Mood plays an important role in determining your quality of life. It can affect your perception of the world, influence your relationships, and affect your mental and physical health.
Have you wondered how to improve your mood? Fortunately, the simplest of pleasures can elevate your mood and cost next to nothing in both time and money. Research supports the efficacy of small, affordable actions, many of which can be performed in a work setting when you are in need of a mood boost.
- According to a 2011 article published by the American Psychological Association, moderate exercise or physical activity can enhance mood in as little as five minutes.
- In a 2014 study, office workers who were exposed to roses for four minutes reported feeling more comfortable and relaxed than office workers who weren’t.
- A 2012 study published in Psychological Science found that the simple act of smiling can help to reduce the body’s stress response.
In addition to short bursts of exercise, smiling, and smelling the roses, here are eight other cost-effective ways to improve your mood in five minutes or less.
1. Listen to Music
Studies show that listening to music can leave you feeling happier, particularly when you are actively trying to improve your mood. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that participants who listened to music while intentionally trying to be happier reported higher levels of happiness than participants who simply listened to music. The researchers concluded that having the intention to feel happier while listening to music may have a positive influence on listeners’ overall happiness. This is in contrast to individuals listening to happy music when they’re indifferent or don’t care to improve their mood.
The type of music you listen to can influence mood as well. Upbeat, fast tempos can energize you while relaxing music can soothe you when you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Listening to music you genuinely enjoy while remaining intent on improving your mood, whether it’s at the office or in the car, is a quick way to induce feelings of happiness.
2. Get Some Sun
If you’re looking to improve your mood fast, walking outside is one of the quickest and easiest ways to do so. Exposure to the sun boosts serotonin production, which explains why some sufferers of depression notice a worsening of symptoms during the winter months. Less time spent out in the sun can lead to a drop in serotonin, resulting in depressed mood, anxiety, and low energy.
Whether you’re battling depression or simply want to boost your mood, stepping outside can help. Spending a few moments in the sun during peak hours relieves stress and reenergizes the body and mind. Time outdoors will be all the more beneficial if you can sneak in a short walk, ideally somewhere close to nature. If you find yourself in need of a sunshine fill during the winter months when the sun is less intense, you may want to consider a light therapy box. These lamps provide artificial sunlight and are particularly beneficial for sufferers of seasonal affective disorder.
3. Drink Coffee
Most die-hard coffee drinkers will attest to the almost instantaneous feeling of happiness experienced with that early morning cup of Joe. While you typically reach for a cup of coffee when you need to focus or remain alert, there is evidence that the beverage can boost your mood as well. While researchers don’t yet understand exactly why coffee enhances mood, they do have a few theories. According to a 2016 meta-analysis, one theory suggests that the caffeine in coffee increases the amount of dopamine (a reward or motivator chemical) that binds to dopamine receptors in the brain.
Whatever the underlying mechanisms may be, coffee’s potential to improve mood make it a quick, affordable option if you want to feel better fast. Just be sure not to drink too many cups, especially if your body is sensitive to caffeine, as it can lead to anxiety, irritability, and sleep disruption when consumed in large quantities. To avoid negative side effects, experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend drinking no more than four cups of coffee (400 mg of caffeine) per day.
4. Brighten Someone’s Day
It’s no secret that when you perform small acts of kindness, you feel better. Interestingly, in a 2016 study published in the journal Emotion, participants who completed a kind act for an individual or for the common greater good reported an improvement in mood, while those who treated themselves or did nothing at all reported no positive emotional change. This suggests that when you feel low or sluggish, actively trying to lift up someone else rather than yourself leaves you feeling better.
The good news is it can take relatively little time and effort to do something nice for someone else. Here are a few suggestions:
- Open the door for someone.
- Send a letter or an email of encouragement to a friend.
- Buy coffee for the person behind you in line.
- Tell someone how much he or she means to you.
- Make small talk with strangers.
- Write a thank-you note.
- Pay a friend or a stranger a compliment.
- Leave inspirational Post-its for someone who could use it.
- When all else fails, smile at someone!
5. Eat (or Drink) a Healthy Snack
Certain foods have been scientifically proven to elevate mood.
