In a funk? Boost your mood instantly with these tried-and-tested remedies.
1. Cultivate Gratitude
From improved sleep quality to a healthier body image, the proven benefits of establishing a practice of gratitude are myriad. But it doesn’t take a sustained, long-term effort to get positive effects. “Gratitude is robustly related to improved mood and life satisfaction,” explains Aylin Dulagil, a coaching and organisational psychologist with the Positivity Institute. “Even reflecting on a positive experience that you’re grateful for, for as little as five minutes is shown to have an immediate impact on mood.”
Like exercise, the more you do it, the greater the impact. And, also like exercise, the “shotgun” approach of using a host of different strategies has been shown to be more effective than maintaining the same-same approach. “Write a letter thanking someone for something they’ve done, and read it out to them … keep a gratitude journal … list three things that you’re grateful for every day – they can be as small and banal or as profound and big as you like. It’s been shown to have lasting effects on wellbeing and mood,” suggests Dulagil.
2. Go with the flow
Immersing yourself in an activity you find both challenging and enjoyable enables patterns of worry and over-thinking to disappear and make way for a more present existence. Elite athletes often channel this state of flow, which describes the ability to be both alert and relaxed. “The challenge of the task is held in balance with your skill level. You’re not feeling stressed by the task but it’s not routine and boring – you’re in the middle,” says Dulagil. “Time stands still. You’re really present with what you’re doing and you’re engaged in a way where everything else falls away.”
3. Pump up the volume
Several studies into the emotional impact of music confirm what most of us have experienced at some stage – that listening to music can elevate your mood. “Listening to music has been found to lower various stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline,” says Dulagil. But any old tune won’t do. The research also shows that the type of music played is an important factor. “Listening to grunge rock like Pearl Jam made people feel sadder and more hostile, whereas new age and classical music had a positive effect – people felt more caring, more relaxed, had greater mental clarity and felt less hostility, less fatigue and less tension,” he adds. If it’s a good cry you’re after, by all means dig out that Radiohead CD, but stick to upbeat tunes for a mood lifter.
4. Smell an orange
OK, so you may not be sold on the idea that sniffing fruit is as uplifting as devouring a delicious chocolate, but you might be surprised. The oils found in citrus peels are recommended for their energising properties. Invoking your sense of smell is a powerful way to lift your spirits: jasmine eases depression, vanilla enhances feelings of wellbeing and peppermint will pep you up before a workout. An oil burner emitting lavender, orange, ylangylang and rose incites happiness, a blend of chamomile, neroli, lime, ylang ylang and rose dissipates anger, while marjoram, lavender, rose and mandarin soothes grief.
5. Chant “Om”
Indian yogis have been harnessing the power of the sound “Om” for centuries, channelling energy from the abdomen to the brain via the stomach, spinal cord, throat and nasal regions. In a study published in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, scientists concluded that chanting “Om” provides calm and peace to the stressed mind. Another study published in the International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security promotes Om mantra meditation for occupational stress management, noting the instant effects on mind and body, including relaxation and the evaporation of negative thoughts. Experiments have found that the chant induces a sense of calm in the nervous system by deactivating the limbic system (stress centre) in the brain.
6. Fake it to make it
Can a fake smile trick your mind into feeling good? The Darwinian notion that expressions influence emotions rather than being purely induced by them was tested in 1989 by Dr Robert Zajonc’s famous pencil-gripping study. His theory was that the facial muscles activated during a smile – whether real or fake – constricted veins affecting blood flow to the brain, cooling it, which is associated with happier feelings. Since then, people everywhere have been aiming to induce states of chilled out bliss by gripping pencils between their teeth – an act that is likely to incite a giggle, at the very least. “If you put a pencil in your mouth and hold it with your teeth for 30 seconds, it really does work, it definitely boosts your mood,” asserts Dulagil. “It’s biofeedback, where your brain is getting the message from your muscles and is tricked into thinking you’re happy.”
7. Eat feel-good food
Just as skipping meals and overeating can send brain chemicals into a tailspin, what you eat also has an immediate physical impact. Chocolate and ice-cream really do make you feel good – initially, at least. They also make you crave more, so it’s best to stick with the occasional piece of dark chocolate for its mood-boosting polyphenols. Coffee triggers a flood of the happy hormones dopamine and serotonin, although it also strips water from your body, so remember to hydrate with two cups of water for every cup of coffee. To trigger neurotransmitters that increase alertness, reach for high-protein, low-carbohydrate snacks like nuts or legumes. And you’ll be happy as a clam from the instant B12 and zinc hit from shellfish. Champagne and oysters, anyone?
8. Walk it off
Changing your environment can have powerful immediate effects. The simple act of going outside for a walk can shift your perspective as you take in the activities happening around you. It also gives you a chance to recalibrate your senses. “If you’re ruminating and thinking about the past or worrying about the future, going outside and focusing on the sensations you’re experiencing – the sun on your skin or the wind on your arm – anchors you to the present moment, which has an immediate impact on your mood,” says Dulagil. “In one study, walking outdoors increased the positive mood in a sample of post-menopausal women, who reported feeling ‘pleased and delighted’ versus ‘worried and frustrated’.”
Getting your heart rate up releases endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good hormones – which have been scientifically proven to induce states of euphoria and mask pain. Thirty minutes a day of moderately vigorous movement is the generally recommended dose, but something is always better than nothing. Even 10 minutes is enough to trigger a natural high. “There’s a really well established link between doing some exercise and that having an immediate improvement on your mood, resulting in a more positive mood,” says Dulagil.
10. Do a good deed
Being generous makes you feel good – so good that it stimulates the same pleasure centre in the brain governed by cravings for food and sex. Brain scans conducted by researchers from the University of Oregon revealed people who gave to charity frequently experienced pleasurable activation similar to the neurological effects of taking an addictive drug or winning the lottery. Studies also show that giving in a way that enables social connection makes us feel better than anonymously donating. “If you do something kind for someone and see the effect it has on them, it gives you a buzz,” says Dulagil. “Random acts of kindness have been found to increase positive mood and decrease negative mood and, interestingly, have a greater effect in increasing positive mood for women than for men.”
11. Share the love
Social connection and feeling loved can shift your focus to a more positive sphere. Intimate gestures like hugging, kissing and sex release oxytocin, the “love hormone”, which increases pleasure and decreases stress.
12. Pat an animal
Just like human cuddles, patting a pet gives instant stress relief. Scientists at Azabu University who studied the effects of oxytocin (the hormone which is responsible for bonding human mothers with their newborns) found it also played an important role in bonding between dogs and their owners. Staring lovingly into the eyes of your fur baby has its perks, but patting is enough to set off the release of stress-relieving cortisol in both of you. Don’t own a pet? Head to the nearest dog park and relish in the liberated joy of someone else’s canine frolicking in the grass. Bonus: you don’t have to clean up after them!
13. Have a cuppa
In a funk? Have a dunk! Sometimes, all you need is a cup of tea and a (low fat) bickie.