The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity–And What to Do About It

Last Updated On October 19th, 2023
The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity–And What to Do About It

Key Takeaways

  • Mood-Productivity Connection: Negative emotions such as anxiety and depression can significantly impact cognitive performance, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and decision-making processes. Unaddressed bad moods can result in a heightened focus on negative aspects, making tasks seem tedious and hindering productivity.
  • Starting the Day Positively: A good morning mood often sets the tone for the rest of the day, influencing overall productivity and motivation. While it may be easier to transition from a bad mood to a good one, setbacks during this transition can be particularly challenging. However, mastering emotional control and focusing on positive aspects can create a cycle of positivity, leading to increased productivity.
  • Promoting Positive Emotions: Engaging in activities such as consuming mood-boosting snacks, taking short power naps, prioritizing adequate sleep, and spending time outdoors can help regulate emotions and promote a positive mindset. Additionally, incorporating mood-enhancing activities like exercise, creative outlets, and engaging in social interactions can contribute to a more balanced and positive emotional state.

Bad moods are an unavoidable fact of life, even the happiest of people feel down sometimes. Being irritated, cranky, or tired can leave you feeling stressed out or unhappy for a short period, but when you’re in a bad mood, it can be hard to stop thinking about what’s got you down.

Ruminating over your unhappy mood is not only an unhealthy cycle, but it also distracts you from the day-to-day tasks you need to accomplish. When you aren’t accomplishing goals, it can lead to greater feelings of stress and unhappiness. 

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However, science is learning that your emotions can’t always be pushed aside so easily. Try as you might to compartmentalize, the thing separating your mood from your work is less like a brick wall and more like a sieve. Inevitably, your irritability tends to spill through. 

So what can you do about it? Below we have outlined some of the most common ways your mood might be affecting your productivity, and what you can do about it.

The mood-productivity connection.

The relationship between your mood and your cognitive function is complicated, and experts still have a lot to learn about how the two are connected.

They do know that feeling anxious or depressed is tied to lower cognitive performance. It also makes it tougher to think creatively or solve problems. 

How much, exactly? No one can say for sure. But experts do know that certain personality traits are linked to lower emotional stability—or greater fluctuations in mood. Namely, neuroticism, which is characterized by higher levels of anxiety, fear, and worry.

Research has also shown that moods are powerful, and sometimes our best efforts to remain positive are not enough to shift our moods out of an unpleasant state. Our powerful moods (whether they’re good or bad) also influence our decision-making, motivation, interest, and productivity too.  When we’re in a bad mood, we’re more inclined to notice the small, negative things that occur, rather than the positive. We also make decisions from a more pessimistic, cynical mindset than a clear-thinking one. 

Above all, bad moods make it hard to focus on anything except your current mood. Even if you’re feeling super-motivated to cross everything off your to-do list, being distracted by a bad mood slows you down and can make even the smallest of tasks feel tedious and time-consuming. 

While moods are powerful, it’s up to us to gain control over our feelings and prevent them from wreaking havoc on our daily lives. Allowing yourself to remain unhappy day after day is bad for your mental health, it can lead to more intense feelings of irritability and a bigger decline in productivity —that’s why practicing stress management techniques and having a good work-life balance is beneficial to your mind and body. 

Start the day on a high note.

A bad mood can zap your brainpower and make it harder to get work done. But when you’re in a good mood, you’re more likely to feel energized and alert, encouraging your willingness to tackle your to-do’s. In short, feeling content is the right state of mind for being super productive.

Starting your day feeling super productive sets the tone for the rest of your day. Studies have shown our morning moods tend to reflect how we’ll feel for the rest of the day, so if we let our bad mood drudge on in the mornings, we’re likely to feel crummy all day.

Good news is, turning a bad mood into a good one is easier than turning a good mood to a bad one; meaning, once you’re feeling great again, almost nothing can bring you down. There’s a catch, though. 

As we coax ourselves out of our bad moods, we’re more susceptible to feeling extra down-and-out when we experience setbacks. For instance, say you got to work and accomplished three things on your to-do list, but later your manager calls you over to explain that a project you worked on last week needs revisiting —this really set your mood back. 

When we’re teetering between a good and bad mood, something minor that wouldn’t impact you if you were feeling happier can make you feel as if your entire day is ruined. This is why gaining control of your emotions is so critical —having control of your reactions can prevent a minor set back from putting a damper on the rest of your day.