- Dark chocolate contains flavanols and methylxanthines, both of which are believed to contribute to its relaxing and mood-boosting effects.
- Almonds contain folate, magnesium, and amino acids, all of which can help improve mental health.
- Berries, particularly blueberries, are high in antioxidants, which help to ward off anxiety and depression and anxiety. A 2017 study also found that consuming flavonoid-rich foods, such as blueberries, boosted positive mood in children and young adults.
- Dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach are high in magnesium, a mineral that helps relax the body’s nervous system and plays a key role in the development of serotonin, which helps relieve symptoms of depression.
- Probiotics provide the gut with beneficial bacteria, which is essential to the production of neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, both of which affect mood.
Probiotics can be taken as a supplement and are also found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
Additionally, drinking tea can provide a boost. Herbal tea, such as lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm, all have a relaxing effect and are caffeine free while green tea, particularly matcha, will leave you feeling energized and focused. A 2017 study conducted in the Netherlands found that the phytochemicals in matcha green tea improved both the mood and cognition of the study participants. Moreover, matcha contains large quantities of the amino acid L-theanine, which had a calming effect on participants and reduced arousal caused by caffeine.
6. Breathe Deeply
Whether you’re stressed out, fatigued, or in a poor mood, a few minutes of deep breathing can give your body and mind a much-needed timeout. Focused breathing elicits a relaxation response and can be practiced in a variety of ways, such as yoga and tai chi. Whatever your preference, the point is to use your breath to quiet the mind and relax the body.
If you find yourself at work with only a few minutes to spare, try alternate nostril breathing or the 4-7-8 breathing technique, both of which help to lower stress and bring you into the present moment. If you don’t favor either of these methods, rest one hand on your upper chest and the other below your rib cage. Take slow, deep breaths as your lower hand moves up and down with your stomach. These breathing practices will leave you feeling recharged and refreshed.
7. Recite an Affirmation
Self-affirmations can be used to affirm your self-worth and to decrease stress. A 2016 study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience found that participants who practiced affirmations had greater activity in areas of the brain responsible for reward than participants who did not. The positivity that is generated by the reward led to more positive imaging related to future events. Another 2016 study found that affirmations reduced stress, anxiety, and depression in women with cardiovascular disease.
Write down an affirmation and review it throughout the day or recite it quietly to yourself when you feel in need of a boost. Affirmations are typically, short positive statements such as, “I already have everything I need to be happy” or “I love and approve of myself.” When reciting an affirmation, it’s important to believe what you’re saying to be true. Don’t allow the words to feel empty but rather give meaning to them.
8. Inhale a Pleasant Scent
Your sense of smell may have a more powerful effect than you think. In addition to the sensation of the odor itself, it may also conjure up memories and emotions you associate with them. The smell of fresh-cut grass, for example, might bring you back to summer days of a carefree childhood, evoking pleasant memories and boosting your mood.
Moreover, according to research, certain scents can affect your mood whether you associate pleasant experiences with them or not. In a 2005 study, panelists rated their mood after inhaling the scents of clementine and vanilla bean. Both scents evoked feelings of happiness. Additionally, participants reported vanilla bean as relaxing and stress reducing, while clementine was experienced as stimulating and energizing.
Other pleasant scents such as lavender, peppermint, and lemon can also improve mood and come in a variety of forms, such as essential oils or teas. You can keep herbs or a lemon near your desk for when you need an afternoon pick-me-up. Fragrances have the added benefit of not only boosting your mood but certain ones can also boost productivity or relieve stress and tension.
One last tip is to tap into the power of laughter to make you feel better—physically and mentally. When you laugh, particularly in a social setting, endorphins (the feel-good chemical) are released. Watch a funny video online (there’s no shortage of them) or chat with a friend or co-worker whom you can rely on for a good laugh.
How do you improve your mood? Whether you choose to laugh, smile, drink coffee, snack, or use any of the other simple, science-backed suggestions mentioned above, remember that it is possible to feel better and enhance your mental, physical, and emotional well-being in just a few minutes.
*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 program.
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