Mood Boosting Habits


Waking up on the wrong side of the bed, feeling cranky, being a Debbie Downer, acting like a party pooper, being down in the dumps, and getting asked “why the long face?” No matter how it is described, a bad mood can put a damper not only on the individual, but on people around them. But what exactly does it mean to be in a bad mood? Is it a state of mind, a physical state, or a combination of both? What causes this condition, and how might it be avoided or improved?


What contributes to bad moods?

Many factors may contribute to a bad mood and some of the more common ones include sleep deprivation, inappropriate diet, medications, and other triggers [1].

A good way of avoiding a bad mood is to watch for these parameters: getting enough sleep in a night (6 hour minimum), eating well, and taking care of your body [2]. However, even under close regulation of these lifestyle elements, a bad mood can arise rapidly due to a particular event or almost anything that seems displeasing, eels stressful or is irritating. Continue reading to  learn a few tips that can help fix that bad mood simply and effectively!


Consume Caffeine (Yep, You Read That Correctly)

The Why and How

Despite caffeine’s bad reputation, a 2011 study conducted by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health found a correlation between caffeine consumption and decreased depression rate. Women who consumed 4 cups of coffee per day showed a slightly lowered risk for depression than those who drank 2 to 3 cups or less. The caffeine in coffee is a central nervous system stimulant, meaning it speeds up physical and mental processes [3]. This added energy could potentially ward off the sluggishness, fatigue, and trouble concentrating that accompanies bad or depressive moods, thus inhibiting them [4].

How to Benefit

While the above study analyzed the effects of a 4 cups-a-day intake, most individuals should not consume so much. A possible downside of coffee or strongly caffeinated tea is a big “crash” in energy and mood following the boost. Limit your daily intake to avoid other side effects like dizziness or restlessness. A reasonable and effective intake level is 100 mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in 1 cup of instant coffee). According to a 1997 16-subject study in Psychopharmacology, the ingestion of 100 mg of caffeine resulted in improved mood and reduced anxiety 30 and 60 minutes post-consumption [5].

Other caffeine sources include black or green teas and dark chocolate [6]. In addition to the mood-boosting benefits that the caffeine from these sources provide, they also contain antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances which play an important role in preventing cell damage in the entire body [7]. Check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s website for the caffeine content of many popular teas, coffees, foods, and drugs [8].

A 2008 study in Sleep Medicine Reviews reported reduced sleep time and difficulty falling asleep when caffeine was consumed within 30 minutes of sleeping, so avoid caffeine consumption within 30 minutes of sleep, preferably even longer [9]. While caffeine consumption does acutely raise blood pressure levels, which may sound alarming for people with hypertension (HTN), the long term effect is negligible as it is only temporary and a tolerance to it can be developed, which greatly diminishes the potential risks. The Nurses' Health Study, which followed 1.4 million people reported that an intake of up to 6 cups of coffee every day was not tied to an increased risk of HTN, reports the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2013 [10].


Listen to Music + Exercise

The Why and How

Hard-core house music has the biggest positive effect on mood among the analyzed effects of disco-pop, indie, rock/rap, heavy rock, indie/pop, and hard-core house music genres [11]. In addition, listening to music while driving can lower respiration rate and have a positive effect on the body while uplifting and sustaining a good mood. The same study also found that listening to music did not negatively affect driving patterns during high demand situations [12]. Furthermore, listening to aerobic dance music while exercising decreased fatigue versus exercising with no music [13]. This is a win-win situation because exercise alone boosts mood. Following an exercise program can also act as an antidepressant, relieve anxiety, and enhance mood [14]. This is because exercise causes a rise in the levels of serotonin, a chemical in our brains that accounts for feelings of pleasure and happiness [15].

How to Benefit

If you have 30 minutes to spare, engage in some light to moderate exercise to get a burst of serotonin. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2008, 30 minutes of exercise on most days is the minimum duration recommended to reap health and mood benefits, but a person can always start with a smaller amount of time and work towards a goal of 30 minutes through gradual increase [16]. At first, it may seem like a daunting task, but the positive feelings created afterwards will make it worth the effort. The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that “music benefits mood and confidence” so plug in your favorite tunes while you exercise to get a double dose of mood-busting goodness [17].