Once you’re in a good mood though, positivity builds on itself. The more positive and happy you feel, the more productive you are; the more productive you are, the more accomplished you feel. Feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment over your work is highly motivating, and when you feel motivated, you’re more likely to wake up eager to get back to those meaningful tasks. 

Staying positive, productive, and motivated keeps you in a continuous cycle of good moods and makes the occasional bad mood a little easier to handle. When you don’t habitually feel irritated or upset, the occasional case of the cranks won’t feel like the end of the world. 

How to keep positive emotions flowing.

Remember, you don’t just have to accept bad moods and muddle through them. Though it’s perfectly normal for your moods to fluctuate (nobody’s happy all the time!), there are some proven tactics that can deliver the boost you need.

1. Eat a mood-boosting snack.

Have a source of healthy carbohydrates, like air-popped popcorn or a banana. Your brain will use the carbs to produce more of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Chocolates, or other snacks with caffeine, can boost your mood, as well —just make sure to not eat them too close to bedtime. 

2. Take a power nap.

When all else fails, let sleep be your cure. We recommend timing your naps anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes so that they’re long enough to allow you to cycle through the light stages of sleep, but not so long that you’re waking up in the middle of deep sleep. Even a 20-minute snooze has been shown to enhance your productivity, alertness, and mood. Just make sure to schedule your naps at least 6 hours before bedtime to not hinder your night’s rest. 

3. Make sleep a priority

Mid-day naps are only so helpful in keeping you consistently energized, refreshed, and rejuvenated. While naps are useful in combating mid-day fatigue, we recommend prioritizing sleep during your normal sleeping hours so that you feel rested without the need for a nap.  

The CDC recommends adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but they’ve also declared sleep deprivation a national health epidemic, as only one-third of adults are clocking the recommended hours of shut-eye night after night. 

Everybody knows poor sleep leaves you tired, groggy, cranky, and irritable, amongst other things; and merely getting the sleep you need can nip frequent bad moods in the bud. For better sleep, we recommend going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, following a consistent bedtime routine to prime your body for rest, and eliminating blue light at least one hour before bedtime. 

Of course, we also suggest investing in a comfortable mattress, as aches and pains resulting from sleeping on an uncomfortable or lumpy bed can send anybody into an unhappy mood. 

4. Spend some time outside.

Exposure to natural sunlight boosts your natural vitamin D levels and wards off bad moods. Walking outside first thing in the morning is an easy way to get some sun before starting your day, and also works wonders for your circadian rhythm. 

Sunlight is a key controller in the production of melatonin; at night, your body senses a lack of light and begins melatonin production to prepare you for sleep. In the mornings, your body senses the sun and ceases melatonin production, so going for a walk in the sun not only reinforces your sleep-wake cycle, but it’s an easy way to feel more energized and upbeat.  

5. Find a distraction.

When all else fails, remember that dwelling on your problems only makes them seem worse than they actually are. So throw yourself into something even more interesting than what’s got you down. 

We suggest trying to hone in on something hyper-specific. Bad moods give you tunnel vision, which some experts say could actually make it easier to think carefully and focus on detail-oriented work. That boring, numbers-heavy report you’ve been putting off for weeks? Now might be the time to dive in.

6. Call a friend or start-up small talk with a stranger

Recent studies show that even the smallest of personal interactions can boost your mood. If you’re feeling down, picking up the phone and calling a friend for a few minutes serves as a good distraction and can leave you feeling relieved and uplifted afterward. But even if you don’t have time to chat with a friend, interactions as simple as smiling at the morning barista or saying hello to a neighbor can make you feel better.  

7. Ditch social media and take a break from devices

It’s a well-known fact that social media isn’t the best for improving mental health or boosting moods. If you’re already feeling down or irritated, put your phone away and try to de-stress, technology-free. 

Blue light can cause headaches, and scrolling through emails and catching up on texts isn’t very relaxing —you’re better off taking a break from your cell phone or laptop and taking some time to decompress without a screen.  

8. Watch funny or uplifting videos 

If you find it nearly impossible to go without a screen, try watching funny, motivational, or uplifting videos on YouTube. Videos of animals playing, babies laughing, and motivational speeches can help you put your worries behind and give you the boost you need to continue your day feeling productive.    

