Lost your keys? Your temper? An argument with a fellow commuter? A maddening morning can morph into a decent day—or even a good one. The key is to reduce arousal levels, says Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life the Brain. “When people are running late and feel time-pressured, or their goals are blocked—say, traffic—or they have an interpersonal conflict like an argument with a partner or child, their arousal levels soar. Cortisol is released to prepare the body for fight or flight,” says Dr. Barrett. “Even after your brain learns that the fight-or-flight mechanism is not necessary, your body takes a while to calm down, so you continue to feel wound up. That’s what can actually make it more likely for your bad day to continue.” Try these eight tips to help you wind down and bring your mood back up.
Pause the multitasking
Instead, take a deep breath and do just one single task for a few moments. Being effective at something helps you feel positive, and concentrating on just one thing “will help your mind stop racing or will help dislodge you from ruminating—for example, having an argument with someone in your head or replaying a bad event over and over again like a movie stuck on a replay loop,” says Dr. Barrett.
Stretching exercises can generate feel-good chemicals and work out the tension that stress and a bad mood create, says Karen Cassidy, Ph.D., managing director of The Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago. Feeling better physically can counter some of the effects of feeling low mentally and emotionally.
Be mindful of the small details in nature that you find compelling and inspiring: say, a bit of greenery poking through a crack in the sidewalk or a vase of colorful flowers. “Immersing yourself in beauty for a moment is calming,” says Dr. Barrett.
Connect with a loved one
The best thing for a human nervous system can be another person’s nervous system, says Dr. Barrett, so share a smile or give (or get) a hug. “Try to avoid social media if you can,” she adds. “The worst thing for your nervous system can be another person, particularly when you are not sure if that person is evaluating you negatively or not.”
Do something nice for someone
Treat a friend or co-worker to lunch. Being kind and generous to others actually makes you feel better, says Dr. Barrett.
Concentrate on gratitude
Write down at least three things that you are grateful for and find at least three positive things that are happening now. “For example, if you just got into a fender bender with your car, you can remind yourself that you are grateful that no one was hurt, that you have auto insurance, and that the tow truck crew offered to drop you off at your office,” says Dr. Cassidy.
Revisit some challenges you’ve tackled successfully
Write down four or five problems you have solved in the past. “This helps you recall that you are capable of overcoming difficulties, and it jump starts your problem-solving mindset,” says Dr. Cassidy. “It helps you avoid the ‘there is nothing I can do’ mindset.”
Remember that all events in life are temporary
Keep in mind the expression “This too, shall pass,” says Dr. Cassidy. “That makes it easier to believe that you can endure and persist. Even crises are temporary.”