3 Ways to Feel Better Right Now

Try one of these scientifically-backed techniques to get a quick mood boost.

Posted Nov 01, 2020

Pexels/David Garrison
Source: Pexels/David Garrison

The emotional terrain is rough for a lot of people these days. Here’s some good news: Researchers have documented a variety of methods for immediate mood management. None of these are long-term solutions. And they don’t replace things like a good psychotherapist, a good friend, or the work we need to do to make the world a better place. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness or anxiety (or both!), try one of these tactics to manage your emotions in the moment.

1. Breathe it out.

It seems obvious that your breathing can change in response to your emotions. For example, “doom-scrolling” through social media and reading about every awful thing that might happen in the world feeds your anxiety, which can make your heart race and your breathing grow quick and shallow. But the link between emotions and respiration isn’t a one-way street. Just as your emotions affect your breathing, how you breathe can change your emotional state.

Researchers have demonstrated that just a few minutes of deep and slow breathing can significantly decrease feelings of anger, depression, tension, and even physical pain. There’s not much evidence that the specific program of deep and slow breathing you follow matters — just pick one that is comfortable for you. This article offers several options.

Deep and slow breathing doesn’t require any special equipment. You can do it anytime and anywhere. And you’ll probably get better at it with practice. Why not start now?

2. Work it out.

If deep breathing isn’t your thing, how about a brisk walk? Around 30 minutes of moderate exercise is all it takes to tame your anxiety a bit. But what’s even better is that research consistently finds that a bout of exercise is a powerful way to increase your positive emotions.

Pexels/Tirachard Kumtanom
Source: Pexels/Tirachard Kumtanom

Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can improve your mood for several hours afterward. The effect of exercise on positive emotions is so powerful that it can even help those struggling with major depression to improve their mood. Of course, not everyone is able to engage in this type of exercise due to physical limitations, time limitations, or the lack of a safe place to work out. If a quick workout doesn’t strike your fancy as a mood-booster, then grab a pen and paper, have a seat, and start writing.

3. Write it out.

Pexels/CCO
Source: Pexels/CCO

It’s a terrible trick of nature that negative emotions tend to make us focus on everything that’s going wrong in our lives, and that thinking about everything that’s going wrong in our lives makes our mood even worse. To break out of this vicious cycle, we need to challenge the tendency of negative mood states to make us overly self-focused.

One easy way to shift your focus away from your own suffering is to direct your thoughts toward gratitude. Doing something kind for someone else is also an excellent way to get a quick mood boost. Scientists have found that spending a few minutes writing a letter to someone for whom you’re grateful can result in an immediate improvement in mood. You don’t need fancy stationery or any special gift with words. Just think about someone you appreciate, put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and start expressing to that person why you are grateful for their presence in your life. Tell them all of the things you appreciate about them as a person. Then mail the letter or hit “send.”

I’m a big advocate of physical, mailed letters. Unlike an email, people often hold on to letters and revisit them in the future — so a physical letter is a wonderful gift to give. But if pen and paper feel too old-school to you or you’re out of stamps, any mode of communication will do. What a gift it is to hear why someone appreciates you. It’s a lovely side effect that sharing your appreciation for someone else will likely lift your spirits as well.

When times are rough, it’s worth exploring any healthy tool for managing emotional distress. You never know what might work for you unless you try.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.