All of us have a bad day, week, or even year every now and again. There is a lot to feel bad about in the world today, from the pandemic to political upheaval and riots, to racism and sexism, to global warming. You don’t have to search too hard to find something that you could get down about.
It might not be something out in the world that’s getting you down, but rather something in your personal life. Either way, a bad mood and negative feelings about your life can get you down.
It’s normal to be in a bad mood every now and again, but if your negative feelings are getting in the way of your life and your well-being, then that’s a sign that you need to take action. Fortunately, you can do a myriad of things to make yourself feel better, starting today!
How to feel better instantly
Below, we have outlined some practical, evidence-based tips and advice to help you live a happier, more positive life. Try even just one of the following and notice how it changes your mood for the better.
1. Focus on your breath to feel better
We’re all breathing every second of the day for our whole lives. Still, most of the time, we don’t pay attention to our breath.
We often move through our days so caught up in what’s going around us, such as work demands, family and relationship commitments, and thoughts about the future, that we don’t even notice the rhythm of our breathing.
Bringing your focus to your breath and paying close attention can be life-changing. Shallow breathing is linked to panic, anxiety, and the fight/flight response, while deep, slow, diaphragmatic breathing is linked to rest, relaxation, and peacefulness.
When you breathe deep into your diaphragm, you send a signal to the brain that you are safe. The brain responds by encouraging your nervous system to leave behind its heightened state (sympathetic activation) and enter a state of rest and digestion (parasympathetic activation).
When we rest in parasympathetic activation, we feel better because we’re not on high alert for threat and danger. We’re not stressed and anxious but instead calm and at peace.
How to do diaphragmatic breathing
If you’re having a bad day because you’re feeling stressed and anxious, try the following diaphragmatic breathing exercise.
- Sit comfortably in a chair. Keep your knees bent and let your neck, head, and shoulders relax.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen (just below your rib cage). The hand on your abdomen is how you notice the movement of your diaphragm.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Notice that your stomach pushes against your lower hand. The hand on your chest should remain still. (If you notice that hand on your chest move, intentionally push out your stomach as you breathe and don’t move your chest.)
- Let your breath fall out in an exhale through pursed lips. Make sure all the breath falls out.
- Please don’t force the next inhale; let it happen naturally once all of your breath has fallen out.
- Repeat for 2- 5 minutes or for as long as you feel comfortable.
The above exercise might seem strange or uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re not used to breathing into your diaphragm. Keep going; it gets easier and more relaxing with practice!
Remember that breathing exercises are a powerful tool against stress, anxiety, and a generally bad mood. What makes them so effective and beneficial is that they can be done anywhere, anytime. You can do them on a bus or train, at your desk, or even when you’re lying in bed.
2. Understand what you can control and what you can’t to feel better
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or down, take a moment to step back. Think about, or write down on paper, all of the things that are worrying you or making you feel bad. Identify which of these are outside of your control.
If you’re writing it all down on paper, try crossing out each thing that you can’t control. It could be something on the news, politics, the weather, or someone else’s behavior. Whatever it is, ask yourself if it’s in your control, and if not, cross it out.
Next, take a look at what’s left. Anything that hasn’t been crossed out is within your control. This is where your focus should be. Trying to manage things that are out of your control is a surefire way to get yourself stressed, anxious, and even disappointed.
Bringing your focus and motivation to what lies within your control will help you take effective action and be far more productive.
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.” – Epictetus, The Art of Living.
Things within your control include how you treat people, how you treat yourself, and where you’re spending your time and energy. Pay attention to what you’re choosing on a daily basis.
Many of us make blind choices because we’re not being mindful of how we’re spending our time. Make choices that reflect what you really want out of life that also lie within your capabilities.
3. Have a laugh to feel better
Even when times are tough, it’s important to allow some humor into our lives. Watch your favorite comedian or your favorite comedy movie, read a few pages of a funny book you like, or give a friend a call and joke about something. Bonus points if you can make jokes about what’s getting you down!
Laughter is a powerful mood-shifter. Research shows that laughter elicits the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and can drastically lift your mood.
Do something today that makes you laugh and boost your mental health while you’re at it!
4. Do something for someone else to feel better
Helping other people helps us feel better. We’re community creatures – we’re programmed to work together and help each other survive and thrive. When we do something nice for someone else (known as prosocial behavior), we activate the brain’s reward center and feel much better afterward.
You can show kindness and compassion today by helping an elderly neighbor with their shopping, helping your friend paint their new house, or volunteering for a local charity.
Wherever you choose to do it, your kindness and compassion for others are sure to make you feel better quickly.
Benefits of generosity
If you’re not convinced that helping others helps you feel better, check out the science. Research has found that showing kindness and compassion by helping others significantly boosts your mental health and happiness levels and even grants you a longer life!
5. Immerse yourself in nature to feel better
Being in nature has been proven to lift our mood, increase our general well-being, and reduce stress and anxiety. Whenever you have the chance, get outside to soak up some sun, walk among the trees, or feel the wind on your face. Anytime spent outdoors in nature is going to benefit you.
Even if you live in a crowded city, try to find a local park or lake to spend some time around. Consistent scientific research proves that being in nature reduces anxiety, improves attention, and reduces stress.
6. Practice gratitude to feel better
Practicing gratitude can change your life (literally!). The benefits of gratitude are far-reaching. Common benefits include:
- Improved mental health
- Better relationships
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Increased happiness
- Increased life satisfaction
When you practice gratitude, you learn to appreciate the little things. It might seem hard to be grateful if life is getting you down and putting you in a bad mood, but gratitude can actually counter negative moods and feelings.
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
There is always something to be grateful for, whether it’s a close friend or partner, your favorite coffee shop, your health, or the smell of your favorite flower.
Feeling and expressing gratitude for even the small things boosts your well-being little by little, and over time, significantly. The more you practice it, the more grateful you’ll be.
Practice gratitude with a journal
Get a journal specifically for practicing gratitude. Write in your journal daily about things that make you feel happy and thankful. What aspects of your life make you feel blessed? Who, or what, would you like to thank? What aspects of yourself are you grateful for?
Recalling and journaling about things you’re grateful for shines a positive light on your life and makes it easier to notice even more things to be grateful for as you move through your day.
7. Move your body to feel better
Exercise is a great way to boost your mood. If you’re feeling down, it can be hard to find the motivation to get up. Still, doing even just 15 – 30 minutes of exercise can drastically lift your mood.
You don’t need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights or attempt to run a half marathon (but feel free to do so if you like). Simply engaging in light aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, or dancing can help you reap the benefits of exercise.
Evidence shows that exercise elicits the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain, which are known to improve mood and energy levels. So, if you’re feeling down today, try to get up and get moving.
The Bottom Line
Some days are better than others. We’re human, so we’re naturally going to experience ups and downs in our mood, affect, and energy levels. What’s important is that you learn to recognize what lies within your control and what’s beyond your responsibility.
Many of us try to fix everything for ourselves and others to prevent a bad mood from setting in, but the fact is that it’s okay to feel down.
If you’re in a bad mood, that’s not a sign of weakness or that your whole life is going badly.
Remember to take each day at a time, and be conscious that you always choose how you respond to what happens in your life.