Whether you've got a case of the Mondays or an argument with a friend has left you in a foul mood, reaching for the nearest chocolate bar isn't your only option for a quick pick-me-up. When it comes to feeling better in a flash, everything from concentrating on your breathing to giving a stranger a compliment can help. Read on for eight quick, easy — and often surprising — ways to turn that frown upside down.
1. Make a gratitude list.
"The most effective way I know of to shake a bad mood is to brainstorm everything possible that you're grateful for and write it down," says Amy Wood, PsyD, author of "Life Your Way." She suggests starting with broad strokes, like being thankful the sun is shining or that you're breathing. "You'll find that once you get the ball rolling, more and more ideas will come to you. Studies actually show that it's impossible to feel gratitude and unhappiness simultaneously. That's why this strategy works so well, and so quickly!"
2. Practice mindfulness.
"If you're in a slump, you may also be stuck ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Both of these thoughts are nonproductive," says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Instead, he suggests practicing mindfulness, which involves being present in the moment without judgment. "Try taking five minutes and eating your meal in a mindful way, paying attention to how it looks, smells and tastes with each bite, before swallowing it. Or take a quick mindful walk, considering the sights, smells, sounds and temperature with each step." By focusing on the present, you're less likely to dwell on the outside circumstances that are making you unhappy.
3. Try toning.
This type of toning doesn't refer to weight training, but it is a great workout for your mood. According to Marvin Sams, MA, ND, founder of The Sams Center in Plano, Texas, extending the sounds of vowels is extremely beneficial for getting out of a funk. "Take a breath and then sound out a vowel, like 'aaaaaaaa' or 'eeeeee' [during the exhale]," he says (similar to the om chant that is often done at the beginning of a yoga class). "It will stimulate the inner ear, which supercharges the cerebellum, which then balances out the left and right hemispheres of the brain." So what does that have to do with feeling happy? According to Sams, a bad mood could be due to the right hemisphere of the brain, where negative thoughts are generally processed, being too active. When you energize the cerebellum it will balance out both sides of the brain, so the left side, which handles pleasurable experiences, is also activated.
4. Practice a random act of kindness.
According to Rego, doing nice things for other people will make you feel good about yourself. Try holding a door open for someone else, offering a compliment or smiling at a stranger. These acts of kindness lead to positive thinking about yourself, and usually garner a positive response, like "thank you," which can easily put a smile on your face, he says.
5. Pour yourself a small cup of coffee.
"People are obviously drinking way too much caffeine these days, but half a cup of coffee can really perk you up," says Sams. The secret, he says, is stopping at that half-cup to avoid a post-java crash, while still enjoying the feel-good properties of the beverage.
6. Have a laugh.
"Set up a YouTube channel with your favorite comedy sketches and comedians," suggests Cory Bank, PhD, founder of StompStressAway.com. "Have it saved so that if you're in a bad mood you can take a three-minute break and infuse some humor into your day." Belly laughter will make your endorphins kick in within minutes. Plus, he notes, "you'll feel better when you take a short break from your day-to-day reality."
7. Eat an orange.
According to celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak, foods packed with vitamin C, like citrus fruits, green peppers and broccoli, are proven to cheer you up. In fact, a study published in a 2010 edition of "Nutrition" found that vitamin C therapy can help improve the moods of patients who are hospitalized for long-term or critical care. Dr. Sams also stresses the importance of vitamin C (as well as other antioxidants, like vitamins A and E) when it comes to boosting your mood because it helps stabilize free radicals in the body, which are known to accelerate aging and increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. When these highly reactive atoms are neutralized, it prevents them from also damaging brain cells, resulting in better health and improved mood.
8. Just breathe.
Sure, we do this all day long, but breathing in a certain way has the power to relax us as well as lift us out of a slump. Sams is an advocate of diaphragmatic breathing. "Take a five-count breath in, and a five-count breath out. The goal is to manage your breath, instead of having your breath manage you." When you breathe into your diaphragm (lower belly) as opposed to just your chest, which many of us do when we're feeling stressed, you will absorb a lot more oxygen into your system. "Our brains thrive on oxygen — it's very powerful in boosting your mood."
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