You know that cascading surge of doom that we all experience from time to time, when you feel like your life is an overgrown disaster? Sometimes it can be pretty debilitating, depending on how long it lasts.
Well, I have some good news. That feeling we obliquely refer to as a “bad mood,” which sprouts from the tiniest seed of negativity, can be managed and diffused by you, in 10 minutes or less.
To outsmart a bad mood and feel happier, understand that emotions are not thrust upon us by circumstances. Our brains aren’t forced by outside events to produce particular feelings. Our neocortex, which is the center for higher mental functioning, responds to triggers in a way that best suits each situation. It decides how to react, inducing the limbic system. This system interfaces motivation and memory to fire synapses and release chemicals, creating what we identify as emotion.
But like any operating system designed for efficiency, the brain relies on past reactions to predict future ones. Sometimes, we don’t even consciously perceive an event before receptors in our mind are stimulated, sending impulses along previously forged pathways, like a mental default setting. Here’s the problem: If our default setting is fear, insecurity, irritability, or self-loathing, we spend much of our lives miserable.
But take heart, by interrupting the circuit and redirecting the reaction, we can quickly and effectively alter our mood.
The key to redirecting a foul mood is to be an active participant and not succumb to a routine of passivity. Sure, it’s easier to cruise along on grumpy auto-pilot, but each time you allow your reptilian brain to make the call, the conduits it chooses deepen.
Remember the proverb about thoughts becoming words, then actions, then habits, then character, and finally your destiny? The author is unknown, but whoever said it knew something about neuropathways. Fortunately, the adult brain retains synaptic plasticity. This means that the act of interrupting and reversing a cycle of negative emotions is habit-forming. And, there are countless ways to accomplish this.
Simply being aware of the process is a giant step in the right direction, but since humans tend to revisit the path of least resistance, passivity can be a tricky habit to eradicate. This is your disposition at stake. Don’t surrender without a fight. Instead, do these things in the next 10 minutes:
Drink a big glass of ice-cold water.
Drink it as fast as you can, even if it freezes your throat. The sudden change of temperature snaps your body to attention from the mild rush of adrenaline.
Name your bad mood.
I call mine, “I Hate to Clean.” My daughter has one named, “Recess is Mean.” This compartmentalizes the anxiety and isolates what’s really bothering you, instead of letting it seep indiscriminately across your mind.
Is your whole life awful, or do you just dread grocery shopping? Name it. Be specific about the nasty stuff and it won’t contaminate the good.
Do not use Facebook.
(I didn’t say forever, just 10 minutes.) When you scroll through social media, keep in mind that you are not so much a user as you are a commodity, tallied for ad revenue, and there is nothing more passive than that.
Go to a mirror and smile at yourself.
Smile until your reflection genuinely smiles back. Smiling — and being smiled at — triggers a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential to the brain’s pleasure and motivation system.
Step outside and take several deep, rapid breaths.
This practice, called hyperpnoea, increases oxygen levels thus sharpening brain function and alertness. Jet fighters and other military personnel use this technique to maximize alertness.
Run up and down the stairs. Do deep knee bends, push-ups, jumping jacks, or high kicks. Dance, juggle, plank, etc. Just get your heart rate up. Evidence that exercise boosts your mood is abundant and widely accepted, with data showing changes in brain chemistry after as little as twenty seconds of active movement.
Put five things away.
This is you being externally proactive. A cluttered environment contributes to anxiety and stress. While removing five objects may not put a dent in the mess, it’s a doable task for even the most overwhelmed.
Adjust your posture.
Most of us slump, slouch, and stoop when we’re grumpy, which underpins our attitude. Straighten your spine, pull your shoulders blades together, lift your chin, and don’t let your elbows come in front of your torso.
Physiologists have long maintained a connection between posture and temperament, noting a more developed skeletal musculature in people who describe themselves as “fortunate” and “cheerful.”
When the 10 minutes are up, you’ll feel better – even if it’s temporary — and you will always have the tools to redirect a bad mood. Stay proactive, be aware of your own mind, and remember that happiness can become habit forming.