With added stress and uncertainty due to COVID-19, you may have noticed fluctuations in your mood. Here, we look at 10 scientifically proven ways to improve your mood in 10 minutes or less.

The essence of stress is uncertainty. And studies show that in times of uncertainty, the brain requires extra energy from the body.

Based on that information, it's no surprise that many of us are feeling changes in our energy and mood due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the impact is so great that the National Institute of Mental Health is recruiting subjects for a study on the mental impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

happy woman stretching in bed
Credit: Getty / Adene Sanchez

Even with all of the uncertainty surrounding us now, there are a number of easy, science-backed ways to naturally boost your mood and reduce stress. Our lives are busy and time is short. No one wants to feel like they have to add something to their "to-do" list. So, here are 10 easy ways to improve your mood in less than 10 minutes.

1. Get Out Into the Sunshine

There is almost no feeling I love more than the warm sun on my skin. And research shows this isn't a fluke. Serotonin and vitamin D are both essential to maintaining healthy mood, and production of both increases with exposure to the sun!

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is linked to mood. It is produced in the gut and in the brain, but research also suggests that it is also produced in the skin. When the skin is exposed to light, serotonin levels increase.

Similarly, vitamin D is essential in fighting depression and studies suggest that most Vitamin D deficiency is due to a lack of outdoor sun exposure. This can result not only in poor mood but can also lead to serious health issues such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

2. Show Gratitude

When we think of ways to boost our mood, we may often turn to external factors to make ourselves feel better—like treating ourselves with a spa day or takeout. A recent study indicates that we should also look inward.

By taking 5 minutes in the morning to set a "gratitude attitude," researchers found that participants showed increased mental well-being. Take this one step further and consider keeping a gratitude journal or writing letters of gratitude. It sounds cheesy, but it could offer a different perspective during difficult times and help you appreciate things that often go overlooked.

3. Turn Up the Music

We all have those songs that just make you want to get up and dance! So why not do just that? Whether it's making a playlist of music that makes you smile or turning up the radio and rolling the windows down, music impacts our emotions. And research behind music therapy shows that listening to music can improve mood, reduce anxiety and improve overall quality of life.

Listening services like Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora give us more options than ever before. Put in a genre or specific song you like, and you'll get recommendations and can make playlists of all your favorite tunes!

I created a Spotify playlist that I just call Happy! It's the most random mix of songs, but they have one common theme: When I hear them, they make me smile. When I feel like I need a pick-me-up, I put this playlist on shuffle and it always makes me feel better!

4. Have a Cup of Coffee

I don't know many people who don't enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning. The smell of the coffee brewing as you wait for your cup is one of the simple pleasures in life.

And having between 200–250 mg of caffeine is proven to boost your mood. The trick is to make sure you aren't overindulging. Too much caffeine (600 mg or more) has the opposite effect and can cause anxiety and tension, and that's definitely not what we are looking to increase.

One, 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, so you could enjoy about two, 8-ounce cups of coffee to get the appropriate boost. Pro tip: Look at the size of your coffee cup—is it an 8-ounce cup or is it a 16-ounce mug? Pour your coffee accordingly to give you just the right amount of caffeine to boost your mood.

5. Spend Time with Pets

Numerous studies have been done on the benefits of pet ownership and the value of animals to help humans. Service animals are more prevalent than ever before, helping humans by acting as their eyes and ears, preventing anxiety and even predicting seizures.

Whether you have pet who is trained as a service animal, or just have a lap dog, cuddly cat or splashing goldfish, studies show us that interactions with pets boosts our mood.

Animals innately provide us with comfort, compassion and attention and provide us with a source of support. If you aren't in a position to take on a pet, you may want to find a friend who will allow you to pet sit, spend some time outdoors to get a little mood-boosting Vitamin D and watch dogs play at the dog park.

Even just checking out animals on social media can improve your mood. We love Doug the Pug, Bologna Hawk and Walter Geoffrey the Frenchie.

6. Hydrate

Sounds simple, but staying hydrated directly impacts our mood. A study of 120 healthy women showed that tension, depression and confusion increased when the subject's water intake was low.

In another study, restricting water intake negatively impacted participants positive emotions including contentedness, calmness and activity levels. While increasing water intake reduced fatigue, sleepiness and confusion.

So how much water is enough? I recommend that my clients take half of their body weight and that is the minimum number of ounces of water they should be drinking each day.

7. Exercise

You may think that 10 minutes of exercise isn't enough to boost your mood, but research indicates that even just a few minutes can increase happiness.

Just like getting a little sunshine in our lives helps with serotonin function, the fatigue that we feel when we exercise indicates elevated tryptophan and serotonin synthesis in the brain. In essence, exercise increases serotonin function which results in improved mood.

While any exercise is good, resistance training at a low to moderate intensity has been shown to be the most reliable form of exercise to reduce anxiety.

Not sure how to incorporate resistance training in just 10 minutes while you're staying at home? Try this circuit using only body weight exercises: 10 push-ups, 10 body-weight squats, 10 reverse lunges each leg and a 30 second to 1 minute low plank hold. Repeat as many times as you can in 10 minutes.

As someone who has personally used yoga as a mode of reducing stress and anxiety, I can attest that even 10 minutes of yoga can improve your mood. Yoga encourages you to relax and breathe and move with your breath. And from a scientific standpoint, yoga moves you from the fight-or-flight response that causes stress into the relaxation response.

Try starting your morning with a few sun salutations to begin your day with calm and positive intention.

8. Find a Quiet Space and Meditate

With kids home all the time and most people working from home right now, moments of quiet can be hard to come by. But whenever you can find even 5 minutes to close your eyes, breathe and focus, you'll be surprised how relaxed you will feel afterwards.

It's been well recognized that long-term meditation has a positive impact on mood, but researchers have also found that even short bursts of meditation are effective in improving mood.

Not sure where to start? Mindful.org is a great resource for beginning any mindfulness practice. YouTube also has plenty of meditation resources that are free. I even created a guided meditation for my clients to use when they are practicing yoga on their own.

If you're looking for a more formal program, there are a number of apps that can also be helpful when beginning a meditation practice: Headspace, Calm and Simple Habit…the list goes on and on.

9. Go (for the) Fish

Getting omega-3 fatty acids into your diet is known to improve heart health, and cold-water fish are known to be some of the best sources. (Don't eat fish? We have some other great sources, here.)

Research also suggests that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce anxiety and depression.

10. Practice Love and Kindness

Last but definitely not least, practice love and kindness.

The simple act of showing kindness to another person has been proven to improve your mood. Researchers had participants wish others well and say to themselves, "I wish for this person to be happy."

The group showing love and kindness had the greatest improvement in increasing their own happiness and empathy. They saw reduced anxiety and improved feelings of social connection.

How can you not feel better when you are doing your best to make others feel loved?