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Scientifically Proven Ways to Improve your Mood

Feeling down? Having a bad (or even just a little blah) day?  Check out these simple scientifically proven things you can do to lift your mood and feel happier.

Scientifically Proven Ways to Improve your Mood

We all experience times when we feel unhappy, restless or anxious.

So, if you are feeling down, having a bad day (or even experiencing the Monday blues) there are several simple scientifically proven things that you can do to lift your mood and feel happier.

Because taking steps to boost your mood and help yourself feel more positive can help ward off depression, reduce stress, improve your ability to focus and support your overall well-being.

From the tips below, just try the ones that you feel most comfortable with, or that are easiest for you. 

Make sleep a priority

Man sleeping

A study of 2,672 participants found that those with anxiety and depression were more likely to report poorer sleep scores.  Though sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime. See here for 10 reasons why good sleep is important. 

Get regular exercise

man working out in the gym

A study examining almost 34,000 people discovered that even just an hour of exercise weekly can help prevent depression. Even moderate exercise, like walking, releases chemicals in your brain that lift your mood. It can help you sleep better, give you more energy and keep your heart healthy. In our blog Lifting Weights, Lifting Spirits we outline the mood boosting benefits of lifting weights. And, with its emphasis on breathing practices and meditation— it’s hardly surprising that yoga also helps reduce anxiety and depression. The key is to discover an activity you enjoy whether that be walking, HIITing it hard in the gym, practicing yoga, swimming, golf or something else. 

Get back to Nature

Research confirms all-round health, fitness, mood and self-esteem are improved while mental fatigue and stress are reduced when you exercise somewhere green.  A studyconducted in 2015 found that people who went on a walk in nature vs an urban setting had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is overactive during depression and stress. And a Japanese study discovered that a walk through the woods can alleviate acute emotions including depression.

Seek sunshine

A study spanning six years discovered that therapy patients reported less emotional distress on sunny days.

Get it on

Fruit

Sex can help relieve stress by raising endorphins and other hormones that boost mood. It’s also a form of exercise, win win! In fact a 2021 study found that people who had an active sex life during the COVID pandemic had significantly lower scores on measures of anxiety and depression.

Give someone a hug

man hugging his dad

While most of us have heard the expression ‘hug it out,’ according to one study, hugs can actually help us reduce stress. Touch boosts oxytocin, a hormone that promotes a sense of well-being.

Put a smile on your face

man smiling

Smiling can trick your brain into happiness. When you smile it triggers mood-boosting hormones in the brain. So even if you don’t feel happy, according to a study published in the journal Experimental Psychology, forcing yourself to smile may improve your mood.

Laugh more

Laughter is proven to increase dopamine, a chemical that elevates the mood. It also oxygenates our bodies and cools down our stress-response systems, producing an overall calm, happy feeling. Watching a stand-up special or a hilarious movie/series is an easy way to get laughter into your life whenever you need it. Try sharing your recommendations with your squad so you'll have something to reference and laugh about together.

Listen to uplifting music

man listening to music

Researchers at the University of Missouri found that music can boost happiness and reduce anxiety.  So, put on your favourite album and turn up the volume!

Do something nice for someone else

Research shows that helping other people will help to lift your mood. Whether it’s walking someone’s dog or giving someone a book you no longer need or sharing your skills more widely by volunteering for a local charity. Find out more about volunteering at do-it.org.uk.Small acts of kindness can go a long way and will help you to feel more positive.   

Volunteer in nature

The Wildlife Trusts of England tracked the mental health of wildlife project volunteers for 12 weeks. At the start, 39% of volunteers reported poor mental health. By the end, that number was reduced to 19%.

Practice Gratitude 

UC Berkeley found that activities such as keeping a gratitude journal or writing gratitude letters are linked to increased happiness and mood. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” Saying thank you, holding the door for someone, these little moments can change the tone of your whole day. Notice good things, look for them, appreciate them. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind. Learn more here: 10 Ways to Practice Daily Gratitude 

Spend less time on social media

Over a third of men (37%) say social media has a negative impact on how they feel.

Declutter your home

Work on decluttering your home and workspace. Just seeing clutter has been found to cause spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone. 

Care for your pet

Man walking his dog

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. A Washington State University study found that petting a dog or cat for even just ten minutes produced a major reduction in cortisol. Interestingly, scientific studies show even watching cute animal videos can elevate your mood!

Meditate daily 

Man mediating

Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. There are many apps that offer guided meditation such as Headspace and Calm. Read more here on how Meditation can improve your mental health and the 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation

Practice Mindfulness

Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mood. In fact, mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression. Read more here for tips from the NHS on how to be more mindful

Smell the scents

Scents that make you feel calmer and help lift your mood include Lavender, Lemon, Rosemary and Freshly-cut Grass! Lavender can also help you drift off to sleep so place it in your bedroom too.

