9 scientifically tested things you can do right now to boost your mood
Everyone needs a pick-me-up sometimes.
And as it turns out, there are a bunch of healthy things you can do to lift your spirits.
We've scoured the research to find some of the best ways to improve your mood — no pill or special elixir required.
Here are a few:
Get out in nature.Davidlohr Bueso/flickr
In one 2012 study published in the Journal Psychological Science, researchers gave more than 10,000 people questionnaires about their mental health over nearly two decades, and found that people who lived in urban areas with the most green space (such as parks) reported feeling the least mental distress and the highest well-being. But you don't need to live near a park to get all its benefits — preliminary research suggests that even a 90-minute walk in nature can chase away negative thoughts.
Listen to happy music.YouTube
Often all it takes is some upbeat tunes to shrug away those sad feelings. A 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to positive music while attempting to improve their mood reported feeling happier than people who listened to music that wasn't positive, or didn't actively try to boost their mood. So crank up the Pharrell Williams!
Do something awe-inspiring!Shutterstock
If you want to stop feeling awful and start feeling awesome, consider this: Several recent studies have found that experiencing a sense of awe — the feeling you get looking up into the night sky, for example — can leave you feeling less stressed and more satisfied.
As part of a two-part study published in 2015, students filled out a questionnaire and submitted samples of their spit for analysis. The students who said they had recently had awe-inspiring experiences had lower levels of a stress-related substance called interleukin-6 in their spit, compared with those who didn't feel awe. So next time you're feeling blue, why not take a scenic hike or watch the sunrise?
Find something to laugh about.Matt Cardy / Getty
Sometimes, laughter really is the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter may help relieve stress, reduce pain, and improve mood.
In one small 2003 study, researchers put 16 volunteers in an MRI brain scanner and showed them cartoons rated as funny or not-funny by volunteers. When a different set of people saw the funny cartoons, scientists saw a boost in blood flow to several parts of the brain's "reward" system — specifically, the ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus accumbens, and amygdala. And the funnier the cartoons, the bigger the brain response — and presumably, the more tickled people felt.
Get some exercise!Flying Kiwi Tours / Flickr
A growing body of evidence supports the idea that exercise can improve your mood. A small 2001 study had 15 male college students run on a treadmill for either 10 or 15 minutes. Both groups of students reported a boost in their mood and a decreased anxiety, compared with before the run.
It's thought that exercise boosts mood by increasing the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine in the brain. So get out those running shoes...
Give someone a hug.The White House
There really is something to the healing power of touch, it seems. Studies have shown that friendly physical touching can lower stress hormones and boosts the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is known to promote social attachment in some circumstances. (However, oxytocin is not just a "cuddle hormone" — research suggests it can also make people less trusting of others outside their social group.) Even self-massage has been shown to reduce stress and help people relax. Give it a try!
Eat a healthy snack.Shutterstock/Olga Lyubkina
The food you eat can also have an impact on your mood. Folic acid and vitamin B-12 have both been found to have a role in preventing mood disorders, and low levels of these nutrients have been linked to depression.
You can get B-12 from animal products such as fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and fortified breakfast cereals. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can also take vitamin B and folic acid supplements. So start feeding your mind the nutrients it needs.
Get some sun.carysphotography / Flickr
Sunlight has been found to improve mood by boosting levels of the brain chemical serotonin. In addition, exposure to bright light during the day helps your body produce melatonin sooner, which helps you fall asleep at night. Just don't overdo it with that UV...
Reflect on something positive.Flickr/Eneas de Troya
Sometimes, just looking back on what went well during the day can help lift your spirits. Doctor and wellness expert Susan Biali writes in Psychology Today about an exercise developed by psychologist and happiness expert Martin Seligman: "At the end of your day, look back and find three things that went well. Reflect on them, and even replay them in your mind, revisiting those good feelings." It can't hurt, can it?
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