5 Shortcuts to Quickly Recover From a Really Bad Mood

Turn around a bad mood fast with these simple strategies.

Posted Mar 30, 2018

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From time to time, we all experience events that put us in a really bad mood. For example, you make a special trip to pick up an item, but when you get there, it's not ready; you get bad news at work; or a friend cancels on you at the last minute after you've juggled your schedule to fit them in.

1. Be more accepting of other people making mistakes.

In Western culture, we tend to like to try to optimize and eliminate all mistakes. This is all well and good; however, an unintended consequence can be getting excessively bent out of shape when mistakes happen that inconvenience us. We'd all like other people to be forgiving of us when we make mistakes. Try accepting that people and companies are inevitably going to make errors, rather than expecting all of your experiences to be mistake-free. This tip is useful for situations like miscommunication, bad luck, and customer-service fails.

2. Try opposite action: Respond by being extra kind or helpful to someone else.

Opposite action is when you act in a way that's opposite to your mood. In a situation where you're focusing on yourself and your suffering, try reaching out to someone in a serendipitous way. You can choose anything you'll feel good about doing. It could be as simple as offering for the person behind you in line to go ahead of you. You can also just be more human with another person you're interacting with. For example, if you're in a busy store, and one clerk is trying to cope with a store full of customers, and everyone is waiting a long time, you can say something like, "You're doing a great job coping with all these people on your own."

     Tip: The best use of this strategy is when you do something that's out of character for you. Doing something that's out of your norm will lift your mood more than doing the types of kindnesses that you do routinely.   

The principle of opposite action comes from a type of psychotherapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

3. Give yourself a treat.

This tip seems obvious, but you might not remember to do it. For example, if I've been driving around in traffic running errands for a couple of hours, and I'm feeling grumpy about it, I might stop and get Thai takeout on the way home. Again, the novelty principle is important here. Treats that you give yourself frequently won't have the same impact. What treats do you enjoy that you haven't had in the last three months?

Making time to do something you want to do can be classified as a treat. For example, you've been meaning to order a replacement of something that will make your life easier, but doing so keeps getting bumped off your to-do list. Give yourself a few minutes to do something small that's for you.

4. Check that you're not layering extra suffering onto your pain.

When stuff happens that puts us in a bad mood, sometimes our thinking intensifies the experience. For example, you start thinking, "I always have bad luck," or you think, "No one cares about doing their job right these days," or "Corporations don't care about their customers at all. It's all about squeezing the most out of people and giving them the least in return." 

Catch if you're having these types of thoughts, and strip your thinking back to what has actually happened. If your self-talk is, "I had bad luck today. Mistakes happen. It's no big deal," you're going to feel a lot better than if your self-talk is "I always have bad luck," or "Why can't people do their jobs right?"

Source: Unsplash

5. Do something that's been hanging around on your to-do list for a few months.

A very effective way to quickly boost your mood is to do something that's been on your to-do list for months. Pick something that you can complete and get crossed off your list. This will give you a boost of feelings of control and self-efficacy. Make sure you choose a task you can actually get completed, so that you get to experience the satisfaction of finishing it.

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