8 Science-Backed Strategies to Boost Your Mood

There’s nothing wrong with being sad, frustrated or angry from time to time. Life isn’t always easy and you don’t have to “just be positive” all the time when you’re struggling with your health, relationships or finances.

But when you feel down, worried or tense more often than not, it may be a warning sign for you to take action. Depression and anxiety disorders can have a really negative impact on your health, happiness and overall functioning. So what can you do to take care of your mental health?

Have a look at these 8 scientifically proven strategies to boost your mood. 

1. Move your body

Have you ever felt more energized, positive and calm after taking a walk to clear your head? Exercising releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins in your body. But even low-intensity movement, like a short stroll around the block, has psychological perks. Moving your body on a regular basis also triggers the release of growth factors, which prompts your nerve cells to make new connections. According to Health Harvard, this improvement in brain functioning helps to relieve depression. Studies suggest that for mild depression, exercising can be as effective as antidepressants.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you move your body every day. If intense workouts are not for you, no worries. There are plenty of ways you can sneak more physical activity into your busy day. When you’re low on time, fit multiple active moments into your schedule, from getting up every hour, taking the stairs and doing household chores vigorously. And if you’re struggling with your health, perhaps you could try stretching in bed and working your way up to walking a mile a day.

Whatever you love to do, exercising is an all-natural, free and effective strategy that fits right into your mood-boosting action plan.

2. Head into nature

Being in natural surroundings boosts your wellbeing on so many levels. The sunlight on your skin produces vitamin D, a nutrient that plays an important role in brain functioning and good mood. Simply exposing yourself to nature also lowers your blood pressure, muscle tension and stress levels. What’s more, connecting with the natural world often evokes a state of mindfulness that elevates your mental health.

Because studies link being in nature to a more positive mood, emotional wellbeing and vitality, we should all swap some of our screen time for spending time outside. Even if you live in a concrete jungle or are housebound, you can still get your daily nature fix. Even looking at pictures of natural landscapes can help you reduce anxiety and pain levels. So if you want to boost your mood, surround yourself with green: adorn your home with plants, grow herbs in a window box and make time for outdoor recreation on the weekends.

8 Science-Backed Strategies to Boost Your Mood | The Health Sessions

3. Practice gratitude

When life is giving you a hard time, maybe the last thing you care about is to think of all the things you’re thankful for. But studies show time and time again that practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful strategies to feel happier. Being grateful improves your mental health, boosts your resilience and helps you cope better with stress.

Literally counting your blessings by writing down 3 positive things that went well each day is a proven exercise to boost your mood. Keeping a gratitude journal will also build a more positive thinking pattern. Here are 7 more genuine ways to practice gratitude and up your happiness levels.

4. Work with your hands

Do you reach for the cookie jar and remote control when you feel sad, stressed and overwhelmed? As relaxing as it feels, studies show that hands-on activities like knitting and gardening provide more psychological perks than less engaging activities.

Kelly Lambert, author of Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power, found that actions that produce tangible results, like baking a cake or organizing your closets, triggers the reward center in your brain. By changing the following neurochemical reactions, working with your hands decreases stress and depressive symptoms. What’s more, creating something you can see, feel and touch gives you a sense of personal control, which builds your resilience against depression.

So don’t let on-demand digital entertainment kill all your real-world hobbies. Whether you enjoy woodwork, growing veggies or painting, there are tons of fun hands-on activities you can do to boost your mood – even if you’re chronically ill.

8 Science-Backed Strategies to Boost Your Mood | The Health Sessions

5. Engages your senses

How often do you scoff down your meals without really noticing the taste, smells and textures? Many of us are so distracted by our thoughts, phones and to-do lists that we don’t pay attention to the world around us. But research suggests that being aware of what you see, hear and feel helps you cultivate and prolong positive feelings.

Consciously noticing and enjoying the good things in life is called savouring. Practicing savouring has several benefits for your wellbeing: it reduces stress, improves life satisfaction and builds stronger relationships. And the great news is, it’s relatively easy to do.

When you’re really down, you may not be able to escape your negative thinking patterns. That’s when getting out of your head and engaging your five senses can help. When you’re walking to an appointment, focus on the physical sensations: how your soles make contact with the ground, how your posture changes as your weight shifts with each stride. Notice the sun on your skin and the breeze through your hair.

You could also pay attention to your surroundings, taking a mental photograph of everyday events. I used to walk mindlessly towards my destination, caught up in my own thoughts. Now that I have young kids, they point out everything I’d been missing: the bird nests in the trees, a beautiful sunrise and every remarkable vehicle invented. I know that sounds corny, but engaging my senses and savouring those small happy moments has given my mood a bigger boost than I could have expected.

6. Perform acts of kindness

It may sound strange: how could helping someone else make you feel any better? Research suggests, however, that being kind to others actually promotes your health and happiness too. Brain-imaging studies show that giving feels as rewarding as receiving. Compassion and altruism are even linked to longevity, probably because they promote strong social connections, lower your stress levels and improve blood pressure and inflammatory reactions.

Thankfully, you don’t need the bank account of a philanthropist to do good. Give a compliment, donate old clothes or send a sick friend a get-well card. Something as simple as smiling and really listening when someone speaks could brighten someone else’s day – and yours!

8 Science-Backed Strategies to Boost Your Mood | The Health Sessions

7. Get enough sleep

Yes, yes, you know you should be getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. But that’s easier said than done when it’s tempting to watch “just one more episode” or if pain keeps you up all night. But there’s a close connection between sleep and mental health. Not only do feelings of depression and anxiety often lead to insomnia, but chronic sleep deprivation also makes you more vulnerable to negative thinking patterns and emotional outbursts.

So if you want to boost your mood, it’s vital to get enough sleep. Start by covering your basics: a cool and dark bedroom with a comfortable mattress and consistency waking up and going to sleep at the same time. Skip the caffeine after lunchtime and turn off all blue-lit screens one hour before bedtime.

If you tend to overthink at night, maybe a short, scheduled worry session before bed can help get your worries out of your mind and onto paper. You could also try to turn your attention to your body, by practicing progressive muscle relaxation or doing a mindful body scan. Breathing exercises are also an effective tool to calm your mind and relax your body.

8. Sing!

Do you instantly feel happier when your favourite song comes on the radio? We’ve all experienced how music has the power to lift your spirits. Science confirms that listening to positive lyrics can boost your mood. Whats more, singing – especially in a group – can improve your mental health too.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Beyonce or proudly sing off-key, any singing session releases feel-good chemicals and relieves stress. So if you’re looking to raise your vibration, sing along with these 101 happiness-boosting songs – or create your own playlist!

What’s your favourite way to boost your mood? 

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Jennifer Mulder

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