Despite what your social media feed may tell you, we all have bad days. You know the ones where your mood is low and you just can’t seem to get yourself out of a funk? There’s nothing wrong with feeling down sometimes, but ugh, knowing that doesn’t really make it any easier to tolerate.
Last week I had one of those days where I just felt sad. The sky was gray, I was lonely while working from home, and I just found myself wanting to crawl under the covers. As someone who has dealt with anxiety and depression for many years, I knew what I had to do.
It was time to get the serotonin flowing, so I put on my mood-boosting playlist, snuggled with my dog, and scribbled all of my feels into my notebook. Of course this didn’t suddenly make everything come up roses, but I felt a little less blue and more hopeful after just a few minutes.
We can’t avoid feeling down sometimes, and sitting with our more difficult emotions is courageous work, but it can help to have a few feel-good hacks up our sleeve to help us through. Read on for ways to get your happy hormones flowing, in just five minutes, and try one or two out the next time you need a spirit-lifter.
What are feel-good chemicals?
We throw the word serotonin around quite a bit, but what does it actually mean? Serotonin is a chemical messenger that has the ability to regulate our nervous system. It helps with digestion, promotes good sleep, regulates our appetite, improves cognitive abilities, and can help us to experience more positive feelings. A lack of serotonin can lead us to feel anxious, depressed, tired, or irritable.
You’re likely heard of serotonin’s feel-good partners, endorphins and dopamine. These are also neurotransmitters that play an important part in regulating our moods. We can quickly get our endorphins flowing through exercise, helping us to cope with stress and pain. Dopamine is connected to the reward circuit in our brain and helps to motivate us. Higher endorphins can actually lead to higher dopamine production.
Ways to boost your mood in 5 minutes
Dance wildly. I’m sorry to be a cliche by saying, “dance like nobody’s watching” but yeah, it works. I love to ugly dance – just flailing around in my living room with LCD Soundsystem blaring in my ears. You’d better believe that if someone saw me, I’d be mortified. And that’s the point. I’m free to just move my body because it feels good and I’m not performing for anyone. I’m just moving for myself, and getting my heart rate up in a really fun way. Plus, just listening to music is enough to activate pleasure centers in the brain. So, check out one of our feel good playlists, carve out a few minutes in a private space for yourself, and just move in whatever way feels good for you.
Focus on what’s good. Simply thinking about people, moments, or things that we love can help to increase serotonin in your brain. You can achieve this in whatever way works for you – take a moment to visualize a time when you felt cozy, joyful, or excited and just sit with that memory for a little while. Or grab a journal and jot down five to ten things that you’re grateful for. The more we practice focusing on gratitude, the easier it is for our minds to identify and appreciate the good stuff in our lives.
Cuddle up. A simple hug can make a big difference. For some, the act of giving or receiving supportive physical touch can influence the production of serotonin and give an instant mood-boost. If that doesn’t work for you, consider offering yourself a form of supportive touch, snuggling up with a pet, or treating yourself to a massage. It’s a bonus that physical touch can also decrease cortisol, a stress hormone in our bodies, so find whatever method feels safe and beneficial for you. For me, curling up under a weighted blanket with my dog can bring instant calm to my nervous system.
Find the light. Seeking out time in the sunshine isn’t always easy, especially when we’re deep in the winter blues, but it does increase our serotonin levels. If possible, try to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes outside on especially difficult days, connecting with nature and feeling the fresh air in your lungs. If the weather doesn’t agree or you have a tough time getting outdoors, consider getting your sunshine from a light therapy box that you can order online.
Create something. You certainly don’t need to be a professional painter to get those feel-good chemicals flowing. Consider doing anything crafty or creative you enjoy – watercolors, making music, writing a poem, arranging a bouquet of flowers, etc. I like to grab a few magazines, cut out images that bring me joy, and glue them on paper to create a collage. Notice how getting into a creative flow lifts your mood and try to take the pressure off of making a masterpiece. This is simply about the act of creating.
Keep in mind that moods are complex, and it’s not always easy to feel better quickly. Sometimes just engaging in activities that are intended to improve our moods can leave us with a more positive outlook.
If you’re having a tough time navigating your moods, a therapist can offer ongoing support. You can also talk to your doctor to discuss your specific brain chemistry, as some people simply have lower base serotonin levels.
We’ll be here along the way to encourage you to take five for yourself, reminding you that we all need and deserve a little pick-me-up sometimes.
By Katie Nave, Copywriter at Sanvello
Katie is a writer and mental health advocate living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in publications including Newsweek, Glamour, Business Insider, and Motherly. She has served as a producer for the National Women’s March and worked with organizations like Girls Inc. and CancerCare. She is currently the Copywriter at Sanvello and you can follow her on Instagram: @kathryn.e.nave.