- Self-care may lift your mood if you feel blah or down — and it doesn't have to take a long time.
- Try taking 15 minutes to breathe deeply, call a friend, cuddle your pet, or spend time in nature.
- Short exercise or journaling sessions may also help improve your well-being over time.
Having one of those days where you'd rather melt into the couch with a bag of cheese puffs than answer the stack of emails in your inbox? Don't worry — it's totally normal to feel meh from time to time.
Most people go through periods where they just don't feel like doing anything at all. In fact, that's one reason why so many struggle with procrastination, says Dr. Faisal Tai, board-certified psychiatrist practicing at Psychplus.
On days like these, a quick act of self-care might be just what you need to feel better.
Self-care, in a nutshell, describes the act of looking after your body and mind. It's about taking time to do things that help you live well and make you feel better — like making yourself a meal if you haven't eaten all day.
You don't have to sacrifice a huge chunk of your day to start practicing self-care, either. Here are 10 self-care activities you can try right now that take 15 minutes or less.
1. Head outside
If you want to clear your head or shift your thoughts, try going outside for a change of scenery. A wealth of evidence links being in nature with improved mental health and brain function, according to a 2021 research review.
"Spending time in nature, in your backyard or on a trail, can help with resetting your focus and mindset," says Erin Terada, licensed clinical psychologist and director of clinical training at Relief Mental Health.
You could also take a walk and combine this self-care act with exercise. Or, if you have limited mobility or don't feel like walking, you might simply spend 15 minutes sitting in your backyard, or on your balcony, and taking in the fresh air.
2. Start a gratitude journal
Keeping a journal may help increase optimism and ease feelings of depression and anxiety. So, if you're feeling down or unable to focus on anything, you might try taking a few minutes for reflection in a gratitude journal.
You can ask yourself simple questions like "What's something I'm grateful for today?" and jot down your answer.
You may unexpectedly discover things you'd taken for granted, or find yourself seeking out things you can write down, Terada says.
All those feelings of gratitude could potentially help you feel happier in the moment — or boost your self-esteem over time.
In fact, one study found that writing brief gratitude letters once a week may help improve your overall well-being.
3. Grab a cup of tea
Need to take a moment for yourself? Try making a cup of tea.
Many types of herbal tea may help promote feelings of relaxation and ease fatigue.
What's more, certain teas — including green, oolong, and black tea — contain l-theanine, an amino acid that may help boost your mood.
However, these teas also have caffeine, which can raise stress hormones. If you're feeling more tense than blah, you may want to opt for a relaxing, caffeine-free blend instead, like chamomile.
Whichever tea you choose, try sipping from your favorite mug in a quiet place to help create a soothing ritual for yourself.
4. Have a snack
If it's been a while since you last had anything to eat, it might be time to nourish your body with a quick mood-boosting snack, such as:
- A banana or a turkey wrap: Bananas and turkey both contain serotonin, a chemical that may help you feel happier and calmer.
- Leafy greens, like a salad with kale or spinach: Greens are packed with antioxidants, which may improve symptoms of depression.
- Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi: These feed the "good" bacteria in your gut, which may help influence your moods through the brain-gut connection.
5. Get some movement in
If you're able to exercise, a short bout of physical activity could help boost your mood and energy levels.
Don't worry if you don't have time to head to the gym: Exercising in one to five-minute bursts can still provide some benefits, like improving your focus without making you tired.
Quick exercises you could try in under 15 minutes include:
- Bodyweight exercises, like squats or push-ups.
- Gentle stretches or yoga poses.
- Walking up and down the stairs.
- Following a quick home workout routine, or a Youtube workout.
- Taking a brief walk around the block — or around the living room.
6. Listen to music
"Listening to music can change the way you feel for the better," says Jessica Borelli, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, and clinical director at Compass Therapy.
Research suggests music can help promote relaxation while also reducing feelings of depression and distress. So if you don't feel like doing anything, a quick jam session could be just what you need to lift your spirits.
Borelli suggests choosing tunes that you have a personal connection to — like the soundtrack from one of your favorite movies, or your favorite songs from high school.
If you want to add in some movement, you could even get up and dance to the beat.
7. Talk to a friend
Research suggests that people who have close ties with friends and family tend to have higher happiness levels overall.
So, if you feel overwhelmed or alone, reaching out to a close friend or family member could help you gain a new perspective.
While a quick phone call or Facetime chat could do the trick, Borelli suggests taking a few moments to write a letter you can send in the mail later. You could tell your friend stories about your day, or incorporate gratitude by telling them how happy you are to have them in your life.
Telling your friend how much they mean to you through a handwritten note might even help you feel closer.
8. Give your pet some love
You don't need to reach out to a human best friend to practice self-care.
Studies have found that interacting with a pet can reduce feelings of loneliness and help boost your mood. So if it's been a while since you last gave your furry friend some love, make it a point to hang out with them for a few minutes.
Try playing a few rounds of fetch with your dog, or cuddling up for a snuggle session with your cat. Spending time together may increase levels of oxytocin — the "love hormone" — and help you feel better. Plus, you can strengthen your bond with your pet and maybe make their day better, too.
9. Take a deep breath
If you need a quick way to clear your head, Terada recommends taking a few minutes to practice breathing exercises, like box breathing.
Box breathing only takes around 16 seconds to complete. All you need to do is:
- Inhale slowly for four seconds
- Hold your breath for four seconds
- Exhale slowly for four seconds
- Hold your breath again for another four seconds.
Performing a psychological sigh can also help you feel calmer, since sighing may help your body relax. To try it, quickly inhale twice through your nose, then take a long exhale through your mouth. Repeat up to three times.
10. Have a laugh
Laughter can decrease cortisol and other stress hormones in your blood — while also releasing feel-good chemicals in your brain, like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine.
If you're feeling tense, dull, or just plain blah, try doing something that makes you laugh — like watching cute pet videos on Tiktok, catching up on memes, or streaming a few minutes of your favorite sitcom.
You might find that a quick laughter boost helps you feel more ready to tackle the rest of your day.
When to seek professional help
Having an off day is natural, every now and then. But if you've reached a point where your mood has a destructive impact on your health, well-being, career, and relationships, then it may be time to reach out to a professional, Tai says.
An ongoing low mood could point to a mental health condition, like depression, or a medical condition, like an infection or chronic illness.
Signs it's time to reach out for help include:
- Frequent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities you'd usually enjoy, like your hobbies
- Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much
- Trouble concentrating or remembering things
- Thoughts of suicide
Many people think self-care is complicated, but it can be as simple as taking care of your body, nourishing yourself, or putting your needs first, Terada says.
If you need a quick way to boost your mood, you can start with small self-care rituals like going outside, making yourself a soothing drink, or spending time with loved ones or pets.
Everyone has days when they don't want to do anything. But if yours are more frequent, and you can't shake bad moods on your own, it might be time to reach out to a doctor or therapist.