It can be increasingly difficult to stay buoyant after the year we’ve had. And while it’s completely normal to feel weird, anxious or completely exhausted right now, there are still things you can do to give yourself a boost each day.
Here are some science-backed ways to improve your mood.
1. Go for a walk in nature
If you’re feeling flat, go outside if you can. Put your shoes on, grab your jacket and go for a walk – preferably to a park with trees, if you have one nearby.
One study found that visitors to urban parks used happier words and expressed less negativity on Twitter than they did before their visit. Their elevated mood lasted for up to four hours afterwards. The effect was so strong, according to University of Vermont scientists, it was equivalent to the mood spike at Christmas.
And there’s more where that came from – numerous studies have found that nature benefits mood. Another study found a walk in the park had psychological benefits for people with depression. “Walking in nature may act to supplement or enhance existing treatments for clinical depression,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Marc Berman.
2. Change the way you walk
Our mood can affect how we walk: slumped and hunched if we’re sad, bouncing along, upright, if we’re happy. But researchers have shown it works the other way around, too. People who were prompted to walk in a more sad style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style.
Next time you head out on your daily walk, you know what to do.
3. Call your upbeat mates
Both good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from friends, according to the University of Warwick. Researchers found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of them improving. The opposite applied to those who had a more positive social circle.
Professor Frances Griffiths, of Warwick Medical School, said: “While the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”
So maybe Zoom call your cheery friend every once in a while to get a boost from them – happiness really is contagious.
4. Increase your fruit and veggies
Eating a healthy diet can improve mood and even reduce symptoms of depression. Dr Joseph Firth, an honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, who analysed data from almost 46,000 people, said: “Our recent meta-analysis [shows] that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples’ mood.”
Aim to eat more nutrient-dense meals which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars, he suggested.
A separate University of Warwick analysis of the eating habits of 80,000 people in Britain found happiness and mental health were highest among people who ate seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Start that shopping list.
5. Up your exercise
We all know exercise is good for us physically, but multiple studies have found it to be an effective mood-booster, too. If you’re feeling sluggish, increase your level of physical activity, suggest scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who found that increases in physical activity tended to be followed by increases in mood and perceived energy levels.
You don’t need to overdo it. A review of 23 studies on happiness and physical activity found even a small change in levels of physical activity can make a difference in happiness. Several studies found happiness levels were the same whether people exercised 150-300 minutes a week, or more than 300 minutes a week.
6. Wish other people well
Rather than focusing on ways to make ourselves feel better, a team of Iowa State University researchers suggest wishing other people well.
“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” said Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology. “It’s a strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities.”
In their study, those who practised loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier, more connected, caring and empathetic, as well as less anxious.
This is as simple as it sounds: look at someone passing by in the street, smile at them, and think to yourself: “I wish for this person to be happy.”