Prescriptions for Life

How to attain your goals, great and small, and create a life you love.

8 Secrets for Beating a Bad Mood

Practices to help you feel better now, and stay that way long-term.

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I write about depression frequently—and I'm fascinated by healthy ways to improve and protect your mood—because I suffered from depression and anxiety on and off throughout most of my life.

Ever since I started dancing and living a more authentic life (a journey which I detail in my book, Live a Life You Love) I've rarely experienced "down" moods—when they happen, they're usually due to something upsetting that's happened, and last only last a couple of hours or, at most, a day or two. This happens to most of us now and then; but one is only diagnosed with depression when you've experienced such consistently for at least two weeks, along with a variety of other classic symptoms.

Still, most of us do go through times, sometimes when the weather turns colder and darker, but especially when we don't feel as good about life and ourselves as we'd like to. Even when such moods don't rise to a clinical diagnosis, it's still a challenge to feel blindsided by a bad mood, especially one that persists over time.

Here, then, are some everyday tips for lifting your mind and body out of a low mood and back into life. Use them to pull yourself out of a bad mood, or to protect a positive mental state and prevent yourself from sliding back into negative feelings.

  1. Move.

    Regular moderate to intense exercise can potentially have the same effect on your mood as taking an antidepressant pill every day—and the side effects are much better. To get regular exercise, all you really have to do is walk briskly: Walk to work, walk to errands, or go for a stroll by yourself with a friend or your partner. You'll be amazed how much it helps. Even if it's the last thing you feel like doing, you'll feel great once you're out there doing it.

  2. Eat healthy foods throughout the day.

    Don't go too long without eating—this will make you grumpy—and stay away from sugary junk foods or drinks that make your blood sugar rise and then crash, triggering mood swings. Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and fiber-rich flax seeds, for a happy brain (literally).

  3. Get enough sleep.

    Research consistently shows that not getting enough sleep can have a dramatic effect on your mood and ability to cope with stress. You might think you're chronically blue; it could be that you just need some more sleep—and if you regularly sleep fewer than 7 hours a night, I can almost guarantee it.

  4. Spend time with friends, or people who make you laugh.

    I remember a day I had some dental work done, and was feeling sore and grumpy. I didn't want to do anything but lie on the couch and mope. Then I turned the TV on and came across a stand-up showcase. I called my husband over to watch with me, and within minutes we were both screaming with laughter. (He's hysterically silly by nature; so is my dog!) Lots of times, a moody, lethargic state that feels like it has taken up permanent residence in your brain is only a temporary state that can change quickly, with the right input or stimulation.

  5. Put on music that you love.

    It's hard to stay down when high-energy music you love is playing. I can go from moping to chorus-line kicks (or pathetic attempts, at least) in 5 seconds if the right song is on. Pay attention to the music, friends, TV shows and activities that give you energy and make you feel fun and alive, and use them as your secret weapons when you're feeling down.

  6. Sit up straight.

    It's true: When we're feeling blue, we tend to slouch and shuffle around. Stand up straight, walk tall and with purpose, remember to breathe, and most of all, smile, even if you don't feel like it. You'll feel better.

  7. Avoid alcohol.

    Booze will make you feel good for a moment, but it's a depressant, and so eventually it will make your mood start to slide back downward. Worse, it affects the depth of your sleep, making you feel worse the next day, even if you rest a full eight hours.

  8. Get in the sun.

    I know, I know—wrinkles, skin cancer, etc. Still, some experts believe our rising rates of depression are a result of the ever-increasing amount of time we spend indoors, and the fact that we wear sunscreen on when we go out, blocking the ability of the sun to form mood-protecting Vitamin D via our skin. Our brains need daylight, and sunlight, to keep producing feel-good neurotransmitters. When the sun comes out, go for a walk—between the sunlight and the exercise of walking, it's a one-two power punch for a good mood. (But I also take a Vitamin D supplement.)

If you do all of these things, I can't guarantee that you'll feel great, but you should feel better, and, importantly, become far less likely to get knocked down by a bad mood again.

An important note: If you've been feeling down for a while, and particularly if you've been having thoughts about hurting yourself, get the help or the opinion of a professional, in addition to following these tips.

Susan Biali, M.D., researches health and happiness. She is also a professional flamenco dancer and author.

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