Being human means experiencing the full spectrum of feelings and emotions, good and bad. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless to shift to a more desirable mood.
Below are 20 ways to get out of a bad mood, all of which are evidence-based (meaning that scientific research has found them to be effective).
Give them a try. Remember – if you can’t meaningfully improve your mood, or if your bad mood lasts a long time, help and support are available.
1. Practicing gratitude
Practicing gratitude simply means taking time to think about the things you are grateful for in your life. This could be as simple as being grateful for the people you love, having a roof over your head, and food to eat.
A 2019 study showed that gratitude was a predictor of happiness, describing ‘grateful remembering as a practice that can bolster present happiness and hope for the future.’
So how do you practice gratitude? Many people choose to keep a gratitude journal in which they list three things they’re grateful for each day. The practice acts as a reminder in the moment as well as a growing list of good things that you can refer back to over time.
2. Movement and physical activity
There is a long history of research into the ways in which moving your body can improve your mood. It can be a cost-effective option for most able-bodied people who wish to literally shake off a bad mood.
A 2018 review of the research found that just 10-30 minutes of exercise was enough to improve mood.
The research suggested that moderate-intensity anaerobic exercise (anaerobic exercises being exercises that involve short bursts of intense activity, such as sprinting or weight-lifting) is associated with greater mood improvements. However you are likely to see an improvement in your mood if you move your body in any way, from going for a walk to cycling to gardening.
Swimming in cold water has also been shown to improve mood, but please read up on how to swim safely in cold water.
3. Take a bath
If you’re not interested in immersing yourself in cold water, then try taking a warm bath. A Japanese study in 2012 found that 80% of participants enjoyed bathing (either in a bathtub or shower) and more than 80% reported sensations or feelings of warmth, relaxation, relief from fatigue, and refreshment after bathing in a tub.
4. Relax with pets
Pet-owners often report that their pets can sense when the owners are feeling down, making them the ideal companions for when you’re in a bad mood. Likewise, spending time with animals can help humans to regulate their own nervous system, as evidenced in a study looking at the effects on senior citizens of dog-walking and interacting with dogs.
A 1999 study found that cats have an impact on their owner’s mood, although, interestingly, the presence of a cat only reduced negative moods and had no effect on positive moods.
5. Watch a favorite TV show or movie
While watching something you haven’t seen before may be more interesting, it may not give you the lift you’re seeking. Instead, revisiting old favorites is an easy way to improve your mood, as they can feel like an old friend, a comfort blanket or a warm hug.
Try to find something funny among your favorites if you really want a mood boost. One study looked at comedy in particular, finding that participants who watched the comedy video rated themselves as happier than those who watched the neutral video, both during and after the video.
6. Music and sound
In the same way that familiar TV shows and movies can give your mood a boost, so can favorite songs. Making a playlist of the songs guaranteed to cheer you up is an activity that will help you both in the moment and afterwards, as you can revisit the playlist again in the future when you’re in need of mood-improvement.
The effect isn’t limited to music, as ‘binaural auditory beats’ (auditory signals of similar frequency presented separately to the left and right ear through stereo headphones) have also been shown to improve mood. You can find playlists of binaural beats on streaming services and video platforms.
7. Retail therapy
Retail marketing often encourages consumers to go shopping, to splurge or to treat themselves if they are in a bad mood. The science does actually back this up, however, and retail therapy is a strategy that’s been proven to work in cheering us up.
And it doesn’t have to be an expensive purchase. One study found that even when bad mood individuals are indulging to repair mood, they report that they are not “overindulging.” It is almost as if individuals recognize the minimum consumption necessary to achieve the mood repair goal.
8. Food and drink
Lack of food can cause your blood sugar to drop, which, in turn, affects mood. If you’re hungry and you’re in a bad mood, the first thing to do is to feed yourself. Likewise, dehydration can affect many aspects of your mood and physiology, so ensure you are well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
If you are not hungry or thirsty but would like to try improving your mood, a warm drink can help. Tea is often offered to those feeling down, and with good reason. A 1997 study found that both warm drinks containing caffeine and milk improved mood and reduced anxiety between 30 and 60 minutes after drinking.
Far from being an isolated activity, video gaming can actually provide social interaction and a boost to your mood.
According to a 2022 study, gaming can give you psychological distance from stress through distraction, and help you to rebalance from a bad mood to baseline levels thanks to the way games allow you to master and control your experience.
Similar to gaming, smartphone apps are a quick and easy way to access a better mood from the palm of your hand.
Studies have shown that mood-tracking apps in particular may be effective tools at improving mental health and wellbeing.
