When seemingly surrounded by stressful circumstances, it's not uncommon to find yourself in a rut. But there is good news for those of you who've been feeling a bit down: Mental health experts have figured out a few simple happiness hacks for the brain. And while they're not meant as a substitute for other forms of treatment (like therapy for example) if you've got ongoing struggles, they may just give you the serotonin boost you need to lift yourself out of a bad mood and turn your day around.
It's always important to practice self-care, but this is especially true during a global pandemic, which may be impacting your economic situation, your workload, and your personal relationships, all of which can contribute to your sense of self. In fact, being stuck indoors in itself can dampen your spirits if you're depleted of vitamin D. And in these moments it helps to have a few tools in your belt that can reliably refresh your state mind.
Some of the quick tricks therapists and psychologists use to instantly make you feel happier may be things you already know, but have had a tough time prioritizing. Others might at first seem silly, but could actually work wonders. In either case, the five tips ahead may totally be worth prioritizing if it means banishing your bad mood.
Happiness Hacks For The Brain: Move Your Body
When you're feeling down, exercise doesn't always float to the top of the list of things you want to be doing — but experts say that any form of movement can help your mood tremendously. "Physical activity has been proven to raise serotonin levels, and you don't have to run a marathon to make it happen," says Dr. Stephanie Insko, psychologist at Brentwood Counseling Associates. "Just move, whether it be heading outside for a quick walk around the block, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or doing a few jumping jacks during each episode of that show you're binge-watching."
Saba Harouni Lurie, therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy, also suggests dancing as a feel-good movement option. "First, put on some music and have a dance party," she says. "Consider changing the lights (brighter or dimmer), closing your eyes if it feels good to do so, or picking a song that you can sing along to."
Happiness Hacks For The Brain: Get Some Sunlight
"Getting as little as 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight a day is another way to get the feel-good hormone flowing in your brain," shares Dr. Insko, who suggests combining this idea with the aforementioned tip to make it even more impactful. And don't stress if it's not sunny where you live: The psychologist says that a light therapy box may be able to give you similar results.
Happiness Hacks For The Brain: Practice Gratitude
Employing a gratitude practice may seem counterintuitive, but Dr. Insko says that it's actually been shown to activate the brain's serotonin-releasing reward system. "So the next time you find yourself assuming you'd feel happier if only your life was different in some way, take a few minutes to identify two or three things about your current situation that you are thankful for," she suggests.
Happiness Hacks For The Brain: Remember The Good Times
"[Probably] the best news of all is that the act of simply remembering good times — even if you don't currently have a lot of them — can trick the brain into flooding itself with the happiness hormone," Dr. Insko explains. "If you're having a hard time conjuring those memories, look back at old photos or yearbooks, or listen to a song that takes you right back to those experiences and the happiness you felt back then."
Happiness Hacks For The Brain: Give Yourself A Hug
And lastly, Lurie says you shouldn't underestimate the power of a meaningful embrace — even if it's from yourself. "Scientists have found that hugging can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body," she explains. "You can also enjoy these benefits by hugging yourself: [Just be] sure to make the embrace last at least six seconds so the full impact can be felt."