Set goals and priorities

Completing a goal, no matter how small, has been shown to boost our moods. That is why checking off to-do lists can be so satisfying! Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.

Limit your alcohol intake

When times are hard, it's tempting to drink alcohol because it "numbs" painful feelings. But alcohol can exaggerate some feelings and make you feel more depressed, so try to stay off the booze.

Eat well

A 2013 meta-analysis of 22 studies showed that the Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of depression. Also incorporate mood-boosting foods like dark chocolate and kale. Making healthy choices about your diet can make you feel emotionally stronger. You're doing something positive for yourself, which lifts your self-esteem. Plus eating well ensures you have the energy to tackle life’s hurdles.

Treat yourself to some dark chocolate

Dark chocolate

Yes, you read that right! A 2022 study shows eating high-cocoa-content chocolate promotes the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins that create pleasurable feelings, and positively enhances mood. 

Have a cup of coffee

Coffee has been shown to help lower the risk of depression. Who knew?

Improve your mood with Ashwagandha

The herb Ashwagandha, also known as Withania somnifera, is a stress busting adaptogen that supports mental wellbeing. Studies show that Ashwagandha supplements help lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). For example,

+ a systematic review of seven studies involving 491 adults with anxiety, found that ashwagandha significantly reduced stress and anxiety levels, reduced sleeplessness and fatigue, and reduced serum cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, compared with a placebo.
+ a 60-day controlled study in 64 people with chronic stress, demonstrated those in the group that supplemented with ashwagandha reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and insomnia, on average, compared with 11% in the placebo group.

Some research suggests that Ashwagandha may also help reduce depression. You can read more about the multiple benefits of Ashwagandha here.

Benefits of Ashwagandha

Take mood boosting Vitamins & Minerals

If you are feeling low, it’s possible you have a deficiency in one or more essential nutrients. For example, B-Vitamins are essential for emotional well-being. 

Vitamin B6 plays an important role in mood regulation because it is necessary for creating serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which are neurotransmitters that regulate emotions. Several studies have shown that depressive symptoms are associated with low levels of vitamin B6, especially in older adults who are at high risk for B vitamin deficiency. For example, one study in 250 older adults found that deficient blood levels of vitamin B6 doubled the likelihood of depression.

Vitamin B12 is needed for the production of serotonin, a chemical responsible for regulating mood. Therefore, vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to decreased serotonin production, which may cause a depressed mood. Studies support the use of vitamin B12 supplements for improving symptoms of depression in people with a vitamin B12 deficiency. For example, one study in people with depression and low vitamin B12 levels found that those who received both antidepressants and vitamin B12 were more likely to show improved depressive symptoms, compared to those treated with antidepressants alone. Another, study discovered that vitamin B12 deficiency was associated with twice the risk of severe depression.

Folate (B9) is needed in the brain for the synthesis of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Research has found that individuals with depression have lower serum levels of folate and dietary folate intake than individuals without depression. 

Vitamin C deficiency has been associated with depression and cognitive impairment. Several studies have shown that vitamin C helps to regulate cortisol (the stress hormone). Furthermore, a study of 139 male students aged 18-35 years linked higher levels with an improved overall mood and lower levels with increased depression, anger, and confusion.

Vitamin D3, known as the “sunshine vitamin” also plays a role in mental health. One meta-analysis found that people with depression have low vitamin D levels and people with low vitamin D have a much greater risk of depression.

Selenium is a trace mineral essential for normal thyroid function, reproduction, and DNA synthesis. One study linked too high and too low levels of selenium in young people to an increased risk of symptoms of depression.

Zinc is an essential mineral that contributes to normal testosterone levels, fertility, metabolism and cognitive function. It also helps protect cells from oxidative tress. Studies have found that zinc has great potential in the treatment of depression given oxidative stress is a factor that play a significant role in the development of diseases related to neurodegenerative processes including depression.

Iron is a mineral essential for blood formation, and a deficiency can lead to anaemia, which can leave you feeling tired and short of breath. Iron also plays an important role in how the body makes the neurotransmitters called serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – which are important in mental health. Research suggests a connection between low iron levels and symptoms of depression.

The bottom line

It’s normal to have a bad day or feel low from time to time, but if you or anyone you know is experiencing a persistent low mood, anxiety or depression check out our blog on Managing Mental Health which includes a list of resources that can help.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Consult a healthcare professional if you have any questions or are taking any other medications before you try any remedies or supplements.

Published 8 June 2022

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