7 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Turn a Bad Mood Around
Experts share their favorite mood-boosting tips.
If you're reading this article, we probably have something in common: We both feel grouchy (or sad, or frustrated, or fill-in-the-blank), and we want to feel better now. Whatever the reason for the dark cloud hanging over your head, you're not alone, says psychologist Amy Mezulis, PhD, co-founder and chief clinical officer of Joon. "Everyone has bad days. It is normal to have times we feel less than our best selves—whether that bad mood is irritability, sadness, anxiety, or simply stress," she says. But what's the best way to shake a bad mood, and fast?
Beth Gulotta, LMHC and founder of NYC Therapeutic Wellness, says the first step is recognizing that you're in a bad mood, then making a conscious decision to turn it around. "You can work to reframe your thoughts. Our thoughts dictate our mood, and our mood dictates our behavior, so your thoughts are a great place to start." This sounds reasonable to me, but I wanted some more concrete tips—things I can actually do, rather than trying to wrangle my own thorny thoughts.
Luckily, experts shared a wealth of ideas with me that anyone can try. Read on to find out how you can put a smile back on your face and get that spring back in your step.
READ THIS NEXT: Bad Dreams Could Be an Early Warning Sign for These Major Health Problems, Studies Show.
The quickest and easiest mood-boosting advice I got was to fake a smile, even if I'm not feeling it. Before you roll your eyes and click away, listen: You don't have to do a full-on, Joker-style grin. (Especially if you're in public—we're not trying to scare anyone here.) A half smile will do just fine, says psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW.
"There's evidence that smiling makes you feel happy," she tells me. "And you don't need to give a huge smile. Just a half smile where you turn up the corners of your mouth will give you an instant emotional lift." So go ahead—turn that frown upside-down! (I'm doing it right now.)
The half-smile had me feeling slightly better already, but I needed more—and neuroscientist Friederike Fabritius, MS, suggests something I love: dancing! In fact, I have an alarm on my phone labeled "Dance Break" and set for 2 p.m. every day; I just haven't turned it on in a long time.
The easiest way to get into a better mood is by using your body, thanks to the brain-body connection. "When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, and these will instantly lift your mood," Fabritius tells me. "Dancing is particularly good for your brain, as not only do you release all kinds of feel-good chemicals due to the movement itself, you also activate your emotional brain as a result of the music. So get up and move! Just 15 minutes can have a tangible impact on your overall mood."
Musician, therapist, and life coach Daniel Rinaldi endorses this tip as well. "Don't be afraid to make it silly and dance to your favorite song. As a musician, I always recommend to my clients to create a playlist of their favorite mood-boosting songs and use it when you need it!" Done!
Take a walk—and listen for birds
If dancing isn't your thing, or your bad mood is persisting even after smiling and doing the Macarena, it's time to lace up your sneakers and head outside. "Exposure to nature improves mental health," says Steven E. Pratt, MD, senior medical director at Magellan Healthcare.
City-dwellers like me can get in on it too, as Pratt says there's no need to head deep into the wilderness. "This can include going for a walk in a park," he reassures me.
While you're out soaking up a little greenery, keep your ears open for birds. "A couple of recent studies have shown that exposure to bird songs is one of the most powerful aspects of nature for improving our mental health," Pratt says, pointing out that this can also be virtual. "Instead of an alarm, you could set your wake-up signal to a bird song. You could also set bird songs to play on a speaker in your office during part of the day or on earbuds."
Put on your coziest clothes and relax
Sometimes your mood is too bleak to muster up the energy to dance or go for a walk—and that's OK! Curling up on your couch is sometimes the right move, and definitely not a sign of defeat. (That reassurance is for me, someone who resists the siren song of my sofa at all costs.)
Psychotherapist James Miller, author of Life Lessons: You are the Expert on Your Life, suggests wearing your favorite comfy clothing while you cocoon up—cashmere, silk, jersey knit—and putting on your favorite genre of music. Prefer to binge a show that's been on your mile-long must-watch list? Just be sure to "avoid loud TV shows that embody people yelling and full of strife," he cautions.
Write down what you're grateful for
The idea of keeping a gratitude journal is likely not new to anyone, but how many of us actually do it? Personally, my desk is full of gratitude journals that I started and then abandoned. But Rinaldi urges me to give it another go.
"Be grateful for things in your life that are filling you up with happiness. Take time to write them down and reflect on each one," he says. "I recommend keeping a journal just for making lists of everything you are grateful for—and then on the days you need a boost, you can turn to this journal packed with lists of things that you are grateful for." He adds that "seeing the data" is a guaranteed mood-booster. Scientific! I'm inspired to try again.
For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Let go of a grudge
This might be the toughest one on the list—but when you get down to it, forgiveness is pretty simple. After all, it takes place inside your own mind, no dancing or nature walks required. So if your bad mood stems from feeling angry at someone, make like Elsa and let it go.
"Historically, people have thought of forgiveness as something we do for the people we are forgiving," says Pratt. "From a mental health perspective, it is the opposite—forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. Letting go of grudges and resentments improves our mental health."
You might even take it a step further and do something nice for the person you're forgiving—but it that's a bridge too far, try doing something for a neighbor, a friend, or even a stranger. "Engaging in acts of kindness improves our self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and mood," says Pratt. "Expressing our appreciation for others not only helps boost their moods, but it also boosts our own. When one conceives of oneself as a loving person (as opposed to thinking of oneself as a hating person) it improves our mood."
Hit "pause" on your day
When all else fails, says Rinaldi, it might be time to throw in the towel (temporarily). "Take a break, because let's face it, you probably need it," he tells me. "Disconnect yourself from work and things that make you feel stressed. Give yourself permission to turn off your electronics, grab a book, and cuddle up in bed."
If it's hard for you to slow down, let alone stop, he has some extra words of reassurance for me (I mean, for you). "It's okay to take a break—we all need breaks! Often times, our bad moods come from being overstimulated and exhausted. Take a bath, take a nap, just let yourself lie in bed and daydream. Remember, bad moods don't last forever!"
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. If you have health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.