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How to improve your mood

woman running in the park to boost her mood
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve been wondering how to improve your mood, rest assured, you’re not alone. While all of us can experience bad days from time to time when we feel upset, sad or disheartened, for some of us, it can be more long term. 

Recent figures, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas, show that the depression rates in the US have more than tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic and the World Health Organization says that depression is now the leading cause of disability globally. The good news is that there are several simple daily practices, as well as longer-term solutions, that science has shown may positively affect your mood. 

Many people find that eating a healthy diet, interacting with others, exercising, investing in one of the best water bottles to ensure they stay hydrated and getting enough sleep all help when it comes to boosting mood. We spoke to the experts to get their take on how you can improve your mood and your health, and when you should speak to your doctor. 

Here are some small changes that you can incorporate into your life every day to boost your mood. 

1. Do something nice for someone else

Whether it’s lending someone a book that you no longer need or offering to do someone’s grocery shopping, doing something nice for someone else can go a long way to make you feel positive. 

“Performing an act of kindness for someone else leads to the release of the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin,” Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy told Live Science.  “This is the same hormone that’s released when you cuddle a newborn baby or fall in love.” 

“There’s also a surge in levels of the feel-good hormone, dopamine. Low levels of dopamine are linked to low mood and depression, so anything that boosts dopamine levels is likely to have the opposite effect,” she said. 

2. Drink more water

“Dehydration can impact the balance of dopamine and serotonin in the brain – which in turn can increase feelings of low mood, anxiety or depression,” explained Melissa Snover, nutritionist and Founder of Nourished (opens in new tab). “Hydration is also needed for normal digestion, temperature control, brain function and encouraging good circulation – which is why it’s imperative that we’re fuelling our bodies with enough water throughout the day.”

It’s clear that hydration is important for health, but how much fluid should you be consuming? As a rule of thumb, try to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.  We recommend you keep a water bottle on your desk or close by as a visual reminder to drink up throughout the day. 

Here's a list of the best water bottles. In this image, a healthy woman holds a reusable water bottle after a workout.

(Image credit: adamkaz/Getty Images)

3. Turn off your gadgets

Staring at your computer or smartphone screen for long periods is linked to an increased risk of mental health conditions, Dr Lee said. 

Try turning your phone off for set periods each day. “Research has shown limiting mobile phone use to only 30 minutes a day, results in increased feelings of wellbeing, lower levels of depression and a reduction in loneliness. Switching your phone off overnight is also likely to help improve your sleep,” she said. 

4. Connect to others

“Human beings are social creatures. We need the company of other humans to feel happy, content, and valued.  And loneliness is a killer. Did you know that being lonely can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease? Lonely people are more likely to suffer from depression, poor sleep and general cognitive decline. Being lonely increases the mortality risk by 50%,” Dr Lee explained. 

One study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, found that social connection generally has a protective effect against depression. So, reach out to family and friends, join a club or society or become a volunteer in your community. 

5. Get more sunlight

Make sure you walk outside every day to raise your mood. “At work, ensure your desk is positioned by a window. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you may benefit from the use of a lightbox,” Dr Lee said. 

Getting more daylight will help improve your mood, your immune system, your sleep and ultimately, your energy levels.

A woman sits in the sunshine

(Image credit: Yeko Photo Studio/Shutterstock.com)

6. Laugh

It sounds simple, but there’s nothing better for you than to laugh, Dr Lee said. 

“When you laugh, this leads to a surge in the brain neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin and lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol – making you feel happy and relaxed. Laughter is a great way to lower stress and make you feel calmer.”

Try watching some funny movies or listening to some humorous podcasts regularly. This will help you to feel happier and more energetic.

7. Try some CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy that can help you learn to develop coping strategies for a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. “Research into CBT has shown that it can be effective in elevating mood and improving energy levels,” Dr Lee explained.

In one recent meta-analysis of 91 studies, published by Psychological Medicine, CBT interventions showed a larger decrease in depression compared with other treatments. 

