We all get into bad moods—and, eventually, we snap out of them. The main reason we have trouble extracting ourselves from them more quickly is because we can’t shake a bad mood if we’re not aware of what’s causing it.
The next time you get into a funk, don’t just wait for the dark cloud to lift. There are steps you can take to improve your mood, and the first is to figure out what’s causing it.
Here are 10 common causes of bad moods—and what you can do to banish them.
1. Guilt. Feeling even mildly guilty can have a huge impact on our mood. Forgetting someone’s birthday can make you feel bad even if you apologize (but certainly if you don’t). The best way to resolve guilty feelings is to atone for your actions. If you still feel bad about the missed birthday, take a few minutes to send a cute and funny apology card, e-card, or small gift. They will appreciate the gesture and you will feel better as soon as you click send.
2. Small rejections. Rejections are an extremely common emotional injury, especially in the age of social media. When you post your vacation pictures on Facebook or Instagram and no one “Likes” them, it can sting. However, since you don’t know the circumstances, it’s important not to take things personally. People often check social media on the fly; while waiting for the elevator (or the doctor), stuck at a traffic light (or in a meeting), or while sitting on a bus (or on the can). If someone close hasn’t responded, you can assume they were too busy to do so, and send them a text or message asking them to take a look at your pics if you’re eager to share (or get the response you want).
3. Outstanding tasks. Our mental to-do lists can sit in the back of our mind, nag at us, and bring down our mood. But you don’t have to complete every outstanding task to improve your mood. Studies have found that just making a plan for tackling tasks is sufficient to eliminate the mental nagging and improve your mood. So decide when you’ll do the task, set a reminder on your phone or put up a post-it, and watch your mood lighten.
4. Brooding. Many of us can get stuck replaying upsetting scenes that occurred days, weeks, or even months ago. When an upsetting short film keeps playing in the back of your mind, use distraction techniques to reduce the intensity and frequency. Studies show that even a two-minute distraction (such as doing a crossword or playing Candy Crush or Sudoku) is sufficient to disrupt the distressing thought and restore your mood.
5. Having a low self-esteem day. Like the proverbial bad hair day, sometimes we just wake up feeling bad about ourselves, for no apparent reason. Our self-esteem tends to fluctuate but it is also important to prop it up when it is low. Therefore, when your self-esteem is in a slump, do something to make you feel good about yourself. Work out and release some endorphins; wear something you feel good in; plan something you’ll look forward to doing; or call someone who truly appreciates you and makes you feel good about who you are.
6. Fearing failure. We can worry about an upcoming marathon, a presentation at work, or an important exam for days or even weeks beforehand. To get out of that fixation, focus on things that are within your control: Beefing up your road work, creating support among colleagues by being supportive and encouraging of their work (which will make them more likely to be supportive of yours), or making a detailed study schedule can help reduce fear of failure and the lousy moods that go with it.
7. Feeling disconnected. We can get so caught up in life we neglect our emotional and social needs and begin to feel disconnected from the people around us. To move past this feeling, give a loved one a call or take a break and play with your pet. Studies have also found that even brief social interactions with acquaintances can improve mood.
8. Getting caught up in small annoyances. As we go about our busy lives, small annoyances—incorrect charges on a phone bill, cable service on the fritz, the car stalling—can become exaggerated and ruin our mood. To restore it, get perspective and remind yourself of the big picture. Use the one year question: Is this something you will remember in a year? If not, it’s not worth getting annoyed about. To balance your mood further, do a quick gratitude exercise: Make a list of 5 things you’re grateful for that really matter—your kids are healthy, you have a good job, you have friends who care, etc.
9. Hunger. This one is pretty obvious but it’s amazing how often we forget to consider it. Being hungry impacts our mood far more than we tend to realize. If it’s been a while since you last ate…have a snack.
10. Exhaustion. This also falls in the obvious-but-often-neglected category. Children aren’t the only ones who get cranky when they’re tired. When we don’t get enough sleep it significantly impacts our thinking, creativity, and especially our general mood. If you can, take a 15-minute power nap. Even a brief nap can be sufficient to recharge your batteries and bump you out of the doldrums.
This story was written by Guy Winch, Ph.D. He is a psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts. You can visit his website here. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories in our free newsletter here.