woman laughing outside

11 Things to Do to Lift Your Mood

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
June 24, 2024
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Whether you’re feeling sad, unmotivated, or in a general funk, it can feel difficult to lift your mood—and tempting to turn to things that might work in the short run but really could make matters worse (like junk food or alcohol).

If your go-to mood boosters need a refresh, try these strategies that not only work for others, but also come with scientific backing.

1. Use Your Sense of Humor

Why It Works: Having a sense of humor can have a big impact, helping boost physical and mental health and promoting a stronger social life. It might even lead to a longer life span, suggests a 15-year Norwegian study.

How to Do It: Select a funny movie, read some jokes, or meet up with friends (since we tend to smile and laugh more when we’re in a group). Find a way to literally turn your frown upside down, because even a fake smile can increase your feelings of happiness.

“There is a facial feedback loop within the brain,” explains Andrew Rosen, Ph.D., board-certified psychologist and founder and clinical director of the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida. “Forced smiles actually trick the brain into an increase in dopamine and improve mood.”

2. Try a Social Media Detox

Why It Works: Research suggests that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to become depressed. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that engaging in activities that have little meaning on social media tends to make people feel like they’ve wasted time, which negatively affects their mood.

“While scrolling on our smartphones may feel good at the moment, over time it erodes our sense of self and makes us feel anxious and less-than. So, take a break,” says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a clinical and consulting psychotherapist and author of Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough.

How to Do It: Log out of social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.—and maybe even delete the apps from your phone for a day or two at a time.

“Trust me, nothing is going on with the Kardashians or Bryanboy over the course of 48 hours that will make your life richer and more meaningful,” says Hokemeyer, who adds that he’d love it if people detached from social media for a full 72 hours. Still, 48 or even 24 hours is enough to give your mind and body a rest and recharge, he says.

3. Spend Time Outside

Why It Works: According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, spending time outside does a body good in a variety of ways, including by providing a dose of vitamin D. “Not only does vitamin D help stave off depression, it provides several other physical benefits, such as preventing cardiovascular diseases and cancers,” Hokemeyer says.

How to Do It: Whether you work from home or in another location, head outdoors during your lunch break. Fairley Lloyd, 25, of Wilmington, North Carolina, likes walking around her neighborhood. “It's a nice mental break and often provides me with clarity,” she says.

Candace Nelson Guerrera, 40, of Minneapolis, feels that a stroll along the creek and lake near her home is good for her mental health.

4. Take a Cold Rinse

Why It Works: Researchers are starting to suggest that there may be some mental health benefits to taking cold showers and baths, says Hokemeyer. “While the reasons for this are not completely clear, it is believed that the shock of the cold causes our bodies to generate endorphins,” he explains. These are known as the feel-good chemicals released by the brain.

How to Do It: During your morning shower, turn the temperature to as cold as you can stand for just a few bracing seconds (and if you tend to shower at night, consider changing your routine). “Whatever the biological reason, starting your day with a blast of cold water will not just wake up your body, it can awaken your mind to the rich possibilities that are waiting for you outside your bathroom,” Hokemeyer says.

5. Do a Good Deed

Why It Works: Performing an act of kindness can benefit mood, suggests research. And it may be especially beneficial if you can see immediate results. “Through these small wins, we gain a sense of power and agency over our lives and find hope in our ability to make a difference in the world,” Hokemeyer says.

How to Do It: Grab a garbage bag, a pair of gloves, and maybe a buddy, and head out for a walk. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for bottles, cans, snack bags, and other pieces of litter that can be trashed or recycled. Other ideas: Mow the lawn of an older or sick neighbor, shovel their driveway, or help them carry their garbage cans to the curb.

6. Get Your Best Rest

Why It Works: For optimal health, most adults need seven or more hours of good sleep on a regular schedule each night. Among so many other benefits, sleep improves mood and anxiety, Rosen says.

