What can you do about a bad mood?

We all find ourselves in a bad mood from time to time. The triggers and stresses may vary, but understanding what’s going on in our mind and body can make it easier to deal with it.

Some psychologists believe a bad mood can be caused by ‘ego depletion’ – a form of mental tiredness – and that if we use up our willpower trying to avoid temptation (e.g. food) we drain our cognitive resources. The harder we push our minds to avoid something the more likely we are to get irritated, angry and cynical, which can raise blood pressure, stop digestion, and elevate heart rate – causing a bad mood.

Researchers have also found that being in a bad mood gives you a sense of tunnel vision: if you’re in a good mood, you have a wider view of your surroundings whereas bad moods can cause us you to miss things.

So what can you do to alleviate a bad mood?

  1. Eat
    Your bad mood could be caused by low blood sugar in which case food is key. Eating regenerates nutrients depleted during the day. Fatty acids can have a positive effect on emotions and spicy foods release endorphins. Win.
  2. Exercise
    Moderate or high-level exercise releases endorphins, which can improve your mood almost immediately. This happiness boost may not last long, but it should be enough to lift you out of a fug.
  3. Listen to music
    Music can trigger a release of dopamine into your brain and provides a “potent pleasurable stimulus” as you follow and anticipate a tune. Mozart or Madonna, crank up the volume and feel your spirits lift.
  4. Embrace it
    It’s not all doom and gloom, a bad mood can trigger more careful, attentive thinking and the accompanying tunnel vision can help you focus more completely on a specific task. It can also make you more persuasive because it promotes concrete ideas and communications styles. So if you can’t beat the blues turn them to your advantage and tackle a complex problem or project.

Above all though, try to remember that bad moods are natural and healthy. Just as you will feel happy some days for no particular reason, you can also feel down. Don’t agonise over the reasons too much, or panic about changing how you feel. Instead, notice how you’re feeling, and remind yourself that the feeling will pass. Give your mind a bit of time, hold off on quick fixes, and see how you feel later: sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

Need more ideas for coping with a bad mood? Try this list of handy articles on managing moods:

And of course you can learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.