Sunday, October 5, 2008

8 easy, instant mood boosters

On any given day, any one of us can open our calendar, flip on our Blackberry or scan through our email in-box and find enough to zap away a bright and shiny attitude. And if the spreadsheets and spam don't do it, the economy certainly might. Hey, I've had plenty of optimistic mornings this month that were obliterated in one glance at a story about the election.

Of course, we've all been through a trauma or challenge that needs to be processed and healed over time. But do you notice that most of the things that are irritating, depressing or crazy-making are comparatively small or completely out of our control (cue my grandmother's review of those books about not sweating the small stuff)?

Instead of focusing on the negative, what if we chose instead to give our time, energy and concentration to feeling good again? What if we (gasp) took a five-minute time out to get positive? Surprisingly, it's not as difficult or time-consuming to get to that happy place as you might think.

Whether you're mad about gas prices or mumbling about the boss, you can boost your mood quickly and easily with these 8 tips:

1. Clear your space, clear your mind.
It's amazing how a few piles of paperwork and a line of empty Starbucks cups can make a busy day feel even more frantic. Set a cell phone alarm or timer for five minutes and use that time to de-clutter a manageable space around you. Focus your efforts on your desk or kitchen counter rather than a whole room or cubicle. Stash everything that needs your attention today into a file folder and find a home for everything else in drawers, baskets or the trash. Write down any thoughts or tasks that are causing you anxiety or have upcoming deadlines so you are left with reminders rather than worries.

If you need to take three breaks a day to clean-sweep your space, so be it. As long as it helps you stay calm and feel organized and in control, it is worth the time. If you make a habit of taking one of these breaks before you leave the office or turn in for the night, think how much better your mood will be when you return in the morning.

2. Put on a little mood-lifting music. Whether pop music, nature sounds or jazz makes you smile or sing or dance in your chair, even a song or two will help you escape the blues. Stash a CD in your car, bag or desk to pop in or upload a special playlist full of songs that always make you feel better. If you don't have an MP3 player or disc at your fingertips, simply go to YouTube and search for videos tagged "peaceful" or "happy." You may end up with a crazy karaoke lady performance or a kitty cat rolling around to hip-hop, but the chances are good your mood will be boosted by that nuttiness, too.

3. Make yourself laugh (or at least grin). Studies show that laughter not only has a powerful impact on your mood, it sends your body into an instant state of relaxation. In fact, the anticipation of laughter (as we wait for a punchline, for example) sends a wave of electricity over our cerebral cortex, causing a physiological and psychological connection to even the worst jokes.

There's no need to force yourself to smile or do any of that weird belly-laugh yoga to get the good effects of humor. Make it easy on yourself by keeping an email file or manila folder full of the cards, messages and cartoons you get that really do make you LOL. A birthday card from your best friend or a sticky note of congratulations on a successful project are also nice reminders that people love and support you and are guaranteed to warm up your attitude. (Do be sure to toss items from this folder once in a while so your happy file doesn't cause unhappiness-inducing clutter.)

4. Focus on your favorite color.
There's plenty of research that says painting your walls certain colors will help make you feel more serene or productive or sexy in that room. I love that strategy when I move into a new place or redecorate, but that investment's not always plausible and it's certainly not quick or easy. Thank goodness it's possible to get a quick fix with just a bit of those mood-lifting colors.

I personally know how well this trick can work. I loved the deep aubergine ribbon I used for my wedding bouquet so much that I ordered an extra roll of it just to lift my spirits long after the big day passed. I tied it around planters that sit on my desk, put a small swatch in my jewelry box and even tied it into a bow on my key ring. The color evoked such a sense of joy and serenity to me that I felt those emotions wash over me each time I saw the ribbon tucked into everyday spaces. If hot pink makes you feel happy or turquoise reminds you of the most amazing, relaxing vacation of your life, get a coffee mug or flowers or nail polish in that color as a focal point when you need a boost.

5. Mix up something good to eat or drink. Being hungry or hydrated can impact your concentration, energy level and ability to cope with stressers. No, that doesn't mean a martini and Xanax smoothie or bag full of candy bars will make you feel better. While alcohol or sugar may give you temporary comfort, you will probably feel worse once that wears off. Instead, choose a healthier snack or small meal that combines protein and carbohydrates. Toast with almond butter and honey, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, oatmeal with cranberries and skim milk are all tasty and will fuel your body longer than a treat. Drinking a big glass of water (rather than coffee...sigh) will also help perk you up.

6. Stretch yourself.
Get up from behind the monitor or television or steering wheel. Go for a ten-minute walk or just do three or four stretches. There's no need to do a full workout but do focus in on which muscles feel tight and gently stretch and massage those areas to increase circulation. Rubbing your hands, feet, neck and temples with a lightly-scented lotion or oil does wonders if you have to remain seated. I keep a small bottle of lavender lotion in my car and next to my laptop for quick, rejuvenating hand massages while I sit at stop lights and listen in on conference calls. It's amazing how diverting my attention just slightly from traffic and work talk eases my stress (not while driving, of course).

If depression is an issue for you, regular exercise may be a way to help elevate your mood. For all of us, it's no shock that pounding out stress on a treadmill or releasing everyday anxiety on the yoga mat does wonders for how good we feel physically and emotionally over time.

7. Exhale the tension, then inhale something that smells sweet. Combine the one-two of breathing deeply as an exercise or in meditation or prayer with aromatherapy for a quick mood change. Set the stage for a few peaceful moments by spritzing a room spray or lighting a candle in a calming scent. If there is a tea or flower that evokes a sense of calm to you, keep some on hand for these occasions. Once that scent has circulated a bit, take a breathing break. Close your eyes or turn away from whatever it is that has brought your mood down and center on taking full breaths in and out. Add a mantra or prayer, or if you need guidance, listen to a meditation podcast.

8. Start over.
If nothing else helps and it looks like your day is a complete wash, why not call a do-over? If you can make the time, give yourself a half-hour (or more) to linger a little longer than usual in a warm shower. Not only will the change in your routine shake off some of the stress, studies show that heating up your core temperature can also warm up your mood. Then do some simple self-care rituals like applying your favorite moisturizer and putting on comfortable clothes you feel good wearing. Even if you have to return to work or your to-do list, at least you know you can hit the re-set button on your attitude first.

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