09/12/2019 Mind-Body Health
Here are a few suggestions from both wisdom traditions and positive psychology to boost your mood as you leave summer behind and get back to school, back to work, or into the fall harvest.
As the days grow shorter, the leaves turn to shades of burnt orange, yellow, and red and are eventually released to blanket the earth. The air is a bit crisper. The seasonal change from shorts and sandals to jeans and boots is underway. Iced tea shifts to lattes. Fruits such as berries and tomatoes make room for pumpkins and squash in the garden. If you are among the many who find the transition from long and lazy sunny days to the hustle and bustle of fall a little challenging, finding some ways to bust out of the doldrums are in order.
What Is a Mood?
Although associated with emotions, moods and emotions are not the same. Emotions are fleeting where moods tend to last for days or even weeks. Emotions tend to be in response to something where moods are neither contextual or situational, and moods also tend to be less intense than emotions. You may notice your mood is off when you feel:
- Quick to judge or less open-minded than typical
- Less optimistic
- A heaviness in your chest
- Feeling disconnected from those closest to you
- Less motivated
- Distance from your internal compass
- An inability to silence your inner critic
- Driven to binge-watch Netflix under a cozy blanket
If any of those feelings are familiar, you may need a natural mood booster or two. If the shift in season corresponds with a plummeting mood or a shift in energy for you, it doesn’t mean you have reached a diagnosable level of seasonal affective disorder. You may need to focus a bit more time and energy on doing things that give your mood a boost. Here are a few great ways to lighten, energize, and reboot your mood.
1. Take a Sensory Hike
A sensory hike is a lot like a regular hike with a few guidelines to ensure you are getting the most out of your time in nature. Instead of listening to a podcast or music, put your headphones away and listen to the sounds of nature, leaves underfoot, birds singing, and dogs barking. Smell the decaying fallen branches, the fall blooms, and the morning dew. Feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Touch a leaf or some bark. Focus fully on immersing yourself in the sensory experience of the moment. In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, it was found that just five minutes in nature could impact your health and well-being and your mood. A free natural mood booster awaits just by walking outside.
2. Have a “Random Acts of Kindness Day”
If you’ve seen movies like “Pay It Forward” or “The Blind Side,” you have witnessed the power of kindness between humans. Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California, Davis have looked deeply at how to maximize kind acts and they discovered that the most powerful use of random acts happens not when they are spread evenly over a week, but rather when there is a single day where you focus on kind acts.
Lyubomirsky recommends spending one day focused on completing five random acts of kindness. These could be topping off a stranger’s parking meter or giving your spouse a massage—the amount of money or time spent is not the focus. Once you complete a kind act, note it down in a journal describing both what you did and how you felt.
3. Reconnect with Friends
Psychologists refer to friendships as social capital—the networks of relationships among people who live and work together in a particular way that enables the group to function effectively. Friendships help you meet your need for belonging. Humans want to be seen, liked, and appreciated for who they are. Your friends don’t only see the best in you, they are also able to bring out the best in you when it comes to empathic accuracy, or the ability to know and understand another person’s thoughts and feelings. When you are experiencing a low mood, your friends can offer a unique source of understanding and insight. Make sure in the busy fall season, you schedule in some time with friends who inspire you and bring you happiness.
4. September Is the New January
Start a new habit. Striving for and achieving something is deeply connected to happiness and it’s hard to be happy in a dark mood. Often things you want to try like a new diet, a different type of exercise class, or meditation get lost in the business of life. Habit formation writer Gretchen Rubin says: “Things you can do anytime are often done at no time.” By thinking of September as a new beginning, you create a visible starting point for the new habit. Think about who you want to be and what you need to do to become (or continue to be) that person. Take a class, find a mentor—research your options and find any way to minimize daily stress. Physical activity not only benefits your health and well-being, but it’s also a great mood booster.
The neurobiology department at Wake Forest University School of Medicine looked to see if short meditations impacted mood in a positive way. Long-term meditators often report a sense of peace and stable mood but it’s great to know that you don’t have to be a yogi with years of practice to reap the benefits of meditation practice. In this study, an improvement was shown after as few as three days of meditation at 20 minutes each day.
6. Get Out Your Playlist
Music has a powerful connection to your brain. Although the last thing you want to do when feeling down is to put on a happy playlist, the good news is any music helps to positively impact your mood. Even sad music can improve your mood, according to one study whose authors are looking more deeply at an endocrine response (prolactin) designed to alleviate mental pain. This hormonal response is experienced as consoling, even enjoyable, which might explain why angsty music can elevate a mood.
In closing, remember that your mood is yours to decide. If feeling a bit melancholy is where you are today, leaning into the melancholy for a duration might be more effective than forcing yourself to lift your mood at the request of others in your life. Motivation to change your mood will be far more effective when you decide it’s time to feel lighter yourself. And when you want to feel better, try these six tips. One thing to remember is that moods, like seasons, change and can impact your overall health. If you don’t like yours, don’t sit and wait for it to change, take action and turn your bad mood into a good mood.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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