8. Eat a healthy diet

What you eat plays a vital role in how you feel. Eating a well-balanced diet is vital for good mental wellbeing – by consuming a broad variety of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients, you’re equipping your body, and therefore brain, with the fuel it needs to function properly – including mood regulation, Snover said. Several different nutrients have been shown to help improve brain health, and consequently our mood:

  • Vitamin B12 is important for producing serotonin, which is a chemical responsible for regulating mood. While our body can’t produce B12 itself, it can be easily consumed through supplements or in foods such as fortified cereals, tempeh, and nutritional yeast, as well as eggs, fish or dairy. 
  • Vitamin B6 (found in bananas, chickpeas and dark leafy greens) can stabilize our mood by creating neurotransmitters that help to minimize the harmful effects of stress.
  • Tryptophan, zinc and selenium all support healthy brain function – and are found in certain nuts and seeds such as Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and flaxseed.

9. Get a decent night’s sleep

Getting 7 – 8 hours of good quality sleep every night is crucial for both good physical and mental health, Dr Lee said. A lack of sleep can affect our mood, energy and concentration levels.

One study, published by JMIR Mental Health, found that there is a significant relationship between daily sleep quality and mood. 

Wondering how to sleep for longer? Make sure you're practicing good sleep hygiene before bed.

A person asleep

(Image credit: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images)

10. Reduce your alcohol intake

“Drinking too much alcohol is associated with poor mental health, reduced satisfaction with life, and increased psychological distress,” Dr Lee explained. 

Cutting down on alcohol or stopping drinking altogether will help boost your energy levels.

11. Incorporate exercise into each day

“Exercise is known to boost levels of feel-good neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin. In addition, exercise results in a surge of endorphins – substances in the brain which give a natural high,” Dr Lee said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. 

When should you seek help and speak to your doctor about your low mood?

If your mood is causing noticeable problems in your day-to-day activities, make an appointment to see your doctor or mental health professional as soon as you can. 

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of emptiness, sadness and hopelessness
  • Continuous low mood
  • A loss of interest in normal activities 
  • Tiredness and lack of energy 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Moving and speaking slowly 
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling suicidal 

References

Choi, K. W., Stein, M. B., Nishimi, K. M., Ge, T., Coleman, J. R., Chen, C. Y., Ratanatharathorn, A., Zheutlin, A. B., Dunn, E. C., Breen, G., Koenen, K. C., & Smoller, J. W. (2020). An Exposure-Wide and Mendelian Randomization Approach to Identifying Modifiable Factors for the Prevention of Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 177(10), 944–954. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2020.19111158 (opens in new tab)

Depression. (2021, September 13). World Health Organization. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression (opens in new tab)

Ettman, C. K., Cohen, G. H., Abdalla, S. M., Sampson, L., Trinquart, L., Castrucci, B. C., Bork, R. H., Clark, M. A., Wilson, I., Vivier, P. M., & Galea, S. (2022). Persistent depressive symptoms during COVID-19: a national, population-representative, longitudinal study of U.S. adults. The Lancet Regional Health - Americas, 5, 100091. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lana.2021.100091 (opens in new tab)

López-López, J. A., Davies, S. R., Caldwell, D. M., Churchill, R., Peters, T. J., Tallon, D., Dawson, S., Wu, Q., Li, J., Taylor, A., Lewis, G., Kessler, D. S., Wiles, N., & Welton, N. J. (2019). The process and delivery of CBT for depression in adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 49(12), 1937–1947. https://doi.org/10.1017/s003329171900120x (opens in new tab)

Move More; Sit Less. (2022, March 17). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 22, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm (opens in new tab)

Triantafillou, S., Saeb, S., Lattie, E. G., Mohr, D. C., & Kording, K. P. (2019). Relationship Between Sleep Quality and Mood: Ecological Momentary Assessment Study. JMIR Mental Health, 6(3), e12613. https://doi.org/10.2196/12613 (opens in new tab)

Karen Gordon is a freelance writer and web content editor with a special interest in health, and is based in the United Kingdom, As well as contributing to Live Science Karen has written for a variety of other publications, including NetDoctor, Patient.co.uk, Good Housekeeping, Prima, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and others.