March 22, 2019 | Categories: Mental Health
Ever have that day when every little thing seems to go wrong and you just can’t wait to get back into bed and get a fresh start tomorrow? We’ve been there, too. But don’t crawl back under the covers just yet: These research-backed tips can help you banish your funky mood and feel cheerful, energized and happier in less time than it takes to finish a cappuccino.
If you’re feeling lethargic, and a bit cranky to boot, there’s a good chance you’re actually dehydrated. That can be true even if you’ve chugged a venti latte for an energy boost this morning—caffeine can act as a mild diuretic, so your body might not be as hydrated as you think. Make sure you drink water in the morning before your coffee, then keep sipping a few more glasses throughout the day. Just how much water you may need is largely individualized, according to the Mayo Clinic. But an “adequate” intake is defined as 15.5 cups of all types of fluids daily for men and 11.5 cups of fluids daily for women. Aim to hit or surpass that mark, and try to make as much of your fluid intake come from plain old H2O.
Whether you’re stuck in traffic or just need a boost to help you get through the final stages of a project, turn up the volume. Listening to songs that make you feel energized and happy can send a bad mood packing, according to research involving music therapy and depression. So whether your jam is ‘Happy,’ ‘Uptown Funk,’ ‘Take Me to Church,’ or another tune that makes you feel good, have your music and some headphones on hand for whenever you need to smile.
Almost any kind of exercise can make you feel happier and can give you a sense of accomplishment. And you don’t need a fancy health club membership or spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits. Research from the University of Essex found that doing just five minutes a day of any outdoor activities (walking, cycling, running, etc.) can almost immediately improve self-esteem and mood.
Pick up a pretty bouquet to set on your kitchen table or bring an arrangement for your desk at work. A study from Harvard University found that people reported being happier and more energetic after looking at flowers first thing in the morning, especially if the buds were displayed in a room where they spent a lot of time.
Numerous studies have clarified what most of us already instinctively know—eating chocolate makes you happy. And research published in the journal Nutrients found dark chocolate can help boost concentration and memory. Scientists speculate that both the flavanols and plant compounds found in cacao are believed to play a role in chocolate’s mood-enhancing effects.
Keeping track of the things you appreciate in your life can improve your mood and your health. Happiness researchers have found that practicing gratitude can boost your immunity, help you sleep better, reduce depression symptoms, and even increase the amount of time you exercise by an average of one and half hours more a week compared with people who focused on the negatives in their lives. And even on the crummiest of days, reflecting back on a few small pleasures can help change your mindset to a positive one. In order to reap the positive well-being effects of gratitude, consider writing in a gratitude journal at night or in the morning. You might want to jot down some of the good things that happened to you that day (“my boss showed appreciation for a project I worked hard for” or “a neighbor said hello and asked how my family was doing”) or find some positives you can be grateful for, whether that’s a warm bed, a hot shower, or your kids’ health.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a shoreline, put your toes in the sand. Research shows spending time gazing at the ocean and breathing in sea air is good for your mental health. An English census data report found that people who lived near the coast reported better physical and mental health than those who don’t reside near the sea, and a study published in the Journal of Coastal Zone Management said that participants who live in homes with ocean views report feeling calmer than those without them. If you can’t get away, check out websites with sea views and sounds like Calm.com or watch a YouTube video of crashing waves in a tropical setting. Consider taking a trip to Eleuthera, in The Bahamas.
Science says that trying something new or honing a new skill stimulates and challenges our brains, particularly if what you’re doing puts you in a state of “flow”–when you lose track of time because you’re in a mental state of complete absorption. Take a 5-minute break from work to research a new recipe to try, play a new game on your smartphone, fill out a crossword puzzle or search for free brain games to play online.
While you might think that being on vacation offers your greatest opportunity for happiness, research shows that looking forward to a trip away often brings more joy than the getaway itself. In a study among 1,550 participants, vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness compared to those who didn’t travel—but only those who took a very relaxed trip felt happier once they were back home. Discover 7 reasons to take every last vacation day.
Taking a deep inhale of certain odors can make you feel happier. Among the top scent boosters: citrus (thought to be stimulating, and which can help to increase levels of stress-busting serotonin) along with energizers like.peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary. Consider having small vials of these essential oils in your desk drawer at work to sniff when energy lags. Even better, eat an orange and sip peppermint tea in the afternoon.
Foods like poultry, meat, nuts and milk often contain the essential amino acid tryptophan, which helps form the production of the brain chemical serotonin. And numerous studies show that low levels of serotonin can contribute to a lowered mood state. And no, the tryptophan in your Thanksgiving turkey isn’t what makes you sleepy—you can blame that on how much food you pile on your plate.
Therapy dogs have long been used to help decrease stress and lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or in nursing homes. But research shows spending even just a few minutes with animals can also help the rest of us reduce levels of tension and stress. How to keep your dog safe this winter.
Exposing yourself to natural light helps your body stop producing melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, and promotes feelings of wakefulness. Better yet, give yourself direct sunlight exposure by going on a walk to get the sun’s ultraviolet B rays, letting them hit your skin so your body produces vitamin D. (Just don’t overdo the sun exposure for more than a few minutes or you can increase your risk of skin cancer.)
If you want to change your attitude for the better, do something nice for someone else. “Giving,” whether that’s of your time or money, activates those areas of the brain that also light up during pleasurable activities like sex and eating certain foods. There is also a causal relationship between people who tend to donate money and their life satisfaction, according to other studies. Find a charity that strikes a chord with your values and give what you can. Got more free time? Try volunteering in your community; research shows it can boost happiness by increasing life satisfaction and providing a sense of purpose.
Reading literary fiction may help you have a better understanding of others emotions, a skill that’s important to our social relationships, according to research from The New School for Social Research. Joining a book club may also boost your happiness. A small University of Liverpool study examined how reading impacted subjects who were suffering from depression symptoms and found that when they read literature and engaged in group discussions, they experienced increased personal confidence, reduced social isolation, plus improved concentration—all of which enhanced their psychological well-being.
This article originally appeared in a fall print issue of Centennial Publishing’s The Secret of Happiness magazine.
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