What do you do when you're in a funk? Overeat? Sleep too much, or not enough? Snap at your loved ones? Mess up at work? Well, at least you're not alone with your blues: A whopping 49 percent of people report feeling cranky and glum at least once a week. But did you know down-in-the-dumps feelings stimulate health-threatening inflammation and trigger brain changes that make high-fat, high-sugar foods look extra-tempting?
Great reasons to take bad moods seriously -- and to have a rescue plan ready the next time a tough commute, nasty boss or a piece of unwelcome news dampens your day. The goal: Lift your spirits before you skip your lunchtime walk and head to a nasty vending machine instead. Dealing with negative moods in a healthy way can help you sidestep weight gain and increased stress, avoid heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and more. You have control, so take it.
Here are a couple of steps to get you on your way to laying a good foundation for sound emotional health: Cultivate and cherish good friends; make sure you eat a healthy diet (fruit, veggies and good fats like fish and nuts boost your mood); take a 30-minute daily walk -- proven to reduce depression; get a good night's sleep; and practice daily stress relief such as meditation and yoga (any quiet, calming, repetitive activity). Even vigorous weekly tennis match with a good buddy can help clear your brain and relieve stress. It's also important to get professional help if you notice signs of depression.
But for a quick pick-you-up, here's how to put a smile on your face and some bounce in your step.
Turn on the music. Cue up your favorite tunes, then tell yourself, "I'm planning to feel better, and this music will help." Keep that good intention in mind while the tunes play. One new study says that positive intention is an even more powerful mood-lifter than music alone.
Write down your negative thoughts -- then rip them up and throw them away. There's something powerful about the physical act of tossing aside gloomy thoughts. It seems to signal your brain in a dramatic way that you're getting past the bad stuff. In contrast, putting glum thoughts on paper and keeping them around -- such as in a journal -- seems to tell your brain that you want to hold on to them and that means you're more likely to replay them.
Pet a pet. Stroking Fido's fur or Kitty's silky coat boosts oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, as well as levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. It also can lower blood pressure by an impressive 10 percent. (Fido's blood pressure falls, too.) Don't have a dog or cat? Spend some quality time with your neighbor's pet.
Gaze at your favorite painting. Monet's Water Lilies? A sensual Georgia O'Keefe flower? Whatever you favor, taking it in for a few minutes could increase blood flow in your brain by an energizing 10 percent -- a boost on par with what happens when you look at someone you love. (Real flowers work too.) Try bookmarking your favorite visuals online. Make them your computer's desktop image or keep postcards of them by your desk.
Bust a yoga move and laugh a little. Plenty of yoga practices slash stress and help you feel calmer, but if the yoga studio in your neighborhood isn't yet offering laughter yoga, try this trend on your own.
Think about something funny, then produce a laugh while you do a simple routine. (You'll find an easy yoga routine at realage.com.) Just 20 minutes can boost your mood and improve heart rate, a sign of a healthy nervous system.
Unleash your inner rock-and-roll drummer. Beat out a rhythm on your desk, a kitchen pot or those old bongo drums you've had in the closet since 1978. Studies show that drumming lifts spirits fast. For even more fun, try it with another person.