14 Ways to Break a Bad Mood

Everyone gets grumpy from time to time.

You know it when you experience it: a bad mood. But what exactly is it? “A ‘bad mood’ is a temporary emotional state that feels distressing or negative,” says Cortland Dahl, chief contemplative officer for Healthy Minds Innovations and a research scientist for the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist, author and speaker, says, “a bad mood is feeling a sense of negativity about either your life, which can include your friends, family, job, future, etc., or yourself, as in a sense of disappointment in, anger at yourself over something that didn’t turn out as you expected.”

A bad mood isn’t always a bad thing.

“Different people can mean different things when they say they’re in a ‘bad mood,'” adds Jay Fournier, director of the mood and anxiety program and co-director of the division of cognition and emotion at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “But the common thread is that these moods typically refer to some kind of negative emotional state.”

For some people, this means “a state of sadness or hopelessness. For others, it can be a state of irritability or anger. For others, it can be a mix of negative feelings,” Fournier says.

By their very nature, “negative emotions are unpleasant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ‘bad,'” he adds. “These negative emotions can signal for us that something is wrong. They can also tell us that we need more support from those around us or that a change in strategy or outlook might be needed.”

What causes bad moods?

“These temporary emotional states can be caused by a range of factors, from what we eat and how we sleep, to challenging experiences that we encounter in daily life, including the endless barrage of negative information that we take in through social media and the 24/7 news cycle,” Dahl explains.

Goulston adds that there can be genetic factors at work too. “A bad mood can be contributed to by biological, social and/or psychological factors.”

Biological. There may be a genetic tendency toward mood disorders in your family.

Social. You’re taking in negative energy from your environment in the form of criticism, rejection, bullying or teasing that you’re taking very personally.

Psychological. Your ability to put and keep the frustrations, upsets and disappointments in a ‘this too shall pass’ perspective isn’t working.

“Sometimes it’s obvious how these moods were triggered, and sometimes they appear to come out of the blue,” Fournier says. And a range of factors can trigger them, such as not getting enough, good quality sleep or being hungry. “It’s also important to note that some medications and some medical conditions can affect our moods too.”

You don’t have to stay stuck in a bad mood.

While bad moods are common, you don’t have to stay stuck in them long term. There are plenty of ways to shake it off and get into a more positive mental space.

“The good news is that these passing emotional states are temporary. We can shift our bad moods in more positive directions by learning simple skills to take care of our mind and emotions,” Dahl says.

When trying to shake off a bad mood, remember that “no one thing works for everyone, and some things that may have worked in the past may not work well when tried again in a new set of circumstances,” Fournier says. “That’s not your fault. When one strategy fails, another often works much better. Keep looking until you find what works for you.”

The following 14 strategies can help you shift your perspective and get into a more positive frame of mind.

1. Observe your feelings.

“There are a number of strategies that can help you improve your mood,” Fournier says. But the first step should be “noticing what you’re experiencing and asking yourself a few questions to try to figure out what might be contributing to the negative mood.”

For example, “ask yourself if anything changed right before your mood worsened. This could be something external like someone saying something that affected you.” Maybe it was something internal, such as a negative thought or image that occurred to you.

“If you think of something that changed, you might ask yourself if you’re considering all sides of the situation,” Fournier says. “You might ask yourself what you would tell a friend if they experienced the same thing. Often our initial interpretation of a situation may not be complete.”

2. Write it down.

In trying to work through a bad mood, especially initially, it can be helpful to write down thoughts or feelings.

“The simple act of getting them on paper or computer screen can help us to take a different perspective on what we’re thinking and experiencing,” Fournier says. “It can also prevent us from replaying a seemingly negative scenario over and over in our heads.”

3. Take a moment for mindfulness.

Dahl says practicing “a few moments of mindful awareness” can make a difference. He recommends “pausing for a few moments throughout the day and bringing awareness to the feelings of breathing. We can also practice active meditations while we’re doing other things like intentionally noticing things we appreciate when we are surrounded with other people.”