9. Lower your shoulders and try mindful breathing 

If you’re feeling stressed or tense, take a moment to take a deep breath and relax your shoulders. Tension can make your shoulders tighten and lift up towards your neck and ears —taking a moment to just lower your shoulders and ease that tension can help you feel less stressed. 

As you take a moment to notice whether your shoulders are tight and tense, or loose and relaxed, practice mindful breathing. Breathing deeply from your stomach (think, 4-second inhale through your nose and 4-second exhale through your mouth) signals your nervous system to calm down and helps you enter a more relaxed, happy state.  

10. Stop and smell the roses

We mean this both figuratively and literally. Taking a moment to notice and appreciate the small, good things in life allows you to feel more grateful and less stressed. When something’s got you feeling blue, we suggest stopping and thinking about the things you’re thankful for —remembering the good in life is one way to minimize the negative.

In more literal terms, research has found the smell of roses has antidepressant benefits and can elicit feelings of calm and happiness; so taking a moment to literally stop and smell some roses can wipe away those bad feelings and help you feel more uplifted. 

11. Try aromatherapy 

Scent is one of our strongest senses and has a direct link to our emotions, which is why aromatherapy is so helpful in influencing how you feel. If you need help feeling relaxed, use lavender, bergamot, lemon, or citrus scents to lower your blood pressure and heart rate and promote a sense of calm. 

12. Exercise 

Exercise is one of the best ways to alleviate stress and promote positive moods. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, otherwise known as the “feel-good hormones,” in the brain. These hormones eliminate feelings of anxiety and depression and elicit feelings of happiness. 

Some researchers even believe the release of these hormones can promote habitual exercise, as those who struggle with stress may need a consistent outlet to channel their negative energies into something good. 

13. Drink a caffeinated beverage 

Studies Verified Source Wiley Multinational publishing company specializing in academic and instructional materials. View source consistently show that caffeine is a powerful mood booster. A cup of coffee or tea can improve cognitive functioning, making you more alert, vigilant, and focused. Too much caffeine, however, can make you jittery and anxious, so be mindful of your caffeine consumption. And remember, caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect, so give it some time to kick in before resorting to a second coffee or soda. 

14. Force yourself to smile 

As corny as this may sound, forcing yourself to smile can actually make you happier. The act of smiling activates happiness centers in the brain. So while it may feel unnatural and awkward to force a smile, holding that smile will gradually make you feel better. If not, at least you can laugh at yourself for a moment. 

15. Try journaling or painting 

Sometimes, bad moods can stem from pent-up feelings of stress, anger, unhappiness (you name it); and the only way to truly get over those negative feelings is to just experience them and let them pass. One way to effectively address these long-standing negative feelings is to write them down. Holding things in is unhealthy, but we all know ranting isn’t the best either. Journaling is a nice middle-ground that allows you to get those feelings out in the world without bogging down others with negativity. 

Painting can be just as effective as journaling. Putting your emotions on paper is a healthy way to “feel the feels” and put those negative thoughts behind. 

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed doesn’t have to ruin your entire day. Even the worst of moods can be roped in and turned around, it just takes mindfulness and control. If you’re feeling particularly cranky, upset, or irritated, start your day the most productive way you can. Accomplishing what you need to do helps eliminate negative feelings, while being distracted and falling behind on your to-do list can stress you out even more. 

Breaking the cycle of negativity is the only way to kick a sour mood and set yourself up for better days. We hope our tips are helpful in promoting positivity, happiness, and lowering the frequency of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. If you find your moods hard to control or you consistently feel blue, we suggest talking with your doctor, as it may be a sign of something more serious such as depression or anxiety. 

Lastly, remember bad moods are only temporary, and better days are just around the corner.  

About the author

April Mayer is a sleep expert and writer with a degree in exercise physiology. She has dedicated her career to exploring the relationship between sleep and productivity. Her insightful articles, such as "The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity" and "Wake Up to More Productive Mornings," have been featured in reputable publications like Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That. With a passion for helping others lead more productive lives through restful sleep, April offers valuable expertise on foods and vitamins for better sleep. As a trusted member of the Early Bird team since March 2020, she continues to provide informative and well-researched content.

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