No doubt you’ve experienced how a bad day can often be quickly turned around by a friend or loved one. Someone cuts you off on the freeway and ruins your morning, and then an unexpected phone call from your partner shifts your focus. Your boss is short with you in a staff meeting, but a sympathetic coworker cracks a joke to break the tension.
Strong social connections can help lift a bad mood, but you may also want to consider other factors that may be influencing how you feel.
Let in the Light
Whether it’s a stint of rainy days or a challenging project that’s keeping you inside, a lack of sunlight may reduce levels of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that, when low, can negatively affect your mood. In fact, this connection is at the crux of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that strikes at the same time each year, most often during the winter months when sunlight is weaker and lasts for a shorter amount of time.
Since you can’t rule the weather, avail yourself of the sun when it is shining. A 10- to 15-minute break in the bright outdoors is bound to upgrade your attitude.
Eat Real Comfort Food
Studies show a possible correlation between improved disposition and omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron and B vitamins. There’s also evidence that those who tend to skip carbs are more likely to feel tired, tense and grouchy, since carbohydrates help produce serotonin.
True “comfort foods,” then, aren’t processed, sugary, salty or high in fat. They are nutrient-rich foods such as leafy greens, lean red meat, fish, nuts, legumes and beans and whole grains.
Exercise always ranks on our list of healthy habits, and Duke University researchers were among the first to document the effect of exercise on depression: Study subjects who participated in 30 minutes of aerobic activity three times a week improved as much as those who took antidepressants.
Additional research backs up the connection, and experts concur that even occasional lows can benefit from exercise’s power to increase neurotransmitters and endorphins (the feel-good chemicals) in your brain. Consider hitting that kickboxing class or going for a bike ride the next time you find yourself feeling down.
Tweak Your Surroundings
Behavioral scientists have noted a correlation between one’s environment and relaxation, as well as intimacy, creativity and productivity. For example, among one study’s participants, softly contoured furniture, semi-circular seating and high ceilings elicited more positive feelings than sharp-angled, rigidly arranged pieces and low ceilings.
Another study found that truly good “mood lighting” may come from brighter lamps, as opposed to those that are dim. Beyond what research suggests, listen to your internal cues: Surround yourself with colors, items, scents and sounds that encourage a sense of pleasure and comfort for you. You may also want to take some cues from the art of feng shui.
Turn to Your Pets
Pet owners consistently rave about the unconditional love of their furry friends. Their unabashed affection and happy attitudes are certainly infectious, but there’s more to their mood-boosting benefits. Experts say that focusing on taking care of an animal can help distract you from dwelling on negative feelings.
In addition, simply stroking a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure, which can help calm you. (It’s no wonder why hospitals and nursing homes now encourage pet visits and employ therapy animals.) If you don’t have a pet to come home to, consider spending some time at a dog park, visiting a friend with a pet or popping into a local animal shelter.