4. Practice gratitude.

When you’re feeling rotten, “find a comfortable place and notice the world around you as if you are a blind person seeing for the first time,” Goulston says. “Or listen to sounds around you as if you’re a deaf person hearing for the first time and allow yourself to feel the wonder of each.”

There are many ways to find appreciation for the world around you. Fournier says it can be helpful to “ask yourself what you’re grateful for or what things you’re looking forward to.”

5. Harness the power of breathing.

“Bad moods, like stress tend to affect our breathing and cause us to hold our breath,” Goulston says. “Replace this with box breathing, which is taking slow, deep and full breaths.”

A common box breathing exercise dictates that you’ll:

— Count to four as you inhale.

— Count to four as you hold your breath.

— Count to four as you exhale.

Repeat until you can feel the stress start to leave your body.

6. Seek positive information.

“Another powerful way to shift out of a bad mood is to intentionally take in positive information,” Dahl says. “In other words, we can let go of doom scrolling and seek out uplifting stories and positive messages.”

There are a variety of apps that can help you refocus on the positive. For example, Sound Cloud offers one on the theme of awareness. Fournier says sometimes reflecting back on a positive memory can help too.

7. Go for a walk.

Sometimes, just getting moving can go a long way toward dispelling a bad mood. “Many people find that exercise can help a great deal, even walking and getting some fresh air can help,” Fournier says.

Exercise has extraordinary mental health benefits, and the feel-good brain chemicals that even just gentle movement can unleash may be enough to stop a bad mood in its tracks. Take a walk around the block to clear your head. Do some yoga poses and stretching. Or engage in your favorite exercise to get the blood moving and change the scene around you.

8. Reach for a grounding item.

Goulston says that reaching for “an amulet to help anchor you” may help dispel a bad mood. “Select something that reminds you of something positive in your life. I wear a bracelet that says, #WMYST, which stands for What Made You Smile Today?” He says he also asks at least one person every day that same question. “Brightening someone else’s day can do wonders for helping a bad mood.”

9. Help someone else.

Helping others can be a powerful antidote to a bad mood, Fournier says. Though acting opposite to your feelings might seem unwieldy when you’re in the midst of a bad mood, “engaging in a small act of kindness or compassion towards someone can help to lift a negative mood.”

10. Visualize talking it through with a loved one.

When you’re feeling low, sometimes it can help to think of a loved one or someone who believes in you talking through what’s upsetting you with them in your mind. It doesn’t matter whether the person is living or dead, what matters is their love and support.

Talk through “what happened to upset you, what it made you think, what it made you feel and what it makes you want to do that wouldn’t be constructive,” Goulston says. Then imagine them asking you what a better thing to do would be. You may be able to arrive at a workable solution to the problem with this thought exercise.

11. Reach out to a friend.

If visualizing talking it through doesn’t work, it might be time to reach out to a loved one for support.

Goulston recommends reaching out to a friend or family member “who will hear you out and not jump in too quickly to reassure you or tell you to get over it. Tell them honestly, ‘I need help because I’m in a bad mood and I can’t shake it.'”

Fournier agrees that “getting support from friends and family can be extremely helpful for our moods and our overall sense of well-being.” Even simply spending time with other people that you like and care about can be hugely beneficial.

12. Be patient with yourself.

Fournier notes that “it’s important to try to have some patience with yourself and remind yourself that these moods won’t last forever. You might ask yourself when you ate last and whether you’re getting enough sleep. You might also ask if there are any things that you typically enjoy doing but simply haven’t done or been able to do in a while.”

On an ongoing basis, do what you can to prioritize self-care, meaning getting adequate rest, exercising, enjoying some social engagement and eating right. It’s not always easy to fit it all in, but taking some time for yourself can help you feel more grounded and centered.

