When you were 16, a bad mood could cause you entire day to spiral out of control.
Crush made fun of you in gym class? Didn’t make the debate team? Chances are, you weren’t so fun to be around for the rest of the day.
These days, things are different. Sure, feeling crummy always sucks. But you do your best to set that stuff aside while you’re at work so you can still bring your A game. You might’ve had a fight with your partner or been put on hold with the cable company for an hour, but that report still isn’t going to finish itself.
Thing is, 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, stuff tends to spill through.
Here’s how your mood might be affecting your productivity on the job, 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.
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.
How to keep the good vibes flowing.
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. In short, feeling content is the right state of mind for being super productive.
So what can you do to stay positive more of the time? Technology might be able to help. Last year, scientists at the University of London’s Hungry Mind Lab launched moo-Q, an app designed to assess mood and brainpower with surveys and short quizzes taken throughout the day. Your performance on the surveys and quizzes gauges things like positive affect, working memory, and processing speed—and shows you how your mood is tied to your cognitive performance.
The app puts all the info in chart form, so you can see when your mood and productivity is high, and when it takes a dip. Over time, that can help you learn more about how your mood fluctuates—so you can tailor your workload accordingly. For instance, doing your most demanding tasks at a time when you’re usually pretty upbeat, and saving the easy stuff for times when you tend to be low.
Of course, 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.
2. Dance yourself happy.Shut the door to your office (or head to the bathroom—whatever works), put on your favorite song, and go wild. Recent Australian research suggests that interacting with music by dancing offers a greater emotional outlet than simply listening to it.
3. Take a power nap.
When all else fails, let sleep be your cure. Even a short snooze has been shown to enhance your productivity, alertness, and mood. So close the door, shut the shades, and close your eyes.
4. Find a distraction.
When all else fails, remember that dwelling on your problems only makes them feel more monstrous. So throw yourself into something even more interesting than the drama you’re dealing with.
Dwelling on your problems only makes them feel more monstrous.
Honing in on something hyperspecific could help. 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.