Sure, there are days when you'd like to hang a sign on your door that says, "Leave me the heck alone!" But whether you're stewing because of a tight deadline, a bad hair day, raging hormones or a sleepless night, you don't have to spend the day gnashing your teeth and spitting venom at everyone that dares approach. Soothe those prickly feelings in a hurry with some remedies proven by science, and get on with your day in a more positive way. Here are 8 ways to cure your crankiness right now.
1. Listen to your mom
Save favourite voice-mail or answering-machine messages from people you love so you can listen to them anytime -- or simply dial up a friend or family member. The voice of a loved one can quickly dissolve crankiness, explains Robert Gifford, Ph.D., a psychologist in Victoria who studies noise and mood. That's because pleasant sounds can decrease the tension that triggers irritability and distract you from annoyances. On the flip side, unwanted noise raises blood pressure, cortisol (the stress hormone) and, over time, even your risk of cardiovascular disease.
2. Order the suicide-hot wings
Spicy or hot food or drinks (think Thai, Hunan) can raise your body temperature and relax your body. So if you're starting to think that AC is short for Arctic Circle at work, grab some hot ginger tea, wear a wool or fleece top or take a sauna or longer shower at the gym. Exercise will also warm you up (see tip #8 on the next page). Increasing your body temperature can help calm your mood by reducing muscle tension, changing brain wave patterns, inducing hormonal changes and causing vasodilation (relaxation of blood vessels), which increases blood flow to extremities and circulation in general, explains John Raglin, Ph.D., a kinesiology professor at Indiana University who specializes in exercise and mood. And when you're comfortable, you're automatically less cranky -- just ask a dry, fed baby.
3. Get rocking
Ever wonder why Grandma looks so serene in her rocking chair? Rocking yourself is a natural antigrouchiness mechanism, says Witkin. The rhythm allows the brain to relax and your heart rate to slow. If you don't own a rocker (or want to), try this rocking yoga move: Sit on the floor, draw your knees up to your chest, join your hands under your knees and tilt your head forward toward your knees -- now rock forward and roll backward onto your rounded back. Find any calming rhythm to shake your bad mood -- literally -- such as a mantra, humming, rocking or dancing in a swaying fashion. The clincher is that any music you listen to should be slower than your heartbeat -- just think slow, soft rhythms.
4. Take a powder
Sprinkle on some baby powder after your shower to chill your mood before you step out, or choose baby-powder-scented antiperspirant, car fragrance or drawer liners. Why? The smell of baby powder can quell a bad mood by evoking feelings (and memories) of safety and comfort, says Dr. Alan Hirsch, M.D., a neurologist and psychiatrist who heads up the the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, Illinois.
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5. Press pause four times a day
Pause a total of 20 minutes a day, five at a time, to exorcize your inner grouch, says Georgia Witkin, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and author of The Female Stress Survival Guide (Newmarket Press, 2002). That's the magic number, suggests Harvard research that showed that's what it took to reduce stress, including irritability, by 50 per cent. Whenever you pause, your brain takes your body off high alert: your breathing returns to normal, which slows your heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones and reduces the adrenaline overload that tension creates, says Witkin. The most important five-minute downtime is when you wake up: "Your body undergoes the biggest change in blood pressure and heart rate in the morning, so avoid hitting the ground running," explains Witkin.
6. Tell a joke
Learn something from men: Study findings show that they typically open conversations with a joke or at least something not serious, whereas women start off by asking or telling someone what's wrong, and the seriousness tends to escalate. "We can learn something from men about stress," says Witkin. "The more you can do to smile and laugh, the tougher it is to hold on to to bad feelings." Laughing stops hyperventilation and reregulates our breathing pattern. And just smiling sends feedback to the brain that positively affects heart rate, blood pressure and digestion.
7. Wear pastels
Choose the peach top instead of the red one today. You may think that bright colours such as orange, red and yellow are cheery and energizing, but they can actually trigger aggression because they're overstimulating, suggests colour psychologist Leatrice Eisman, Ph.D., author of The Color Answer Book (Capital Books, Inc., 2003). Consider that traffic signs usually capture these colours to send us into alert mode: watch out, danger and stop. Warmer tones have a nurturing, caring feeling, and the less bright and saturated the colours, the more soothing they are.
8. Get your heart racing
Do 10 minutes or more of aerobic exercise to douse grumpy feelings. Findings from the Northern Arizona University have shown that 10 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise improved people's mood the most. Working out at a higher intensity or longer won't make you any cheerier either, report the latest findings published in the journal Exercise Psychology (March 2005). "Exercise has proven strong, calming effects that can last for several hours," says Raglin. "But we've also found that it's aerobic activity that seems to improve mood, not other kinds."
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