Mood swings and dark moments can be a scourge of midlife. At any moment you might find yourself paralysed by indecision, tormented by cravings, procrastinating over a crucial project or overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety.
If you leave these moods to fester long enough, they can affect your wellbeing and happiness. As a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge and a life coach, I’ve spent almost a decade investigating what makes people thrive in life and bounce back from difficult situations. I’ve discovered there are specific ‘bad moods’ that can crop up regularly — and that there are science-based strategies to nip these moods in the bud.
Here’s my toolkit of remedies to help keep you on an even emotional keel.
Dr Olivia Remes who is a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge, revealed the science-based strategies to nip ‘bad moods’ in the bud (file image)
DO IT ANY WAY YOU CAN
MOOD: Unmotivated. FIX: Do it badly.
Are you struggling to get going, endlessly waiting for the right moment? You may blame lethargy, but often such reticence lies in wanting to do a job well. This quest for perfection can lead to stress, endless delays, self-recrimination and even a paralysis that makes it hard to begin.
The best way to get going with a task is to ‘do it badly’ —have a crack at it with no great expectation of success. You ease the pressure on yourself and, by taking that first crucial step, you will be on your way to getting things done.
The ‘do it badly’ state of mind effectively replaces frustration with excitement and can flip your mood from negative to positive — which increases the chance of the job going well.
CAPPUCCINO WITH A DASH OF HOPE
Dr Olivia (pictured) said chatting in the coffee queue can help to banish loneliness
MOOD: Lonely. FIX: Chat in the coffee queue.
We have evolved to spend time with other humans and loneliness really can hurt.
But we underestimate the effect talking to others — even strangers — can have. Whether it’s a neighbour, a dog-walker, the next person in the coffee queue; any interaction, no matter how brief, can trigger an instant mood fix.
Opening up to someone, even if it feels difficult, instils a feeling of hope which can overcome loneliness.
ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
MOOD: Feeling low. FIX: Write down three benefits to your bad luck.
Dr Olivia said writing down three benefits helps you to reframe after something bad happens and you’re left feeling low (file image)
Sometimes bad things happen that are beyond your control. But forcing yourself to think of — and write down —the potential benefits of your situation can lift your mood and change your perspective.
Writing helps the healing process by giving shape and structure to thoughts that might otherwise be amorphous or seem all-encompassing.
When you go through a trauma and write about it, you begin to feel better mentally and physically. Redundancy, for example, might mean a chance to relocate, or to take time off work. This process should set you on course for what scientists call ‘post-traumatic growth’, where a distressing event can lead to the building of internal scaffolding and transformation to help you weather even tougher storms in the future.
Writing down three benefits helps you reframe the setback, to see things differently and begin to feel you can cope.
START AGAIN WITH A CLEAN SHEET
MOOD: Heartbreak. FIX: Wash your bedsheets.
Dr Olivia said the simple act of changing your bed after heartbreak can feel like a life rest (file image)
When a relationship ends or a romantic approach is rebuffed, it can trigger a cycle of negativity and self-recrimination.
Studies show that rejection affects the same areas of the brain as those implicated in drug addiction.
After a break-up, the flood of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine (typical of a brain in love) ends and your brain can go into ‘withdrawal’.
The best way out is to look for opportunities to lift your mood — but before you do, change your bed.
This simple act of self-care can feel like a life reset.
Enjoy the fresh feeling of getting into a bed that has just been given clean sheets.
A clean bed won’t make all your problems go away — but it will help you feel better about yourself when your self-esteem is bruised.
It can help to shift your perspective so that you see problems more clearly.
SHOULD YOU . . . OR SHOULDN’T YOU?
MOOD: Indecisive. FIX: Go with your gut.
Dr Olivia said most indecisiveness is backed by fear of a wrong turn or a poor option, but the healthiest option is to accept ‘good enough’ (file image)
Whether it’s moving home, changing career or deciding which car to buy, the breadth of choice can leave you dithering. When that happens, the best solution is to go with your first instinct and stick with it.
You could set out pros and cons in a spreadsheet. But you risk mental exhaustion; let your unconscious brain guide you. Most indecisiveness is backed by fear of a wrong turn or a poor option, but the healthiest option is to accept ‘good enough’.
We tend to overestimate how bad we will feel if something doesn’t work out the way we want it to.
In fact, if we don’t get the job we wanted, for example, we tend retrospectively to pick out flaws in it, to ease the disappointment. This means we can recover from the consequences of bad decisions far faster than we expect.
KEEP YOUR HOME FREE OF TREATS
MOOD: No self-control. FIX: Remove temptation.
Dr Olivia said you can protect your self-control by removing as much temptation as possible (file image)
When cravings strike, don’t rely on willpower to save you. Instead, remove temptation from your sight or reach.
Self-control is a limited resource and if you are continually tapping into it each day (avoiding sugar in your coffee, being polite in the face of rudeness), you end up with depleted willpower when it comes to saying no to a second glass of wine or going to bed rather than watching the next episode of your Netflix series.
But you can protect your self-control by removing as much temptation as possible.
Out of sight really is out of mind. Disable phone alerts if you have to concentrate. Remove desktop notifications from your computer — and keep alcohol, cakes or tempting snacks out of your home.
GIVE YOURSELF SPACE TO BREATHE
MOOD: Overwhelmed. FIX: Press the pause button.
Dr Olivia said taking time to clear your head of mental clutter is important when you’re feeling overwhelmed (file image)
Some days the pressure of work or family life can seem overwhelming. Your instinct may be to run faster to try to catch up — but the best quick-fix solution is to press pause.
Aim to clear your head of mental clutter. Turn off your phone, move away from distractions, give yourself some headspace. Breathe deeply — and when you are ready to start again, focus on one task that will give a real feeling of accomplishment.
Adapted from The Instant Mood Fix, by Olivia Remes, published by Ebury at £8.99. © Olivia Remes 2021. To order a copy for £8 (offer valid to 28/6/21; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.