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How to Improve Your Mood

Mark Tyrrell
Article by Mark Tyrrell
Therapist trainer of 25 years
Co-founder of Hypnosis Downloads

7 uplifting tips to take you from growly to grinny

"Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come." ~ Robert H. Schuller

A rather moody king once ordered his advisors to produce: "Something I can look at that will help me feel stable, to lift my spirits when they're down!"

The wise advisors finally presented the king with a beautiful golden ring - a perfect fit for his royal finger. When the king peered closely at this ring, he could read the inscribed words: "This too will pass."

If we don't learn to manage our moods, we can feel like a victim of our own capricious and random emotionality; like a ship without sails tossed around an ever-changing ocean. Why do some people seem more prone to moodiness?

Why so moody?

Chronic moodiness can be a symptom of prolonged stress (in which case dealing with the stress should make you less moody), and blood sugar imbalance or hormonal fluctuations can also affect mood. But it's also true to say that moodiness can become a way of life, a habit. And whatever the cause of our moodiness, we can all get better at managing our emotions.

Here are some tips to help you recover from bad moods and rediscover your optimism, balance, self-control, and enjoyment of life.

1) Remember that you can improve your mood

People differ in their expectations of being able to influence their own moods. Those who do not expect to be able to control their moods tend, in general, to feel worse (1). So one way to improve your mood is to remember that you can improve it.

All the evidence points to you being able to change your mood much more easily than you might have assumed, so there's good cause for optimism.

2) Know your mood

Being able to label what your mood actually is and (if possible) why you feel like that is a sign of emotional intelligence. Trying to pretend you are not feeling angry or jealous or demeaned when you are helps no one - least of all you.

Say to yourself inwardly: "Okay, I'm suddenly feeling really irritated because Philip just blamed me for something I didn't do." Now you don't have to pretend you are not tetchy and you have clearly located why the feeling is there. But for the sake of everyone...

3) Limit the damage

Moods, like oil spills, tend to spread everywhere unless they're contained quickly. If you do know why you are feeling irritable or tetchy, remind yourself: "I am mad at Philip. I don't have to be aggressive toward Susan, who is just being nice." The dog doesn't have to bite the cat because it's been kicked by the man.

Working with the mood in this way also helps you get outside it. What do I mean? Read the next tip.

4) Remember: You are not your bad mood

It's easy to identify completely with the emotion we are feeling, as if the mood is who we are. But we know this is not the case because once moods have lifted, people often say stuff like: "I don't know what came over me!" And they may feel they acted in ways that are in conflict with their core values or beliefs. The point is, however compelling and demanding the mood is, the mood is not who you are; remember that.

You are not your anger/fear/despondency; but the fact that you know you are feeling these things means that the part of you doing that 'knowing' is outside of the actual experiencing of that mood. An emotional experience is not you, any more than a temporary visitor to a house is the house itself.

Watch the mood and follow Tips 3 and 5 to lift yourself out of and beyond the mood to greater self-control.

5) Change your face to change your mood

We experience emotion, in part, to communicate to others. Part of the way we do this is through making muscular changes in our face - hence a grimace, frown, look of horror, or smile.

We all assume, quite rightly, that when we are happy we look happy and when we are sad the result is a sad expression. But it's actually more interesting than that. Researchers have found that it also works the other way.

Professor Zajong, a psychologist at Stanford University, wondered just why we change facial expression so dramatically when we become extremely emotional (2) (think rage or weeping). He found that these changes affect the way the blood flows to your face, but also to your brain. We furrow our brow when we concentrate, which diverts blood from the face to the brain (possibly helping us concentrate better). But he also found that changes in facial expression affect the temperature of the brain; that is key to understanding why adopting a certain expression can make you feel better or worse.

The metabolic activity of your brain produces so much heat that it needs continuous cooling. Air coming in through the nostrils helps cool the brain, and when your brain cools, you feel better. When we frown, we narrow the nostrils, which heats up the brain (experimenters found that grimacing for just 30 seconds produces a fivefold increase in brain temperature associated, remember, with feeling worse). Whereas smiling (even a 'fake' smile) for a short time leads to an average of 29 millilitres of air passing through the nose, which pleasurably cools the brain.

Professor Zajong found that asking volunteers to adopt the facial expression associated with negative mood by such methods as asking them to say 'U' constricts the nose, reducing air flow and so raising brain temperature - this was associated with a lowering of the subjects' mood. But getting people to adopt 'happy expressions' by saying the letter 'E' does the opposite by expanding the nostrils and cooling the brain, leading to feeling better.

The take-home message from this tip is that we can 'short circuit' a bad mood by purposefully changing our facial expression. (or go into a closet and silently say 'E' for thirty seconds). Repeat until mood lifts; your brain will thank you for it.

6) Improve your mood by moving your body in nature

When a mood descends, it tries to get you to act in ways that fit it (the mood). If you purposefully act in ways that conflict with the mood, then it will soon get the message that it is not wanted or needed. Do a crossword puzzle to activate your 'thinking brain' and therefore dilute the effects of the 'emotional brain'. Or, better yet, go for a walk. Regular exercise has been shown to be better at lifting depression than medication (3).

Go for a brisk walk (even a jog if you're fit enough) and if you can, get out into nature. Recent studies have shown that spending time or exercising in natural settings - even urban parks and gardens - has benefits for one's mental health, including lifting mood quickly and even improving immune function (4). So get outside and move!

So to change your mood:

  • Deal with any undue general stress in your life so you'll feel generally more emotionally stable. (There are loads of articles on this site - and more to come! - to show you just how to deal with different types of stresses.)
  • Recognize that you are in a mood, what that mood is, and, if possible, what caused it.
  • Forget about the mood being 'justified' or thoughts that 'so-and-so made me feel like this'. The point is that once your mood has let you know that you are not happy about something, you don't need the mood anymore - it's done its job and you can work to lift it.
  • Limit the mood from spreading by reminding yourself that the mood was triggered by one or a series of events (or maybe because you just haven't eaten recently) and that it is unfair to direct it onto unrelated people.
  • Remember the mood is not your core identity; it is an intruder. All the tips here help you 'stand aside' from the mood itself and therefore identify with it less.
  • Remember the amazing research on facial expression and brain temperature (and how that temperature affects mood). Smile or say 'E' to directly and quickly improve mood.
  • Get outside in nature (if possible) and exercise - even if it's a five-minute walk.
  • Re-read this article and listen to the free audio session.

Oh, and of course, remember the king's ring and the wise words: "This too will pass."

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  1. Mearn, K.J. and Catanzaro, S.J. (1994) Mood regulation expectancies as determinants of dysphoria in college students. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 37, 306-12.
  2. McIntosh, D.N., Zajong, R. B., Peter, S., and Emerick, S.W. (1997) Facial movement, breathing temperature and affect: Implications for the vascular theory of emotional efference. Cognition and Emotion (March 1997), 179-195.
  3. Babyak, M., Blumenthal, J.A., Herman, S., Khatri, P., Doraiswamy, M., Moore, K., Craighead, W.E., Baldewicz, T.T., and Krishnan, K.R. (2000) Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at 10 Months. Psychosomatic Medicine, September/October 2000.
  4. The study found that just a five-minute 'dose' of exercising in nature provided the biggest boost in people's self-esteem. In the latest analysis (May 2010) published in The Environmental Science and Technology Journal, the UK researchers looked at evidence from 1,250 people in 10 studies and found fast improvements in mood and self-esteem.
Published by Mark Tyrrell - in Emotional Intelligence