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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

28 Teeny Pick-Me-Ups for When You’re Having the Worst Day Ever

When it comes to dealing with a terrible, no-good, very bad day, it really is the little things that help the most.

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Buy yourself flowers

There’s no need to wait for a special occasion or for someone to send you a bouquet as a gift. Flowers are the perfect antidote to a bad day with their bright colors and fresh scent. In fact, simply smelling a flower alters your gene activity and blood chemistry, soothing stress and giving you an immediate mood boost, according to a study done by The American Chemical Society. Plus, this way you’re guaranteed to get your favorite blooms! Here are the cut flowers that last the longest in a vase.

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Take a walk outdoors

Beat a bummer day with a quick stroll outdoors. It’s no surprise that fresh air and nature can lift your spirits and reduce anxiety but it may surprise you to know just how little walking it takes to have a positive effect. Just five minutes walking through a park, trail or other green space is enough to spark a cascade of feel good brain chemicals, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology. Check out these 15 reasons to take a 15-minute walk.

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Nibble some dark chocolate

There’s a good reason so many of use a little chocolate therapy to deal with a bad day—it works! Eating just an ounce and a half of dark chocolate lowered stress hormones in people, according to research published in the Journal of Proteome Research. And the news gets better: People who regularly ate dark chocolate reported lower feelings of depression over time. These are more ways to overcome depression naturally.

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iStock/jean gill

Soak your feet in a warm tub

Tired tootsies are just one small side effect of a tough day but when your feet hurt, everything else does too. A quick foot soak in a warm tub of water can do wonders for both your sore feet and your sore spirit. Or if you have time, take a long, luxurious full-body soak. Add some epsom salts to help relax tight muscles and feel your worries wash away. Or try making one of these homemade foot scrub recipes to pamper your feet.

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Watch a funny cat video on the internet

Let’s be honest: Cat videos are pretty much why the internet was invented. And it’s a good thing! Because of their innocence, enthusiasm and total inability to understand modern life, animals are funny in a way that people just can’t be. Plus they don’t care if you laugh at them. Need a suggestion? Try this hilarious highlight reel of cats being terrified by menacing… cucumbers. You’ll forget your problems in no time.

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Text a friend or loved one

Feeling like you haven’t a friend in the world is a major part of most terrible days. It’s easy to forget just how many people love and care about you. But thankfully it’s also just as easy to get a quick reminder. Send a quick text to your bestie, sister, or mom and tell them you need a little love. We’re guessing you’ll be showered with heart emojis in no time! This magical text message is guaranteed to improve anyone’s day.

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Write down three things you’re grateful for

When you’re in the midst of a horrible day, nothing is farther from your mind than counting your blessings but that may be the best thing to help you feel better, according to a study done by the University of California, Riverside. Writing down a list of things you’re thankful for refocuses your mind on the positive and provides an instant lift to your mood. In fact, this simple trick works so well that the researchers reported that it even helps people with depression who don’t respond to other treatments.

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Switch your hair part

Flipping or combing your hair to the other side of your head may seem like a ridiculously small change but hair experts say it’s one of the quickest ways to give yourself a new look. The new part will change the way your hair frames your face and because it goes against your hair’s natural tendencies, it can give you more volume. At the very least, it’ll make you laugh!

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Put a kind anonymous note on someone’s desk

Handwritten notes aren’t utilized enough in our digital society but there’s something very personal and touching about taking the time to write out a thank-you note or compliment. It doesn’t have to be much (one Post-It note is plenty) but jot a few thoughts down, stick it to a coworker’s desk, a friend’s car or a family member’s lunch and watch the happy roll in. Their joy will make your worries disappear, or at least help put them in perspective. This is the secret to writing a truly heartfelt thank-you note.

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Count the stars

Sometimes it takes staring at the infinite expanse of universe to help us realize that our problems, no matter how significant they feel in the moment, are small in the grand scheme of things. Counting the stars in the night sky will help you put things in perspective, get some fresh air, and have some quiet time alone with your thoughts.

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Snap a selfie

Selfies aren’t just for supermodels and teenagers with too much time on their hands. In fact, taking a quick, silly pic of yourself and sharing it with friends and family is an instant bad-mood buster, according to a study published in the Psychology of Well-Being.The researchers noted that strategic selfie sending helped ameliorate stress and anxiety from common problems like financial difficulties, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and work issues. And don’t worry too much about how you look (although here are tips for looking better in photos), the point isn’t to take a news-worthy headshot but just to connect with loved ones.

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Have a little caffeine

Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used mood-altering drug and with good reason, according to a study done by the University of Florida. In as little as 10 minutes it provides a slight sense of euphoria along with an invigorating burst of energy. Of course, as anyone who’s ever had a few too many cappuccinos knows, the detail is in the dosing. Too much caffeine will have the opposite effect, making you anxious, jittery, and unable to sleep. Instead aim for 30 to 90 mg, the amount in one cup of coffee, and make it an occasional indulgence.

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Call your grandma

When it comes to life, our grandparents have done and seen it all so they’re a rich source of support and wisdom. Really, is there any trouble a loving grandma can’t fix? Plus you know it will make them just as happy as it does you. Don’t have a surviving or loving elder to call? Remedy that stat by adopting an elderly neighbor or other relative. Maintaining close social connections are one of the best things you can do to keep a positive attitude even in the face of a no-good, very bad day.

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Buy yourself a small gift

Getting a little something special can put a smile on anyone’s face. What? It’s not your birthday, you say? No matter! Make your own holiday if you like but you don’t need an excuse to treat yourself. Just make sure it’s something that won’t break the bank (causing even more bad days in the future) and is something you really like.

