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10 Quick Mood Boosts When You Feel Overwhelmed

5. Accomplish one tiny thing.

Key points

  • Taking care of our physical and emotional health can help us be more resilient in the face of adversity.
  • Even little actions can make a difference, especially when we're feeling overwhelmed and unable to commit to longer-term plans.
  • Seeking small moments of connection, expressing your emotions, and spending time outside can be easy paths to self-care.

Many of us know what we should do long-term to help ourselves feel healthier, mentally and physically, and to be more resilient in the face of stress and adversity. Eating well, getting enough sleep, watching our caffeine and alcohol intake, and getting regular exercise, social time, and time outdoors are all healthy habits that can contribute significantly to our physical and emotional health. But when we start to feel underwater with being busy or overwhelmed with a consecutive series of stressful life events, sometimes just taking care of ourselves in healthy ways can seem overwhelming in and of itself.

When you find yourself overwhelmed in the moment, a long-term plan doesn't always mean much. Though we should always strive to take care of ourselves over time, here are some things that can work right away to reduce your stress level and calm your mind and body.

  1. Slow your breathing. One of the classic first signs of an increased stress response is quickened shallow breathing. Many times we don't even realize that we're doing it, but it's very hard to keep calm and on top of things when we're not getting enough oxygen. Inhale slowly through your nose, and an even slower exhale through your mouth. Challenge yourself to increase the length of time you spend on each breath and watch your belly expand as you let the air truly fill you.
  2. Seek out something or someone who makes you laugh. Laughter can be such a potent stress reliever that it is even incorporated into cancer support group treatments. The physical process of laughter can decrease blood pressure, and also give you a mental break that can be a lifeline in times of stress. Haven't laughed in a while? Seek it out. You may be surprised at its benefits, even if it feels a little forced at first.
  3. Nourish your senses. One reason why aromatherapy can be helpful is that novel smells can stimulate different parts of your brain, in addition to what you may believe about the specific power of different scents. Smells are also intimately connected to memories, so you can use that to your advantage like when cinnamon takes you back to your grandmother's happy kitchen. Or envelop yourself in a warm, soft blanket or a hot bath.
  4. Hug someone you love. There's a reason why hugging and cuddling have become such a common way of expressing affection, across various cultures: it feels comforting. And there is evidence that especially if part of what was bringing your mood down was interpersonal in nature, then hugging can help boost your mood even more.
  5. Accomplish one tiny thing. Sometimes part of feeling overwhelmed is believing that you have so much to do that you will never make progress. If it tasks that are making you stressed, choose one tiny, specific thing to get done. Need further help? Try the five-minute rule.
  6. Help someone else. Helping other people has been shown to create a mood boost. Though doing something for someone else may feel like the last thing that you want to take on when you are feeling like your own self isn't cared for, performing a simple act of kindness can help to put things in perspective and make you feel connected.
  7. Write your feelings down. Labeling your emotions may make it easier to manage. This is probably part of why confiding in others about what you're going through can be so helpful. But even if you are not involving anyone else, merely "talking" about your feelings by labeling them and writing them down—may make you see things more clearly, and make whatever you are going through at that moment feel more manageable.
  8. Express gratitude. I've written about it here before but taking a stance of gratitude—even when it feels like the universe is raining on your parade—can improve your emotional well-being. It may feel hokey to summon feelings of thankfulness when you feel upset about what is happening to you in life. But gratitude need not mean you are glad that everything bad in your life has happened. Instead, it is about being willing to see the whole of your life and recognize that there can be beauty and strength even in the imperfections.
  9. Visualize your safe place. If your central nervous system feels like it is under threat, it can be hard to convince your body that it should relax. One potential way to do so is to visualize a place that feels safe and calming to you, even if it's a fantasy place where you've ever been. Gentle waves at the beach, a deep blue sky above a lush forest, get creative. If you can close your eyes and place yourself there mentally, calming your mind, your body can follow suit.
  10. Get some fresh air, nature, and sunlight. Getting outside—even just for a five-minute walk—can help you press the mental reset button. For people who suffer from the seasonal subtype of depression—also known as seasonal affective disorder—getting enough daylight is crucial (which is why lightboxes can be helpful in terms of treatment.) But even if this is not the case, a little sunshine can often provide a mood lift. And greenery—even if it's in the form of a houseplant—has been shown to have a positive emotional effect.

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