We all have those days where we feel uninspired, frustrated, or as if nothing is going the way we’d like it to. When too many moments like this occur in a short period of time we can start to feel like we’re stuck in a rut, and it can become increasingly difficult to keep up a positive mental outlook. The good news is there are many ways that mood can be boosted naturally. Here are 13 things you can empower yourself to incorporate into your life to reap healthy psychological benefits.
Exercise induces a positive mentality by releasing endorphins—brain chemicals associated with mood improvement. While aerobic exercise is one of the most effective means to achieve this, calming exercises like yoga are also beneficial. Whatever you choose, find an exercise program that you enjoy and make it a part of your daily routine. Mood-enhancement should generally start to take effect within five minutes after moderate exercise.
2. Nature Therapy
Ever notice how a walk in a park, a forest, or along a beach almost immediately seems to lift our spirits? Nature’s psychological benefits seem to be the direct result of pleasures that affect our senses and psyches – the smell of fresh air, a cool breeze on the skin, the communal feeling we get from watching wildlife frolic in their natural habitat, etc. Whatever the reasons are though, it’s clear that the sense of freedom that nature evokes has a profound effect on our emotional state (perhaps even truer in today’s modern times due to an increasingly digital world that keeps us locked to our screens.) If mood-enhancement is what you’re seeking, try a vigorous day of outdoor recreation, like hiking, canoeing, or biking. The combination of nature and physical activity just may work wonders for your mood.
3. Break Your Routine
Sometimes simply breaking out of your routine is enough to provide psychological benefits. Whether it’s trying out a new hobby, exploring a neighborhood you haven’t been to before, or eating dinner out on an otherwise typical weekday night, breathing fresh life into your day or week can help get you unstuck from a rut.
4. Laugh, Laugh, Laugh!
Laughter has tremendous benefits which can help you overcome the emotional doldrums in no time, and with no side effects. When you laugh, your body reacts in a multitude of health-beneficial ways, including: reducing stress hormones, triggering the release of natural painkillers (endorphins), improving the immune system, lowering blood pressure, and helping more oxygen reach the brain which improves the operation of the heart. And if those aren’t enough reasons to, well, smile – laughing sends actual happiness signals to your brain, which in turn, makes you feel good. So go on… watch a comedy, google funny cat videos, tell some jokes – or just do whatever inspires joy in you.
5. Listen to Cheerful or Meditative Music
It’s no secret that the rhythm and tone of a musical piece can affect our mood. But why? It’s because when we listen to a rhythm, our heart actually begins to synch with it — a slow heartbeat with a strong diastolic pressure tells our brain that something sad or depressing is occurring, whereas an excitable rhythm will increase heartbeat and effect a more positive mood. As for tones, a song written in a “major key” will usually communicate cheerful signals to our brain, while “minor key” pieces will signify sadness. This “power” of music over our mind-body connection is starting to be seen as beneficial for depression recovery. That said, one does need to be aware of which types of music will work to successfully reverse their negative mood, rather than encourage it further. To feel uplifted, you’ll want to stick to cheerful or meditative sounds, and avoid heavy metal and techno which can actually make depressive symptoms worse.
6. Sleep Hygiene
Sleep has a profound influence on our mood as well as on our overall mental health, so it makes sense to try to focus on getting the best sleep possible — even if that can at times feel like a challenge. Sleep hygiene refers to a routine of mood-beneficial techniques to help you get the most out of each night’s sleep. One such technique is synching your circadian rhythm with local daylight hours by establishing consistent times for going to bed and waking up. Other techniques include following the same routine before bed each night, limiting daytime naps, limiting screen time and light stimuli leading up to bedtime, building a comfortable and productive sleep environment, and keeping a sleep diary to track what’s working and what isn’t.
Research has shown that interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and self-confidence, and decreases feelings of depression. So, one sure way of improving your mood is to work on building social connections. Some ways to do this include volunteering, participating in a neighborhood or community group, playing a group sport, organizing a game night, tutoring someone, singing in a choir, having a friend over for coffee or tea, or even just using Skype or FaceTime to catch up with friends or family who are far away.
8. Art Therapy
Art Therapy is internationally recognized as an intervention for a wide range of clinical diagnoses, including anxiety and mood disorders. Modalities for this therapeutic intervention can differ based on each individuals’ interests, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, writing, collage, musicianship, and much more. The number of ways that art therapy works to boost mood are also considerable: it helps reactivate pleasure centers in the brain, boosts self-esteem and promotes self-worth, reduces physical stress by serving as a cathartic outlet, provides space for externalizing inner experiences, creates a sense of purpose and control over one’s environment, creates an opportunity to engage with others in a non-threatening way, facilitates self-reflection and discovery of unknown strengths, enhances communication, increases social support through shared art experiences, and encourages healthy habits such as regular self-care and self-awareness. But perhaps best of all, artistic endeavors are just plain fun! So, go on – get creative!
Chronic stress can lead to depressed mood, thanks to your adrenal glands overproducing the hormone cortisol. And though you may not be able to eradicate the roots of stress, meditation — a technique in which you focus your attention inward to induce a state of deep relaxation – can certainly help minimize the effect that stress has on the body. While there are several ‘types’ of meditation, they are all thought to work via having a calming effect on the sympathetic nervous system. Try setting aside a specific place to meditate, and enhance the area with anything that helps you feel peaceful (fresh flowers, aromatherapy candles, etc.). Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor with your back straight. Close your eyes and breath slowly, deeply, and gently. Keep your mind focused inward, and if it wanders, gently steer it back to center. Within just a week or two of a regular meditation practice, you should see a noticeable change in your mood and stress level.
10. Keep Serotonin Levels Balanced
Known as “the feel-good neurotransmitter,” serotonin plays a crucial role in regulating both mood and hunger. So, how does one keep serotonin in balance? By supporting the production of it through precursors such as the amino acid tryptophan, as well as vitamin B, an important co-factor. Foods rich in tryptophan include turkey, eggs, salmon, nuts, and cheese. Foods loaded with vitamin B include garlic, spinach, cauliflower, and celery.
Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how bacteria affect our mood, but studies have shown that it could be related to specific bacterial strains, the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and hormonal pathways related to cortisol and serotonin. New findings are suggesting that an imbalance in gut flora could lead to symptoms of depression. To re-establish this balance, it can help to consume prebiotic-based foods including asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, oatmeal, honey, and legumes, which feed the good bacteria already living inside your digestive system. Also eat probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso, kombucha tea, and olives to boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in seafood, nuts, and spinach. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid found in seafood that has been shown to be most effective in combatting depression. Salmon, halibut, sardines, albacore, trout, and herring are all good sources of this type of omega-3. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, try increasing your intake of walnuts, spinach, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, canola oil, and microalgae oil.
13. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is commonly known as the sunshine vitamin. A deficiency in vitamin D (cholecalciferol) has been associated with anxiety and depression. See your physician for a blood test that can evaluate your Vitamin D levels. If you’re low, you may be prescribed a significant boost for awhile until your levels even out. At that point, the suggested intake for people between the ages of 1 and 70 is 600 IUs of Vitamin D per day to maintain adequate levels.
Of course, while this list is full of helpful ways to boost mood, none are a substitute for proper medical care. It’s important to check with your doctor to see if your symptoms meet the criteria for clinical depression. A knowledgeable physician can then discuss all available options and together you can decide on an effective treatment plan best suited to your individual needs.