Fournier also recommends “refraining from judging yourself for being in a bad mood. Experiencing prolonged periods of a negative mood, even episodes of depression, is incredibly common. Approximately 1 in 5 people will experience depression at some point in their lives. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about, and noticing that you’re not getting better and your depression may be getting worse is an important first step.”

13. Contact a mental health professional.

There are loads of local and national resources for mental health available online, Goulston says. Among these is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

“You don’t have to be suicidal to call them, and they can also direct you towards resource,” he says. The important thing is to reach out for help when you feel like you’re struggling to shake a bad mood or your mood is interfering with day-to-day living.

If you’re finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning or you’re struggling to find joy in activities you once loved, it’s time to ask for help.

14. Create resources for next time.

“I’d encourage everyone to think about things that have helped them break out of negative moods in the past,” Fournier says. “It can be helpful to write those down and keep the list handy. It’s often easier to refer back to a written list of options when we’re in a negative mood than to try to come up with different strategies on the spot.”

Similarly, Goulston recommends creating “a personal selfie video saying to yourself, ‘Hello me, in my future. You’re looking at this because you’re in another low point that you didn’t know that you could get through. But I’m here to tell you that you will get through it, even if you don’t believe it right now, because I’m the proof that you’ve gotten through it before.'”

Why you should try to abolish a bad mood.

Dahl says that while “negative thought patterns are both common and normal, especially given how much negative information we take in every day,” it’s worthwhile to take steps to move them along. That’s because “if these negative thought patterns become a habit, they can put us at risk for depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders.”

Goulston agrees, noting that a bad mood “can accelerate in intensity and push you to react impulsively and often destructively towards others, yourself or your future self by saying or doing something you can’t take back.”

When to seek help for a bad mood.

If you find that you’re frequently in a bad mood, and these moods are becoming disruptive to your everyday life, it might be time to talk to someone because there may be more than just a “bad mood” at play.

“For instance, having trouble sleeping or working after a difficult day is normal, but if that goes on for weeks or months, it’s time to seek out support to help address the challenge,” Dahl says.

Fournier adds that “negative thinking can become dangerous when someone starts to have thoughts of harming themselves or that things would be better if they were not alive anymore. I’d encourage anyone having those kinds of thoughts to seek treatment and support as soon as possible.”

You can start by talking with your doctor. “Doctors and mental health professionals understand that people sometimes have these thoughts — we’ve heard them before, and we know how to help,” Fournier says. “If you don’t have a doctor or a trusted person in your life to talk to,” he recommends calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255).

Take that first step.

“When we get stuck in a bad mood, the hardest thing can often be taking the first step,” Dahl says. “With that in mind, it can be helpful to start small and focus on doing something simple.”

Any first step can be a good one, he adds. Consider starting with “a few mindful breaths, a short walk or taking a few moments to do something nourishing. These small steps can make a big difference.”

And he notes that the nonprofit Healthy Minds Innovations offers a free app you can use to get started developing a guided meditation practice.

Know that bad moods are normal.

Lastly, Goulston notes that “just because you don’t think you can get through this, doesn’t mean you can’t and won’t. And, by the way, you’re not sick, abnormal or bad for being in this mood.”

We’re all coping with a lot these days, he continues. “Given the way the world is with all the uncertainty and stress facing everyone, you’re more like the rest of the world than you could possibly know. And don’t, don’t, don’t judge yourself by social media. In fact, you might want to take a break from it.”

14 ways to break a bad mood:

1. Observe your feelings.

2. Write it down.

3. Take a moment for mindfulness.

4. Practice gratitude.

5. Harness the power of breathing.

6. Seek positive information.

7. Go for a walk.

8. Reach for a grounding item.

9. Help someone else.

10. Visualize talking it through with a loved one.

11. Reach out to a friend.

12. Be patient with yourself.

13. Contact a mental health professional.

14. Create resources for next time.

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14 Ways to Break a Bad Mood originally appeared on usnews.com

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