Life’s disappointments and frustrations can make us irritable, upset or angry. But if you feel low for no apparent reason, your emotions could be affected by a variety of factors you’ve never considered. Here are eight surprising things that can put you in a bad mood.
1. Junk Food
If you’re worried about your weight, eating unhealthy food when you’re in a bad mood could make you feel even worse. Penn State researchers recruited 131 women who had concerns about diet and body image, but didn’t have eating disorders.
The women were given handheld computers which prompted them to answer questions about their mood and eating behaviors several times a day. When the participants were in a bad or negative mood before eating junk food, their moods worsened significantly afterward. Unhealthy snacks had no effect when women were already in a good or positive mood.
2. Light At Night
Exposure to dim lighting at night, such as that generated by a TV, computer screen or e-reader could lead to symptoms of depression. A study of 516 elderly people found exposure to light at night was significantly associated with higher scores on a geriatric depression scale.
Photosensitive cells in the retina detect light and transmit signals to the circadian clock in the brain that controls the natural sleep-wake cycle. Artificial illumination at night, especially blue and white light, disrupts circadian rhythms and suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin. Too little melatonin can result in mood disorders.
3. Mild Dehydration
Not drinking enough fluids could lead to negative emotions. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration lowered mood in women. The female participants were either given enough fluids to remain hydrated or put into a dehydrated state either through exercise or through the use of a diuretic drug. The dehydration induced in the study was only around 1% lower than optimal hydration levels.
The women’s mood and cognitive abilities were tested while exercising and resting under the different hydration conditions. Researchers found that mild dehydration caused headaches, loss of focus, fatigue and low mood.
4. Magnesium Deficiency
Dietary surveys of people in the U.S. consistently show that intakes of magnesium are lower than recommended amounts. Only 16% of the magnesium in whole wheat remains in refined flour, and magnesium has been removed from most drinking water.
Magnesium deficiency causes damage to brain neurons which can manifest as depression. Case studies have shown that some patients with clinical depression recover in less than seven days when treated with magnesium supplements. Deficiencies in vitamin D, selenium and thiamine can also have a negative effect on mood.
If you’re feeling that other people are happier than you, it could be time to turn off the computer. A survey of 425 undergraduates suggests that viewing lots of carefully selected photos of other people having fun could lower your self-esteem. Participants who reported spending more hours on Facebook each week, and those who included more people they did not personally know as their Facebook ‘friends,’ were more likely to agree with the statement that others had better lives than themselves.
Those who had been using Facebook for the longest were more likely to agree with the statement that others were happier and less likely to agree that life is fair.
6. Skipping Breakfast
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid obtained exclusively through diet. It is found in many foods including dairy products, meat, eggs and oats. Tryptophan combines with vitamin B6 to create the neurotransmitter serotonin. An imbalance in serotonin can lead to depression, anger or aggression.
In a University of Cambridge experiment, 20 healthy volunteers were given a protein shake with or without tryptophan after fasting overnight. They then played a game in which two people had to split a sum of money. If an offer was rejected, neither one got paid. Participants who had been deprived of tryptophan were more likely to retaliate against what they saw as unfair offers, even if it meant they lost more money in the end.
7. Dressing Rooms
For young women, the mere thought of trying on a swimsuit can negatively impact their emotions. In an Australian study, 102 female undergraduate students filled out a questionnaire that tested for mood and self-objectification. They were asked to imagine themselves in four scenarios in which they were wearing revealing or concealing clothing in private or public settings.
The women reported being in a worse mood when they imagined themselves in a bathing suit than when they imagined wearing jeans and a sweater. They were more likely to objectify their bodies when they imaged trying on a swimsuit in a store dressing room than when they imagined wearing one in public.
8. Emotional Contagion
Other people’s moods may be as easy to catch as a cold. The psychological process through which one person’s feelings transfer to another is called emotional contagion. It begins with non-conscious mimicry in which you subtly copy the expressions and posture of someone else. You may instinctively begin to frown when you interact with a frowning person. The physical action of frowning then causes you to feel sad.
Fortunately, the process works both ways. If you’re around someone who’s stressed or grumpy, you can use a smile and positive body language to try to infect them with your good mood.