The Mood Meter app, for example, was developed by Yale as a way to help users to identify and label emotions, become more mindful of how emotions change throughout the day, and how your emotions in turn affect your actions.
Natural environments are typically relaxing, and being in nature is hugely beneficial to improving many different aspects of health and wellbeing, including mood.
A 2017 study explored the effect of nature on mood. It found that the effects came from nature itself rather than season (including winter) as usually presumed. Even looking at photographs of nature improved the feelings of those in a bad mood! If you can get out into nature directly, the effect is greater in increasing good mood.
While this study focused on the sight and sound of nature, stimulating your other senses will help you to feel emotionally restored. Another study invited participants to walk barefoot in natural environments, leading to greater nature connectedness and feelings of restoration.
Meditation is an ancient practice in which you focus your attention on your thoughts, your breath or an external object such as a candle.
While it may have a reputation for being difficult (especially when you’re expecting to achieve a mind clear of all thoughts – something even the most experienced meditators don’t usually do), meditation is really about practice and focus.
Even brief meditation sessions can improve your mood, so if it’s something you’ve thought about trying then the evidence suggests it’s worth the effort.
Many people report that their hobbies are very helpful in lifting their mood. Whether you enjoy cooking, crafting or chess, spending some time doing the things you love is likely to cheer you up.
A study looked at the activities of Finnish people and how they regulate their mood. Finland’s geographical location means that winters are long and much of the day is in darkness, resulting in 1 in 4 Finns suffering with low mood. This population has become adept at finding self-directed ways to improve their mood, and hobbies are a key part of this.
14. Helping others
As well as expressing gratitude for the good things in your life, another way to get out of a bad mood is to help other people – also known as altruistic behavior.
Can doing good really make you feel good? Social psychological theories of mood regulation suggest altruistic behavior can improve your moods because helping others provides gratification and directs attention away from your negative mood. Try heading to a coffee shop and paying it forward or ask if a neighbor needs your help with anything.
This study from 2011 confirms the theory, noting that extroverts seem to experience more of a mood-boost than introverts.
15. Spend time with other people
When we’re in a bad mood, it can be tempting to retreat or isolate so that your mood doesn’t affect others. But what if their good mood rubs off on you?
Luckily, good moods have been found to be more powerful than bad moods, so you don’t need to worry!
Likewise, other people can provide a regulating influence on our nervous system. So try to find someone positive to spend time with when you’re in a bad mood, and you’ll likely find that you feel better.
16. Physical touch
Remembering back to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, one of the things the majority of people found particularly difficult was not being able to hug their loved ones.
A 2010 paper reviewed the evidence around physical touch and mood, highlighting evidence that massage therapy improved the mood of cancer patients, children and adolescents with chronic pain, and alleviated symptoms of depression in mothers.
One of the important things to remember about physical touch is that even if you’re alone, it’s possible to offer this to yourself. Try giving yourself a hug, or perhaps massage your own hands and feet, and notice if your bad mood begins to lift.
There are many studies that have researched the benefits of singing on mood. One study in particular found that both singing and listening to singing can alter mood immediately after participation in a short singing session, and that some of these effects remained evident one week later.
Try playing an uplifting song, singing along to it, and checking whether your mood improves. Try to enjoy the process rather than critiquing your performance.
Not a singer? Try humming. It’s believed to stimulate the vagus nerve which has a regulating effect on the nervous system.
18. Sunlight and a change of scenery
If you find yourself ruminating because of your bad mood, staying in one place might not be helping. Instead, go outside, go to a friend’s house, or take a different route on your way home from work.
Sunlight in particular is correlated with mood, with one study suggesting the effect is rapid, with brain serotonin (the “feel good” hormone) turnover adjusting promptly to sunlight intensity on the morning of the study.
19. Positive self-talk
It’s easy to give yourself a hard time when you’re feeling low. This won’t make you feel better. Instead, remind yourself that it’s very human to experience bad moods, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.
Speak kindly to yourself, perhaps in the mirror. Also, try smiling! Studies show that smiling can help lift your mood, so turn that frown upside down!
20. Don’t fight it – feel it
Finally, trying hard to change your mood might actually make it worse. If none of the suggestions above are working for you, perhaps you need to allow your bad mood to stick around a little longer.
Take 10 minutes for some deep breaths, look inward, and try to listen for any message your mood might have about what you want or what might need to change in your life.
Journal a few thoughts about what your mood is telling you, then put your journal away, and continue with your day.
Remember that you don’t have to suffer in silence. If you’re struggling with low mood, contact The Center • A Place of HOPE. We can help.
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