Mind

10 ways to instantly improve your mood

For those times when you need to snap out of it fast, here are 10 ways to get your zing back.

By Julia Braybrook

Eat some chocolate

Chocolate contains serotonin – the 'happy hormone' – and tryptophan, a natural amino acid which the body uses to make more serotonin. Plus, a study in the journal Appetite found if you're feeling down, chocolate will temporarily lift your mood for about three minutes – though this only works when you're eating good quality chocolate.

Write a to-do list of things you have already done that day

Writing a to-do list for the next day may help you nod off but when you come to actually tackling the tasks, the list can feel overwhelming. Instead, says Tamar Chansky, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, make an 'it's done' list. Set a timer for two to three minutes and write down 10 tasks you've completed this week for a sense of achievement!

Breathe for a minute

Deep breathing is incredibly important, it helps slow the heartbeat, stabilises blood pressure and invokes a state of profound rest. Try this five-minute routine from Karena Hodgson of fitness community Tone It Up. "Sit and breathe with your hands over your heart.

Focus on deep, long breaths as you feel your heart beat. With each inhale, focus on filling your body with gratitude and positivity. With each exhale, breathe the tension out of your body and let go of whatever is making you stressed."

Smell something nice

Light a candle or a diffuser, or dab some oil on your wrists for a quick pick-me-up. An Austrian study found that the scent of orange or lavender made participants feel less anxious, more positive and calmer, compared to those who were exposed to no fragrance at all.

Fake a smile

Just smile... but do it genuinely. Research has found that fake smiling, in an effort to trick yourself that you're actually happy, has the opposite effect and can instead worsen mood and make negative thoughts even more persistent. Instead, aim for a genuine smile (which includes the facial muscles around the eyes) by thinking positively or reliving happy memories. Other than improving your mood, it can also reduce stress.

Get a little bit of morning sun

Whether you eat your breakfast near a window or get off a stop earlier to catch some rays before work, studies have found people who get more morning light are less likely to report feelings of depression and stress. Those who are out and about between 8am and noon also fall asleep more quickly and have fewer sleep disturbances during the night, compared to those who are exposed to lower levels of light in the morning.

Look at some art

Did you know art can spark the same pleasure responses in the brain as gazing at a loved one? Participants in a University College of London study underwent brain scans while looking at classical paintings. When they saw a work they liked, blood flow in certain parts of the brain rose by about 10 per cent. If you don't like art, any peaceful scene will do.

Sheela Raja, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says, "Distracting yourself for a few minutes can put a bad mood into perspective."

Exercise

Exercise is a well-known mood booster as it releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter that's necessary for feelings of pleasure and happiness. But you don't need to smash out a high-intensity workout to reap the benefits. Jack Raglin, mental health and exercise expert at Indiana Unviersity, says, "Even mild exercise, about 40 per cent of your max heart rate, can lift your mood. So if you're not up for the usual high-energy stuff, do a leisure activity you enjoy, such as gardening or walking in a park."

Go outside

A study of a month-long nature challenge in the UK, which involved people "doing something wild" every day for 30 consecutive days, found that being in nature has a huge influence on our mood. Researchers found there was significant increase in people's health and happiness throughout the challenge – and this was sustained for months after the challenge ended.

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