How to Do It: Your biological clock syncs up to the patterns of daylight you're experiencing. So, when the sun is up and shining, you naturally stay alert, and when it gets dark at night, you feel sleepy. Get out in the daylight each morning, and at night, create a sleep environment that’s quiet and dark. Establish a routine of going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day (an alarm that reminds you to go to sleep can be just as helpful at keeping you on schedule as one that wakes you in the morning).

7. Sip a Cup of Tea

Why It Works: A 2015 meta-analysis of 11 studies with 13 reports suggested that tea consumption was associated with a decreased risk of depression. “Researchers found that drinking tea can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., a psychologist and author who practices in Frisco, Texas. “Drinking at least a half cup of green tea a day seems to lower the risk of developing depression, as well as dementia.”

How to Do It: Brew some green or herbal tea to help you perk up.

Drinking tea may even help you find a new source of creativity, as it does for Alle C. Hall, of Seattle, a novel writer. “About four hours into a morning of ferocious writing, I will hit a wall. I just can’t think of what is supposed to come next,” Hall says. “Time for tea! Invariably, whatever the block was has disappeared, and I am back to my desk for another few hours.”

8. Do Some Gardening

Why It Works: In a study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, researchers measured symptoms and other aspects of mental health of people with clinical depression. After they participated in a 12-week horticulture (or gardening) program, all participants appeared to show significant improvements—that lasted for months.

How to Do It: Plant, pick, dig, water—and if you don’t have a plot of land, you can do some indoor gardening. “I weed,” says Cherry Dumaual, 69, of New York City. “Getting weeds, like dandelions, out with a weed puller is a great pick-me-up. It makes me feel powerful!”

9. Color Inside (or Outside) the Lines

Why It Works: When researchers investigated how coloring an intricate mandala design affected the anxiety levels of college undergrads, they found that the students reported lower anxiety levels after coloring. Coloring facilitated a sort of meditative state of mind, the researchers suggested.

How to Do It: Any coloring book will do, but you can find some complicated and beautiful designs in the new editions of adult coloring books. “It makes me feel relaxed and creative when I get stressed,” says Alexa Lampasona, 32, of Boise, Idaho. “Especially when I’m feeling stuck, doing an adult coloring book makes me feel accomplished.”

10. Break a Sweat

Why It Works: Exercise can improve your mood, help you relax, boost self-confidence, and lower symptoms of mild depression, according to researchers.

How to Do It: Aim for at least 2.5 to 5 hours a week of moderate aerobic activity, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous aerobic activity, as recommended by the physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Remember: Any amount of exercise is better than none.

“I jump on the treadmill and blast the music I listened to as a teenager: ’80s New Wave,” says Stephanie Watson, 52, of Providence, Rhode Island. “It brings me back to a simpler and less stressful time in my life.”

For Amy Snyder, 53, of Washington Township, New Jersey, a brisk walk is her go-to mood booster. “Afterward, I feel reenergized, optimistic, and centered,” she says. “I feel a happy satisfaction from fitting in some exercise, and I am more able to focus on my present moment and stop myself from ruminating.”

11. Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Why It Works: A meta-analysis suggests that dance can help reduce feelings of anxiety and anger, improve self-esteem, and have overall positive effects on well‑being.

How: Turn up the tunes and let loose. “When we start getting cranky, need to change the energy in the room, or need a boost—especially when cleaning house—we turn up the music loud and dance for a song, maybe two,” says Judy Schwartz Haley, 51, of Seattle, who holds impromptu dance parties with her husband and their 13-year-old daughter. “It never lasts more than a few minutes, but that’s enough.”

Don’t be afraid to look silly, suggests Schwartz Haley. “It’s really effective for lifting moods, especially if we start doing goofy dances.” Even science says it’s okay: In one recent study, “conscious dance”—dance that was not choreographed and simply done in the name of self-expression—appeared to help people cope with stress-related health conditions.

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