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Mood Lifters

Between balancing the desires of loved ones big and small, it's inevitable that you'll have your share of challenges. The key to getting through them? Come to your own emotional rescue. Even if you use only one of these easy techniques, you can stop a bad mood in its tracks and recharge. Pick one and see:

Seek out your buddies

One of the best ways to handle stress is to get together with friends who can help you put your problems in perspective. "I often head over to our local coffee shop. Whether I'm meeting a friend or just shooting the breeze with whoever's there, getting out of the house and talking to other grown-ups helps clear my mind," says Jane Rohman of Blandford, Massachusetts. So go ahead and meet your most empathetic pal for lunch; you deserve the break.

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You needn't wait for your little one to crack you up. Research suggests that simply anticipating something funny -- say, saving that great joke so you can tell it to your mate at dinnertime -- can reduce tension, anger, and fatigue. "I tape Saturday Night Live to watch after the kids are in bed. Knowing I have that to look forward to can help me get through the rough parts of the day," says Parenting staffer Maura Rhodes of Montclair, New Jersey, a mom of three.

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You've heard it a million times: Work out and you'll feel great. The good news: Exercising for just ten minutes -- a brisk walk or a quick bike ride -- can raise your spirits and energy levels for two hours, say experts. Don't have anyone to watch the baby while you go for a run? Put her in a bouncy seat, push back the rug, and entertain her by jumping rope.

Belt one out

When your kids need calming, you croon to them. So why not to yourself? People who sing in a choir feel less stressed, according to a recent British study, but you can burst into song anywhere (in the shower, along with the radio) to get the same benefits. That's because singing usually involves deep breathing -- a common antidote to anxiety -- and can be strenuous enough to have some of the same recharging effects as exercise. Just don't be alarmed when you realize your repertoire isn't what it used to be. "Even when my daughter isn't with me, I sing tunes from Bear in the Big Blue House," says Melinda Konopko of New York City. But that too has its own rewards: "I end up laughing at myself, which always puts me in a much better mood," she adds.

Fake it

Yes, it sounds hokey, but studies show that simply acting like you're in a good mood can actually put you in one. So stand tall, put some pep in your step, and grin as if you're on top of the world -- and before you know it you'll be smiling for real.

Breathe deeply

When you're stressed, you tend to breathe too quickly, leaving higher-than-normal levels of carbon dioxide and lower levels of oxygen in your blood. This can make you feel even more anxious. The solution: abdominal breathing. Lean slightly forward; breathe in through your nose, pushing your belly out; and exhale through your mouth, contracting your ab muscles into your spine. Do this for a minute or two a couple of times a day. You'll feel calmer and eventually strengthen your abs.

Turn life upside down

When you feel you're in a rut, do something you normally wouldn't: Take your kids ice-skating, have a picnic on the family room floor, see a movie in the middle of the day. Jen Singer of Kinnelon, New Jersey, sometimes drops what she's planned and takes her two children, ages 6 and 5, on a hike or an impromptu ride on the carousel at the mall. "The change of scenery always helps," she says. Being spontaneous not only helps you feel more in control but also gives you back a sense of adventure.

Stacey Colino, a mother of two, lives in Maryland and writes frequently for Parenting.

More Ways To Lift Your Spirits

Look on the bright side

Your husband's (or your own) long hours at work, your toddler's meltdowns -- it's easy to dwell on the things that aren't going right. Instead, though, try to figure out how you might change what's wrong -- and look for the potential lesson or hidden good in a tough situation. When people practice "cognitive reappraisal," as this technique is called, they tend to be more satisfied with their lives, studies have found.

Say "ommm"

From Shania Twain to Al Gore, it seems everyone is meditating -- and with good reason. Meditation has been shown to change the way your brain processes negative emotions, not to mention the boost it gives to your immune system. A calming variation you can do at home: While the baby naps or the kids watch a video, sit quietly for 10 to 20 minutes. Focus on your breathing as you repeat a soothing word (such as "calm") or sound ("whoosh"). When other thoughts come to mind, disregard them and focus on your breathing and word repetition again.

Count your blessings

People who keep a daily journal of what they're thankful for sleep better, are more optimistic, and feel a stronger sense of connection to loved ones than those who dwell on daily hassles, found a study put out by University of California, Davis, and the University of Miami. "When you stop to think about what you're grateful for, you realize there are people out there looking out for you," says study coauthor Michael McCullough, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami. If feelings of gratitude don't come to you naturally, spend a couple of minutes each day reflecting on at least five things you're thankful for as well as the people you're grateful to -- and write them down.

Take a plunge

Soaking in a warm tub can be soothing in itself; add a little lavender oil and your bad mood might actually evaporate. If you only have time for a shower, try washing with lavender soap or body gel.

Whether you breathe deeply, count your blessings, or settle on a combo of strategies, the goal is to make it part of your normal routine. After a while, you may find that you're enjoying your life more than ever.