or restaurants.
Whether you’ve just made it through a long and draining day or have a stressful event looming over you, a quick message of love and support can go a long way toward lifting your spirits.
Even a 5-minute chat with your romantic partner, BFF, or favorite sibling can raise your spirits and help you shake off a gloomy mood, nervousness or worry, and other emotional tension.
Loved ones can:
- listen as you vent your frustrations
- offer encouraging words
- make you laugh
- remind you that you always have their support
Can’t make a phone call right now? Even connecting briefly over text or chat can make a difference in your mood. You know they’re there for you, of course, but sometimes you just need that emoji chain, funny GIF, or inside joke as a reminder.
If your mood needs a little boost from time to time, don’t worry — that’s absolutely normal. Most bad moods tend to lift before too long, and there’s plenty you can do to send them on their way.
A low mood that persists day in and day out, on the other hand, could suggest something a little more serious. When you notice lingering changes in your mood and well-being, and strategies like the ones above seem to have little effect, talking to a therapist is always a good next step.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.