Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on May 16, 2021
When You're Feeling Down
We all get in a bit of a rut now and then. You can usually pull yourself out of one with a little self-care. But if feelings of anxiety or sadness regularly cause problems at work or home, talk to your doctor about them.
Meet a close friend for a walk if you have one nearby. If they’re all too far away, make a call. Talking with someone you care about can help you feel supported and less stressed. Along with lifting your mood, research shows it can strengthen your immune system so your body is better at fighting illness, and it's good for your heart, too.
Have a Little Dark Chocolate
It has chemicals called flavanols that can make more blood flow to your brain and may help you think more clearly. But don’t overdo it. Chocolate also has fat and calories and lots of caffeine, too. Just a small square of the dark stuff -- 70% cocoa or more -- 2 or 3 times a week may be all you need.
Play Some Tunes
Music can affect your brain in the same way chocolate or sex does. And when you sing along -- it doesn’t matter how well -- your brain makes natural painkillers that can give your mood a boost.
This can help ease tension in your muscles, and when you breathe in quickly, your heart and lungs get a boost, too. Laughing also makes your brain release chemicals that help your body fight pain and infection. So hunt down some funny clips of your favorite TV show. It’s not goofing off -- it’s good for you.
Do a Good Deed
When you do something nice for someone, your body makes hormones called endorphins. These are natural painkillers linked to trust, pleasure, and a connection with other people. Helping others also has been shown to raise your self-esteem.
Hug Your Dog
Just being around your pet can make you feel better. Your body releases a hormone called oxytocin that lifts your mood and bonds you to other living things.
When your body needs water, you can feel tired, cranky, or a little blah. It may even affect your mental sharpness. If you’re not excited about drinking a glass of water, you can get it from food: Fruits and vegetables are good sources.
Not only can it lift your mood, but it also can be good for your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and stress level. You'll get even more out of it if you take your dog with you and add in some exercise. At the office, a plant on your desk or a picture of the woods can make you feel less anxious or irritable.
You don’t have to sweat it out at the gym. A 10-minute walk seems to lift your spirits just as well as a 45-minute workout. And people who exercise often deal with stress better overall. Invite a friend and do something outside to boost the benefit.
Eat Something (Healthy)
If you don’t eat enough to fuel your day, you can get tired, hungry, and maybe even a little snippy -- “hangry.” Just make sure to eat the good stuff: Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats have nutrients to feed your brain and perk you up. They also take longer to digest, so you have energy throughout the day instead of all at once. Things like junk food may give you a boost, but a crash may follow.
It may help boost heart and brain health and lower stress, especially if it’s with a committed partner. It even seems to help some people with headaches, including migraines.
Focus on your breath and try to keep your mind free of thoughts. When a worry enters your mind, try to let it go. It’s OK if you get distracted -- the point of meditation is to continue to try. It can calm you down and lift your mood, especially if you make it a regular part of your day.
Sleep can ease anxiety and boost your mood and focus -- try for 7 to 9 hours a night. If you have trouble going to sleep, keep your room cool, dark, and quiet and don’t watch TV or use the computer right before you turn in. It also helps to go to bed and get up at the same times every day.
Take a Vacation
If you just can’t shake out of it, you may need time to recharge, relax, and take stock. This can help you see all the good things in your life that get lost in the rush of daily routine. It also gets you away from the stress of work or home life and can help you bond with family and friends.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety,” “Sleep Disorders,” “Depression.”
Cephalalgia (International Headache Society): “The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: An observational study.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Why Sex Is Good for Your Health, Especially Your Heart.”
Harvard Health Publications: “Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety,” “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.”
Journal of Health and Social Behavior: “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy.”
LiveScience.com: “Sex May Relieve Migraines.”
Mayo Clinic: “Stress Management,”
Mental Health Foundation: “Altruism.”
NIH News In Health: “How the Arts Affect Your Health.”
National Institutes of Health: “How does a vacation from work affect employee health and well-being?” “Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men,” “Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women,” “Do small differences in hydration status affect mood and mental performance?” “Influence of progressive fluid restriction on mood and physiological markers of dehydration in women,” “Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin,” “Dog ownership and physical activity: a review of the evidence.”
Psychology Today: “The Health Benefits of Socializing,” “The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health.”
University Health News: “2 Chocolate Benefits for Your Brain: Improves Memory and Mood.”
University of Minnesota: “How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?”