It happens to all of us. You’re in a bad mood. The anxiety level is high, the tolerance for even the smallest negative circumstance is low. We all get into bad moods, and eventually, we snap out of them. The main reason we have trouble extracting ourselves more quickly is that we can’t shake a bad mood if we’re not aware of what’s causing it.
The next time you get into a funk, don’t just wait for the dark cloud to lift. There are steps you can take to improve your mood, and the first is to figure out what’s causing it. Here are some common causes of bad moods, and what you can do to fix them.
Feeling even slightly guilty can have a huge impact on our mood. Forgetting someone’s birthday can make you feel bad even if you apologize (but certainly if you don’t). The best way to resolve guilty feelings is to atone for your actions. If you still feel bad about the missed birthday, take a few minutes to send a cute and funny apology card, e-card, or small gift. They will appreciate the gesture and you will feel better as soon as you click send. (See The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology.)
Rejections are an extremely common emotional injury, especially in the age of social media. (See Why Rejections on Social Media Can Really Hurt.) When you post your vacation pictures on Facebook or Instagram and no one “Likes” them, it can sting. However, since you don’t know the circumstances, it’s important not to take things personally. People often check social media on the fly, while waiting for the elevator (or the doctor), stuck at a traffic light (or in a meeting), or while sitting on a bus (or on the can). If someone close hasn’t responded, you can assume they were too busy to do so and send them a text or message asking them to take a look at your pics if you’re eager to share (or get the response you want).
Our mental to-do lists can sit in the back of our mind, nag at us, and bring down our mood. But you don’t have to complete every outstanding task to improve your mood. Studies have found that just making a plan for tackling tasks is sufficient to eliminate mental nagging and improve your mood. So decide when you’ll do the task, set a reminder on your phone or put up a post-it, and watch your mood lighten.
Many of us can get stuck replaying upsetting scenes that occurred days, weeks, or even months ago. (See The Seven Hidden Dangers of Brooding.) When an upsetting short film keeps playing in the back of your mind, use distraction techniques to reduce the intensity and frequency. Studies show that even a two-minute distraction (such as doing a crossword or playing Candy Crush or Sudoku) is sufficient enough to disrupt the distressing thought and restore your mood.
Having a Low Self-Esteem Day
Like the proverbial bad hair day, sometimes we just wake up feeling bad about ourselves for no apparent reason. Our self-esteem tends to fluctuate, but it is important to prop it up when it is low. Therefore, when your self-esteem is in a slump, do something to make you feel good about yourself. Work out and release some endorphins, wear something you feel good in, plan something you’ll look forward to doing, or call someone who truly appreciates you and makes you feel good about who you are.
We can worry about an upcoming marathon, a presentation at work, or an important exam for days or even weeks beforehand. To get out of that fixation, focus on things that are within your control: beefing up your road work, creating support among colleagues by being supportive and encouraging of their work (which will make them more likely to be supportive of yours), or making a detailed study schedule can help reduce the fear of failure and the lousy moods that go with it.
We can get so caught up in life we neglect our emotional and social needs and begin to feel disconnected from the people around us. To move past this feeling, give a loved one a call or take a break and play with your pet. Studies have also found that even brief social interactions with acquaintances can improve mood. (See Why We Need All the Acquaintances We Can Get.)
This also falls in the obvious-but-often-neglected category. Children aren’t the only ones who get cranky when they’re tired. When we don’t get enough sleep it significantly impacts our thinking, creativity, and our general mood. If you can, take a 15-minute power nap. Even a brief nap can be sufficient to recharge your battery and bump you out of the doldrums.
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how often we forget to consider it. Being hungry impacts our mood far more than we tend to realize. If it’s been a while since you last ate…have a snack.
Strategies for Bouncing Out of a Bad Mood:
If lack of food isn’t the problem, get a bit of exercise and get that blood moving. Even a short walk can make a difference – and if you can, do it outside in the sunshine. It’s amazing what a little attention to your body can do for your brain.
Doing Something Creative
You may not feel like doing “work” when you’re in a bad mood, but it can actually help get you out of your funk. Researchers have found that the same “narrow, alert focus on issues” that causes a bad mood can actually be a good thing when you’re being creative – and can make for more positive emotions. So not only will you kill that bad mood, but your work will be better too!
Cracking a Smile
You’ve probably heard this one before, but it bears repeating: research shows that just turning that frown upside-down actually makes you more likely to experience a positive mood. Of course, if you try too hard to fake it, it can backfire – so make sure to accompany that smile with some positive thoughts to help it along.
Doing Something Nice for Someone Else
Doing something nice for others can make you feel good – even if you’re in a bad mood. So if trying to make yourself happy isn’t working, try making someone else happy. It could be something big or something small – every little bit helps.
Listening to Music
Music is a magical thing. One study found that 10 minutes of classical music minimized participants’ negative moods, and it’s not the only one. Find music that works for you and press play. Maybe that’s uplifting music, or maybe it’s something energetic to get your blood pumping. Listening to something you don’t know might help, too – our brains crave novelty, so a song you aren’t familiar with might be just what you need.
One of your first impulses may be to vent your frustration, but that’s actually a bad idea. Venting may feel cathartic in the moment, but it keeps your anger present rather than getting rid of it – which is, ultimately, what you want to do. So, try to channel that into more positive energy (like exercising) rather than negative (like yelling and punching stuff).
Stopping the Momentum
Unfortunately, once you recognize you’re in a bad mood, your brain continues to expect bad things, turning a bad mood into a bad day. So catch this before it starts, and make sure you don’t give your bad mood momentum. If you can, try and evaluate what put you in that bad mood, and try and put a positive spin on it – even if it’s “I’m motivated to do better next time.” That’ll keep your brain from over-simplifying.
Seeing It Through
Lastly, while it may seem counterintuitive, you may have to spend some time on what’s bothering you. If it’s something you need to deal with, pushing it down isn’t going to help. Instead, think through what’s making you mad – whether it’s a piece of bad news or something else – and let your brain fully process it. If you do, you can actually lessen the effect it has on you. That isn’t to say you should dwell on it all day long, but if it’s something you need to work through, you’re better off doing it now than letting it fester.