12 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mood Right Now
Your morning commute was atrocious. You got into an argument with your spouse. Your kid threw a temper tantrum of epic proportions. You’re stressed over a project at work. Whatever the reason — or combination of reasons — you’re in a bad mood. Don’t you wish there was a quick way to just snap out of it already? As it turns out, there are several ways you can trick yourself into having a better day and improving your mood on the spot.
Here are a dozen simple, science-backed and expert-approved strategies for improving your mood each and every day.
1. Set the right tone for your day.
Jason Raynor, a Nike Master Trainer and JW Fit Squad leader at JW Marriott Chicago, stresses the importance of having a morning routine that will provide a “solid anchor” for your day. “Do something that works for you to get your mind in a good place before the craziness of the day begins,” he says. “I encourage my clients to practice breath work, meditate, or give themselves positive affirmations by way of a gratitude journal.” This doesn’t have to be time consuming: It could be a 10-minute yoga flow session or going for a run or walk around the block, Raynor says. Having a simple routine like this will set the right tone for your day, and elevate your mood, he says.
2. Wish others well.
Here’s an easy trick the next time you want to boost your mood and reduce anxiety: simply wish others well. You don’t even need to say it out loud. Just looking at others and genuinely thinking “I wish for this person to be happy” is a research-backed way to improve your own well being and mood, according to a March 2019 study from researchers at the University of Iowa that was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. For the study, the researchers asked participants to walk around a classroom building. One group was tasked with wishing others well; another was asked to think of interconnectedness; and the third group was asked to compare themselves to others. The interconnectedness group did feel empathy and connectedness, but the social comparison group didn’t experience any benefits. The well-wishers experienced the most benefits.
3. Play natural sounds.
Creating a soundscape in your office with nature sounds like crashing waves or a babbling brook not only has potential to improve your mood, but it could also boost your productivity, according to researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Plus, the natural sounds can help block out noise in offices and co-working spaces. Nature sounds sure beat hearing your co-worker smack his food, right?
4. Avoid sugar.
True or false: Eating a sugary treat can give you a quick mood boost and help you power through a project thanks to the sugar rush. If you answered false, you’re correct! A research team from the University of Warwick, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Lancaster University busted the myths about sugar rushes, instead finding the sweet stuff can worsen your mood, causing you to become more tired and less alert. The comprehensive review published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews in April 2019 used data from 31 studies that involved more than 1,300 adults.
5. Keep your blood sugar stable.
“Many people eat foods that send them on a blood sugar rollercoaster all day long — and their mood goes along with it,” explains Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a licensed psychologist and board-certified nutrition specialist in Caledonia, Michigan. She recommends eating a diet of complex carbs (like whole grains), protein, and healthy fats to stabilize blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar isn’t rising and falling you can enjoy steady energy levels and consistent positive moods, Beurkens explains.
6. Strike a yoga pose.
Exercise, in general, can put you in a better mood thanks to the endorphins (aka happy hormones) that are released. But yoga is especially great because it may have a more positive effect on your mood than other exercises like walking. That’s because yoga has the potential to increase your level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, according to researchers. The chemical is in charge of regulating nerve activity and GABA is lower in people who have mood and anxiety disorders. Researchers were able to show that yogis had increased GABA levels in the thalamus after a yoga session, which helped improve their mood and decrease their anxiety levels.
7. Eat Indian food.
Not like you needed a nudge to visit your favorite Indian food restaurant, but a January 2018 study found that curcurmin — which is in turmeric and gives curry its bright color — can improve mood thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Study author Dr. Gary Small, the director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA’s Longevity Center, said curcumin may be a mood and memory booster because of its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression.
8. Indulge with some dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate boasts all sorts of health benefits. Researchers from Loma Linda University in California have found that chocolate high in cacao can not only improve your mood, but also boost your memory, improve your immunity, and reduce stress levels and inflammation. The key to getting this right is looking for a chocolate bar that has at least 70 percent cacao. The flavonoids in cacao are high in antioxidants. So there you have it: science-backed approval to keep a chocolate bar on hand in case of a bad-mood emergency!
9. Try aromatherapy.
Next time you’re having a bad day, consider some aromatherapy. Certain scents have been proven to improve your mood, says Carla Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author in Sonoma County, California. “Citrus scents can be especially enlivening and lavender can be deeply calming and uplifting,” she says. “I carry lavender with me at all times.” Vanilla is also a proven mood-booster, she says. Aromatherapy has piqued scientists’ interest over the years. Scientists in Japan, for example, have proven that inhaling the scents of fragrant plants such as lemon, mango, and lavender can alter gene activity and blood chemistry, ultimately lowering stress levels.
10. Hang out with happy friends.
As it turns out, good moods are contagious. A University of Warwick study found that moods do spread between friends, which is just another reason you should get a happy hour or lunch date on the books with that friend of yours who is happy and optimistic.
11. Visit a park.
Going to the park can make you happier — no exercise required. That’s right: Just spending 20 minutes at an urban park has the potential to boost your mood, according to researchers from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The February 2019 study, which was published in International Journal of Environmental Health Research, involved about 100 study participants and found that spending time in city parks improved emotional wellbeing and reduced stress.
12. Practice gratitude.
One of the most reliable methods for improving your mood is practicing gratitude, says Laurie Arnold, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver, Colorado. “Research shows people who practice gratitude on a regular basis are generally happier and experience less symptoms of depression,” Arnold says. If you’re having a bad day, pause for five minutes and list all of the things in your life that you are grateful for, she suggests. “Then as you continue on with your day, challenge yourself to identify additional things to be thankful for with each activity or interaction you experience,” Arnold says. “See how much longer you can make your list by the end of the day.” Take note if your mood improves as you practice gratitude.
With these tips, hopefully you’re able to banish those bad moods once and for all.
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Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.