Chow Down on Fruits + Veggies 

The Why and How

Consuming fruits and vegetables (over unhealthy foods) have been shown to have a noticeable impact on young adults’ moods [18]. By following young adults’ food/mood diaries, researchers found that consumption of fruits and veggies was shown to make them calmer, happier, and more energetic in their daily lives, reports the British Journal of Health Psychology in 2013 [19]. Further analyses ensured that fruit and veggies were causing the healthy mood and not the other way around. Indeed, subjects who consumed a sufficient number of servings one day had improved moods the next day, and the correlation was thus established [19].

How to Benefit

Just how much do you need to consume? The former study found that 7 to 8 servings were needed daily for a significant mood boost. A serving is approximately 1/2 a cup, or the amount that can fit into your palm. An easy way to ensure adequate consumption is to dedicate one half of each plate of food to vegetables and to snack on whole fruit when you are hungry.



The Why and How

The act of smiling, even a forced smile, sends a signal to the brain that you are in a good mood, even if this was not previously the case [20]. A theory presented in 2010 to the Society for Personal and Social Psychology and later published in Psychological Science discovered that subjects who had gone through Botox procedures (thus limiting their range and ability for facial expressions) took longer to read and understand angry or sad statements versus non-Botox subjects, which confirmed a relation between facial expressions and the brain’s ability to process emotion [21]. According to David Havas (PhD, University of Wisconsin Laboratory for Language and Emotion lab director and assistant professor) who commented on this finding, “there is a long-standing idea in psychology called the facial feedback hypothesis…essentially, it says, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” This means that our cognitive (mental) processes are “rooted in basic bodily processes of perception, action, and emotion [21].”

How to Benefit

If you’re in an inexplicable funk or spending time with friends but just not feeling as excited and jubilant as you expected, help yourself get into a good mindset by smiling. It may just turn the tables on your mood and give you the extra push to feel positive. That smile might just turn into a real one! In fact, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project published in 2009, found that fake laughter often morphs into true laughter, and chronicled many instances in which she felt happier by acting happier.  


No one is happy all the time, which is normal, but some simple practices tend to be healthy habits that can also improve mood. Nutrition also plays an important role in physical and mental health, and as explained in this article, elements like caffeine and salutary foods (fruits and veggies) can help to significantly lift mood. Less of a commitment than healthy eating is smiling. Even when it feels like the last thing that could possibly help, smiling can trick the mind into creating a sense of joy. It doesn’t hurt to try, right? Finally, listening to energizing music and exercising is a combination that has long been known to have mood-boosting power. A useful tip for staying motivated is to listen to music only while exercising. That way, it becomes something to look forward to and provides a reward for staying active. Used in conjunction, this medley of habits can help ward off bad moods and develop a more pleasant daily life.

References ▾

  1. “Mood.” (2012).
  2. “How much sleep do we need?” Sleep Med Rev. (2001).
  3. “Caffeine-related disorders.” (2003).
  4. “Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women.” Arch Intern Med. (2011).
  5. “Effects of hot tea, coffee and water ingestion on physiological responses and mood: the role of caffeine, water and beverage type.” Psychopharmacology. (1997).
  6. “Healthier Ways to Get Your Caffeine.” (2005).
  7. “Antioxidants.” (2012).
  8. “Caffeine Content of Food & Drugs.” (2012).
  9. “Caffeine: Sleep and daytime sleepiness.” Sleep Med Rev. (2008).
  10. “Effects of Habitual Coffee Consumption on Cardiometabolic Disease, Cardiovascular Health, and All-Cause Mortality.” J Am Coll Cardiol. (2013).
  11. “Objective measurement of mood change induced by contemporary music.” J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. (1998).
  12. “The influence of music on mood and performance while driving.” Ergonomics. (2012).
  13. “Effects of music on mood during bench stepping exercise.” Percept Mot Skills. (2000).
  14. “The effect of exercise on depression, anxiety and other mood states: A review.” J Psychosom Res. (1993).
  15. “How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.” J Psychiatry Neurosci. (2007).
  16. “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” (2008).
  17. “Music and Mood.” (2013).
  18. “Healthy Diet Can Improve Mood.” (2013).
  19. “Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults.” Br J Health Psychol. (2013).
  20. “Spontaneous facial expressions of emotion of congenitally and noncongenitally blind individuals.” J Pers Soc Psychol. (2009).
  21. “Cosmetic Use of Botulinum Toxin-A Affects Processing of Emotional Language.” Psychol Sci. (2010).

Winter 2014 | Vol. 14 | Issue 2

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