Sometimes the things that put us in a bad mood are totally obvious, like when you get stuck in traffic going to and from work, come home to find a broken pipe has flooded your bathroom floor or discover your favorite pair of heels are now your puppy’s new toy. But other times bad moods seem to creep up from out of nowhere, sucking the wind out of our upbeat sails. What gives? Well, experts have discovered some surprising, subtle factors that can unknowingly affect your outlook, like the lighting in your bedroom and social gatherings that are supposed to be fun. See if any of these sneaky mood wreckers sound familiar, try our easy science-backed tips for overcoming them, then get smiling again—you deserve to be happy!
A too-bright bedroom
You likely don’t leave the overhead lights on while you sleep at night, but even dim light while you doze could make you depressed, animal research in Psychoneuroendocrinology indicates. Nighttime light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone tied to mood. You may feel sunnier if you use room-darkening shades and don’t drift off with the TV on.
That crabby colleague
Maybe you’re feeling on top of the world at work, but the grumpiness emanating from a disgruntled coworker can be con-tagious: “We’re hardwired to pick up each other’s emotions—that’s part of what allows us to communicate well,” says Tho-mas Sy, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Evolution notwithstanding, try this strategy to deter a downer: As soon as you come into contact with someone sad or irritable, gauge your own disposition. “Knowing what you’re feeling gives you control over how you’ll perceive an interaction, so you’re not at the mercy of that person’s mood,” Sy says. Then do a replay: If the exchange has left you bummed, remind yourself that you’re not the source of the negative vibes, let them go and carry on your merry way.
Your beloved partner
Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em: Sixty percent of people in a SELF stress survey said family was a prime reason for their worrying, and 33 percent of them pointed to a partner as a stress culprit, ahead of aging parents, children and in-laws. “It may not be that your spouse causes you more stress, but that you’re more likely to blame him,” says Catherine Birndorf, M.D., a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and SELF’s mental-health contributor, and coauthor of The Nine Rooms of Happiness. “Most of us try to be nice at work. At home, we let down our guard.” What to do? Pinpoint the reason for your anger rather than lashing out at whoever is nearby, Dr. Birndorf says. “If your husband occasionally leaves the toilet seat up, ask yourself why you’re so teed off about it at this particular moment. It may help to list 10 things that pre-ceded your spiked stress level—chances are, you’re reacting to one of those.” Putting your feelings into context can help you identify the true source of your snippiness. Of course, if it is the toilet seat you’re miffed about, you may find that talking to your partner calmly is more effective than shrieking. Try, “This may seem trivial, but your leaving the seat up adds stress to my day and I need your help with this.” He’ll be more apt to remember to put the seat down next time.
Relax—preparty jitters are perfectly normal. If you avoid social situations because you’re worried you won’t know anyone or have anything to say, bolster your confidence by asking the host for little details about each guest beforehand. Then use them to break the ice. Or read a magazine for conversation fodder before you go. And wear something interesting, like funky jewelry, suggests Ross. “That makes it easier for people to find something to say to you.”
Whether you weigh yourself every morning or once in a blue moon, just the anticipation of stepping on the scale can put us in a funk. The irony is, worrying about your weight can actually make you pack on pounds. That’s because the body tends to store fat when it’s under stress, so if you feel anxious about those snug jeans, you may be more likely to gain, which makes you fret more, which makes you gain more. Worse, 41 percent of all women soothe their worries with food—clearly not the best weight-control move. Instead of heading to the refrigerator when you’re a bundle of nerves, head outdoors for a walk or jog: exercise and spending time in nature both have proven calming powers. Or call a friend for a little support: Often, having a sympathetic listener is all it takes to feel better.
Falling short on shut-eye
Of course you’re drowsy the day after a poor night’s sleep, but skimping on zzz’s also causes your body to churns out extra cortisol, a stress hormone that’s likely to leave you feeling on edge too, says Mark Chambers, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Las Vegas. “Even people who are mildly sleep-deprived say they feel frustrated, angry and irritable,” says David F. Dinges, Ph.D., chief of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s division of sleep and chronobiology in Philadelphia. “That’s why everyday setbacks—misplacing keys or squabbling with a parking attendant—feel so much more overwhelming when we haven’t gotten enough rest.” So tonight and every night, aim to get seven to eight hours of slumber. I know sleep can seem like a luxury with so many to-dos eating up our waking hours, but even going to bed 15 minutes earlier and/or setting your alarm for 15 minutes later can help you get the sleep you need and have a significant impact on your mood and energy levels.
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