How to Cure a Really, Really Bad Mood

I woke up on Wednesday last week with a feeling I hate so much: constant thoughts of today’s gonna suck, I have nothing to look forward to, I’m gonna be so bored, why am I not in bed, why am I not eating candy, why is this happening because I work so hard at happy living and self-care and THIS SHOULD JUST NOT BE HAPPENING.

But happens anyway. My brain was not a cool place to be that morning.

So I tweeted out to the world wide web, the millions of souls browsing the internet and waiting to answer the discussion-worthy, provocative question:

…No one answered.

So, girlfriend was left to answer it for herself. I decided that I did not want to have a horrible day, so I was going to test my question out: When you’re in a bad mood, is it better to try to be positive and pretend you’re having a great day until you are having a great day, or is it better to just be mindful of where you are at, notice how you are feeling, and accept that it’s happening and that it too shall pass?

I decided I would spend the first half of my day following the advice of Instagram girls drinking green juice everywhere: be positive, fake it til I (hopefully) make it, and create the day I want to have. I knew I wouldn’t remember the details of this experiment, so I wrote down a kind of thought-log as it was happening:

7:13 AM: Wrote tweet, which prompted this whole idea. Seriously not in the mood to be any sort of positive, but I’m doing it for you, my sweet, sweet readers.

7:59 AM: I get off my uneventful bus ride and the “ugh” feelings are going strong. I remember a psychology experiment I learned in PSYC 101 that suggested that people who put a pencil in their mouth laterally get a mood boost, because it shapes their mouth as if it’s genuinely smiling. So, in my horrible mood, I force myself to smile for a minute.

8:03 AM: I think about the idea that affirmations, or repeating specific phrases to ourselves, helps shape our beliefs, so I repeat in my head, “I am in such a good mood today! I am in such a good mood today.”

8:04 AM: I feel like a serious freak.

9:12 AM: I’m bored, cranky, and starting to think this is an impossible task. I continue to say in my head, “I’m in a good mood today,” but I realized that specific positive thinking might be more effective.

9:57 AM: I have my most meaningful revelation – to stay positive, I can’t dwell on the negative. So simple but so important!! My bad mood would really amp up when I’d have thoughts like, “Did she just look at me weird? Am I annoying?” or “It’s seriously only 9:45 AM?” When I had these thoughts, I had to literally stop myself from taking them any further and just move on to thinking about something else. To stay focused on Operation: Good Mood, I couldn’t entertain those thoughts, even a little.

10:12 AM: A task came up at work that I was stressed out about. Bad mood creeped back in. I decided to just take care of it immediately instead of letting it linger and procrastinate…and voila! Good mood starts creepin back to where I want it to be. My brain. (I need more coffee.)

10:32 AM: I checked my phone and noticed my blog views went up. No, not to an insane kind of number, but still, it went up. I let myself get really excited about this. Probably disproportionately excited, to be honest. But I let myself really feel proud of this accomplishment, and my mood boosted.

11:13 AM: I went on Twitter and followed a professor I knew from Grad School. I feel really embarrassed writing this (and I truly hope she is not reading), but again, I’m sacrificing my pride here. I actually got like…a little buzz from following this professor, because it felt somehow exciting and risky. Twitter is a place for my personal thoughts, and it also heavily features posts from this blog (which is vulnerable for me to think of sharing with an actual grown-up mental health professional). I honestly got a little kick of adrenaline from it. The point of this isn’t how lame I am (though you can go ahead and glean that as well), it’s that doing something small that felt slightly risky gave me a mood boost too.

Noon rolled around, which was my cue to switch to the more mindful approach – feel your feelings, accept them, and exist with them – and I didn’t practice it…because I didn’t need to!

I am honestly surprised to tell you – the “fake it til you make it” method worked.

The tl;dr version of this post:

Things that didn’t work when I tried to change my bad mood into a good one:

  • Plastering an unauthentic smile across my face
  • Repeating vague affirmations, like “I am in a good mood today!”
  • Dwelling on any negative thought whatsoever

Things that did work when I tried to change my bad mood into a good one:

  • Completely avoiding any negative internal narrative that I wanted so badly to engage in
  • Eliminating stressful tasks as soon as possible
  • Getting (overly) excited about small positive things throughout the day
  • Taking a small, low-impact risk (i.e. emailing a professional role model, texting your crush, submitting a creative piece to a publication)

I hope you find this helpful next time you want to kick your bad mood to the curb! 

Thumbnail photo from Artem Kovalev.