Have you ever had one tiny thing go wrong in your day, and soon every angry thought you've ever had is bubbling back to the surface? Sometimes bad moods can seem like they spiral out of control.
Everyone gets knocked back by a foul mood now and then. It's just part of life. That doesn't mean that we have to roll over and let a bad mood take control.
So what exactly happens in your brain between the inciting event and the ensuing bad mood? In this article, we'll look at some science behind how our minds handle a sour attitude and unwelcome events.
What causes a bad mood? We all know that the day's activities have a significant impact on how we feel, but there's more to it than that. Science still struggles to pin down the exact nature of human moods, but much of the prevailing thought has to do with thresholds1. Think of your attitude as a ball balancing on a beam. Push it a little, and it may roll closer to the edge until one final poke sends it careening over the side.
The idea is that your brain has only so many mental reserves, and if you use them all up, you will be without your psychological defenses, leaving you prone to a bad mood. So if you have a long and crowded morning commute followed by an unfortunate run-in with your boss, you may not have the mental strength to overcome a coworker stealing your lunch.
Other times a bad mood may come from more passive factors. Perhaps you are worried about your seemingly endless to-do list, or you've recently been reminded of an unfortunate failure from years ago. No matter the trigger, each of these problems slowly eats away at you until you tip that proverbial ball over the edge and find yourself in a bad mood.
A bad mood also causes a rise in blood pressure. Higher blood pressure can then increase cortisol levels2. Higher cortisol levels lead to more stress, which only worsens your mood. So the spiraling effect of a bad mood isn't just in your head; it's a series of mental and physical dominoes falling in an unwanted direction.
A bad mood is never fun. It can leave you feeling like you've wasted a whole day and may even interfere with how you see the world around you3. It's no wonder that people are always looking for ways to improve their mood and mindset. Here are three quick tips and tricks that can help alleviate a bad mood or even prevent one from taking hold.
Low blood sugar has more to do with your mood than you may realize. Many of us get a little grumpy before lunch. If you haven't eaten yet, try grabbing a quick snack - especially before acting on negative thoughts. Foods that are high in healthy fatty acids are your best bet, but spicy foods may also help improve mood. Be careful about running to comfort foods too often, as chronic poor nutrition will eventually bring you crashing back down.
A healthy diet may help improve your overall mindset and will undoubtedly help you maintain good physical health.
Exercise releases endorphins in your brain. Increased endorphin levels act as a natural mood stimulant. Many people go running or lift weights when they sense a bad mood coming on. Getting regular exercise may also help prevent bad feelings from setting in. You'll feel better, you'll be healthier, and your attitude will be significantly improved.
Some people experience similar effects while listening to music, which can also trigger the release of dopamine that can elevate mood.
Meditation is a great way to clear your thoughts and recenter yourself. A quick, five-minute meditation may be all it takes to snap you out of a bad mood. While you meditate, try to clear your mind by acknowledging your feelings and being present in the moment. Instead of ruminating on what has upset you, you can also focus on things you are grateful for: friends, family, health, even upcoming trips, and vacations.
Sometimes bad moods can be helpful. We've all watched "that scene" from various movies. The one where a character flies into a rage and suddenly becomes the most competent and focused person in the world. In real life, the results aren't that extreme, but research suggests that a bad mood can help people prioritize tasks, focus, and manage time4.
The next time you find yourself simmering in a bad mood, try working on a complicated task or project. Focusing your energy on being productive will have the added benefit of distracting you from whatever has caused you distress, and you might get to cross something off your to-do list in the process. Win/Win!
Improving your mood is not as tricky as it may seem. There is no need for extraordinary efforts or complicated health regimens. By just focusing on these essential tips about food, exercise, and mindful efforts, you can take back control of your mood and improve your life.
(1) Amado-Boccara, Donnet D, Olié JP. (1993 April) The concept of mood in psychology
(2) WebMD (2019) Cortisol: What It Does & How To Regulate Cortisol Levels
(3) WebMD reviewed by Chang, MD (2009 June) Mood Literally Affects How We See World
(4) University of Waterloo (2018 July) A bad mood may help your brain with everyday tasks