Whether it brings feelings of loneliness, sadness or just a general sense of malaise, a bad day is as inevitable as spilt milk and cookies that crumble.
Of course if you think you are suffering from chronic anxiety or depression, be sure to see a professional. But if you’re just trying to escape a gray day, try one or more of these proven stress-relievers to get yourself back into the sunlight.
Deep belly breathing is effective, easy, free, and a great place to start if you’re feeling down and out. Championed by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, deep breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day naturally decreases anxiety and stress.
2. Talk to a friend
Facebook might help you live longer, according to several university studies, but it isn’t as energizing as a good chat with an old friend. In fact, heavy social media use can distort perception, increase envy and lead to dissatisfaction with your life if it is your main social connection. Instead, make a call or meet face-to-face and talk it out. Be sure to choose someone who’s feeling upbeat, as studies show that happiness is contagious.
3. Eat something
“Hangry” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in August 2015, and for good reason. Who hasn’t experienced the dark mood that descends when blood-sugar bottoms out? The best foods to seek when hanger strikes include those high in fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates, say nutrition experts. Studies also suggest dark chocolate, with its endorphin and serotonin-releasing powers, can help.
4. Hug it out
The healing power of a hug cannot be denied. However, for best results, seek a hug from someone you care about. Though researchers say a hug can help heal physical pain, hugs from strangers aren’t as effective.
5. Take a hot shower or bath
If getting emotional warmth from a hug isn’t an option, try physical warmth. A 2011 Yale University study suggests that a hot shower or bath can help address loneliness. “Physical and social warmth are to some extent substitutable in daily life,” researchers wrote. “The lonelier we get, the more we substitute the missing social warmth with physical warmth.”
6. Say thanks
When you’re in a funk, the last thing you probably feel is grateful — but that’s a mistake. Expressing gratitude has been shown to increase well-being and reduce depression, according researchers at the University of Indiana. Adopting an attitude of gratitude is best practiced over an extended period of time, though, as it has a cumulative effect.
7. Get outside
Better yet, find a forest. Walking in nature has been shown to reduce ruminating thoughts —such as obsessing and general negativity — and improve mental health more than walks in an urban environment. Can’t get outside? Researchers say even looking at images of nature can improve your mood.
If you’re blue, it’s time to break a sweat. Exercise triggers a release of endorphins, which are tried-and-true mood improvers. And you don’t have to go to a gym or invest in expensive running shoes. Put on some music and dance the blues away.
9. Pet the pet
Animal companions are a natural antidepressant. Even a few minutes spent petting a dog or cat can trigger the release of a host of feel-good hormones, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
10. Buy some flowers
Talk about flower power. Research from Harvard and Rutgers shows that being around flowers can boost mood and reduce stress. So stop and smell the roses, as they say. Better yet, adorn your desk or coffee table with some fresh stems.
It may be the last thing you want to do, but even faking a smile can change your mood for the better, according to research published in the journal Psychological Science. So fake it till you make it.
Side note: Bad days are normal and fleeting, but depression is not. If a blue mood persists, coupled with feelings of hopelessness and lack of interest in activities, talk to a professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy can go a long way toward treating depression, anxiety and persistent negative thoughts.
—Laura Lambert for Evergreen Health