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iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

Better yet, buy someone else a gift

Giving yourself a little something is fun but if you want to maximize the feel-good benefits, use that money to give something to someone. People who were given cash and spent it on a gift for a loved one or a stranger felt happier and their happiness lasted twice as long as people who spent the money on themselves, according to research done by Harvard. And it doesn’t have to be much―just five dollars spent on someone else gave a week’s worth of good vibes.

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Avoid the internet

While the internet has plenty of fun, interesting, and educational things, it’s also home to people’s worst thoughts—thoughts that many are all too willing to share. People who use the internet to the point where it interferes with their real lives have a much higher risk of being depressed and even of committing suicide, according to a study published in Psychopathology. And it makes sense on a smaller scale as well. Whether you’re reading the latest government conspiracy, cringing at vitriolic diatribes on celebrities, or participating in flame wars in the comment sections of articles, it’s guaranteed to bring you down, especially when you’re already feeling fragile from a hard day.

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Eat a cookie

Comfort food is called such because it’s genuinely comforting, according to a study published in Psychological Science. They found that eating a warm chocolate chip cookie or a plate of gooey lasagna induces a rush of feel-good chemicals to the brain, specifically fighting feelings of loneliness and depression. For your health’s sake this probably shouldn’t be your primary method of dealing with a bad day but every once in awhile it’s totally fine to eat your favorite foods and relish the comforting memories and feelings that come with them. Here are tips for getting control of your emotional eating.

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Have a good cry

Too many of us resist crying as we fear looking weak or silly but there’s a healing power in tears, say scientists at Tel Aviv University. A good cry can release pent-up emotion so you can let it go and move on. In addition to the emotional benefits, they note that crying can also strengthen social ties, another way to combat a bad day.

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Listen to a comedy sketch

Laughter really is the best medicine, especially for a day that’s been filled with bitter pills. And thanks to the internet, satellite radio, and podcasts, a funny comedy sketch is never more that a few clicks away. Letting yourself laugh won’t fix all your problems but it may help you see the humor in them and feel a little less alone in your human predicaments.

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Play with a pet

Taking Fido for a walk or giving Fluffy a snuggle has been shown in multiple studies to help reduce depression and loneliness while improving mood in everyone from college students to the elderly to people with chronic pain. And it’s easy to see why a pet can be such a powerful positive force—their combination of unconditional love, an (adorable) listening ear, and soft fur to pet is just what you need to feel better fast. Don’t have a pet? Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter or visiting a neighbor’s pet (with their permission, of course). Here are more ways pets make you smarter, stronger, and resistant to stress.

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iStock/Aldo Murillo

Give a kid a high-five

Kids get a lot of flack for crying in public places but while they do cry a lot, they also laugh a lot—and it doesn’t take much to get a smile. So if you see a little one having a bad day, offering a silly smile or a high five is a great way to make both your days better.

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Do a little dance…

Whether you love to swing your hips in a salsa, practice your kicks in a line dance, tap your toes in a tap dance, or just go free form in your own living room, moving to music is a quick and easy way to boost your mood. And the effect lasts even after the tunes are turned off. According to a study done by IOS Press, dancing of any kind increases brain volume which has all kinds of physical and emotional benefits in the long run.

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Make a little love…

Sex: Curing bad days since the dawn of humanity! You don’t need a scientist to tell you that a session of good lovemaking can make you feel better but what may surprise you is what kind of sex works best. According to a study done by Penn State, the sex that makes people feel the best afterward lasts an average of 3 to 13 minutes—good news for people who are exhausted and feeling down from a tough day.

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Get down tonight!

There is some real truth to the old adage “everything looks better in the morning.” In a study of identical twins, researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that over half of people who got five hours or less of sleep a night reported being depressed. But this is not a case of more is always better as they also found a similar rate of depression in people sleeping 10 or more hours a night. The sweet spot for happiness is to get 7 to 8.5 hours of shut-eye a night. So if you’re having a rotten day, one of the best things you can do to make sure tomorrow is better is to hit the sack early. Try these secrets from sleep doctors to get better sleep tonight.

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Read a novel

Diving into another world via a novel is escapism at its finest! Reading a good book actually helps us take on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, providing temporary relief from our own woes, according to a study published in Psychological Science. Did you know reading can also make you smart, thin, and healthy?

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Try a headstand

Yogis know that doing an inversion—any posture where your head is lower than your heart—can have major health benefits, including mood elevation. Sometimes it takes literally changing your perspective to help you see your problems in a new light. But no worries if you’re not Cirque du Soleil. If trying a headstand against a wall is too much, try a gentler pose like laying on your back, planting your feet near your bottom and raising your hips. The worst that can happen is you’ll get a good laugh.

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iStock/Alessandro Di Noia

Hug someone

A good hug is one of the fastest, cheapest, easiest and best ways to take the sting out of a seriously bad day. Feeling physically connected to another person in a non-sexual way is immensely healing and comforting. Don’t have a romantic love to squeeze? No problem. Reach out to your friend, child, or pet. Some places even host their own hug-a-thons for those who aren’t afraid to hug a stranger.

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Stay off social media

The more active you are on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, the more likely you are to be depressed, according to a study published in Depression and Anxiety. Researchers think that it’s because people tend to only post the best versions of themselves, leading others to compare their own lives negatively. So save yourself the pain of comparing your waistline, hairline, job, or home to people you stopped talking to after high school by checking out of social media and checking in with friends IRL.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.