We can all get stuck in a bad mood from time to time: stewing in anger and frustration, feeling anxious and on edge, or simply feeling a little down and flat.
But shaking off a bad mood can be surprisingly tough. And sometimes our best efforts backfire, leading to an even worse mood that sticks around longer. Which is why I usually hesitate to endorse emotional quick fixes or mood hacks—sometimes the best way out of a bad mood is to simply be willing to go through it with self-compassion and acceptance.
Still, there’s a time and place for everything. And sometimes, when you’re in the middle of a bad mood, the right move is to take a page out of T-Swift’s playbook and shake it off.
As a psychologist, I’ve found that three of the best ways to genuinely snap yourself out of a bad mood are to move, make, and meet. When we get ourselves moving physically, create something, or connect with other people, bad moods have a way of dissipating quickly.
So, the next time you find yourself in a bad mood, remember the 3 Ms: Move, Make, Meet.
There’s boatloads of research showing that increased physical activity and exercise can have positive effects on mood. From lethargy and irritability to full-blown depression and anxiety, the mood-boosting effects of movement are powerful.
The key is to realize that it doesn’t take much movement to improve your mood—you certainly don’t need to jog on the treadmill for an hour or pump iron ’till you’re drenched in sweat.
Simply getting up from your desk and going for a walk around the block can help. A few quick pushups first thing in the morning can do wonders to dispel grogginess and fatigue. And taking the kids for a walk to the park can be a quick way to de-escalate the stress and frustration of raising toddlers.
The best mood booster is usually movement.
From our ancient ancestors forging arrowheads out of obsidian to the modern-day entrepreneur and mommy blogger, human beings seem wired to make stuff. And while many of us have the incredible fortune to live in a first-world country with all the luxuries and amenities that go along with it, there’s a downside: We’re increasingly becoming creatures of consumption rather than creation.
We order food from GrubHub rather than making it ourselves. We hire landscapers rather than mowing our own lawns. We buy that new garbage disposal on Amazon rather than trying to fix the old one.
As we abandon our heritage as makers and creators, we’re giving up one of our most powerful mechanism for feeling good — making stuff.
So the next time you find yourself in a funk, look for small opportunities to make something, fix something, or simply clean something up. De-clutter your desk, sweep the kitchen floor, or trim the roses. Install those new electrical outlets or bake some cookies.
More than our fancy problem-solving brains or our capacity for using tools and language, what sets humans apart from other species is our capacity for sophisticated relationships—for building, coordinating, and taking advantage of complex interpersonal connections.
Research shows that babies in the womb can differentiate the sound of their mother’s voice, and newborns respond uniquely to other human faces. On a very fundamental level, we were born to connect.
But modern life makes it all too easy to isolate ourselves, typically under the guise of “independence.” So often, the best way out of a bad mood is to simply be in the presence of someone we love. A supportive ear, an encouraging pat on the back, or a funny meme from a good friend at just the right moment can make all the difference.
We amplify our suffering when we do it alone.
When you find yourself a little down or stressed out, or upset, look for small ways to reach out and connect with someone. Pop into your coworker’s office and chat for a few minutes. Send your spouse a quick “I love you” text. Call that old college buddy and catch up for 15 minutes.
Sometimes even the smallest connection can make all the difference.
All you need to know
For most of our history as a species, we were constantly moving, making things, and meeting up with other people—our very survival depended on it. But one of the side effects of modern life is that it’s allowed us to spend our days sitting instead of moving, consuming rather than making, and isolated instead of together.
While there are many reasons for bad moods, sometimes all we need is to bring our minds and bodies back to their natural state of being—movement, creation, and connection.