Feeling Some Feelings? Find the Best Workout for Your Mood!

Hey, how are ya feeling today? Really, we want to know! Are you a bit tired (we know that feeling), feeling down in the dumps, or filled with anxiety? Are you just totally jazzed to be alive (we hope so!) or ticked off at the world in general? Now that you’ve taken a moment to think about your mood, take a moment to think about how you’re feeling about getting your workout in. If that feeling can be summed up by a sound like “meh,” or “nah,” maybe you need to find the right workout for your mood!

It’s Not All About Endorphins

cutout of a head with a smiley face where the brain is
Endorphins come into play differently based on your mood and certain workouts.

We all know the physical benefits of exercise by now, and maybe even a lot of the mental health benefits, as well. It’s all about the endorphins, right? Well, yes and no. Endorphins, those natural painkillers that get released when your body is under stress, can give you that happy feeling sometimes known as “runner’s high,” but it turns out that they don’t kick in for everyone during every workout.

It turns out, according to recent studies, they come into play only during activities done at certain intensities or for certain durations, and what triggers them can actually vary from person to person. For example, a recent study showed that a brief HIIT session triggered more of an endorphin rush than an hour of moderately intense cycling did, with some participants getting a surge of endorphins at lower intensities than others did.

So why are we telling you this at the same time that we’re encouraging you to workout? Because these results aren’t necessarily a bad thing, they just go to show that it’s important to match your workout to your mood, maybe by choosing activities that prompt other positive responses, including the release of “happy hormones,” and/or an instant shot of energy. 

After all, an endorphin rush is just one way movement can boost your mood and decrease those bummer feelings. Or, sometimes exercise can help you to work through the feels, especially if those feels involve anger, and are making you want to throw something – or someone – out the window. But save your strength! And check out the best types of workouts for whatever your mood might be. 

The Right Workout for All the Feels You’re Feeling

We know exercise can lower stress hormone levels, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve confidence, distract you from negative thoughts, and boost your mood, to name a few of the mental health benefits. And the great thing is that studies show that exercise actually helps promote the growth of new neurons in key areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, so it could be possible to keep mental health issues at bay, just by getting your daily sweat on. 

But first, you’ve got to lace up those sneakers and get it done, and that means working out in the way that’s right for the headspace you’re in that day, whether it means using your feelings to get more out of your workout, or using your workout to get the most out of your feelings. 

Your mood: Down in the dumps

Feeling low, blue, blah, low energy? You’re probably not going to get much out of an intense burst of HIIT, even with the possibility of an endorphin rush – and you’re probably not going to be able to convince yourself to do it, anyway. 

Your workout: Steady-state cardiowoman jogging

Try instead what’s known as steady-state cardio, like a jog, or even a walk if that’s all you can muster today. While you probably won’t get a rush of endorphins from a more moderate workout, even if it’s a bit longer than a HIIT session, you probably will trigger the release of some other feel-good chemicals, like dopamine (the chemical responsible for feeling great when you satisfy your urges like eating something delicious or having sex) and serotonin (the chemical that’s flowing through you when you laugh or feel the sun shining on you). 

Try to choose something that will also bring you joy, whether that’s walking at sunset, hiking, jogging on the beach, getting together with a friend and doing a sport you enjoy, or even trying some dance cardio. Remember to keep at it for more than 10 minutes, and hopefully for at least 30 – you can do it!

Your mood: Full of frustration

Feeling ready to scream? Yeah, we know that one – everything in your day just seems to be going wrong, and while you’re not exactly angry, you’ve got that balled-up feeling inside that just feels ready to burst out the next time you drop something or something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to. That feeling requires opening a release valve!

Your workout: HIITasian man doing a pushup

No steady-state cardio for you today, you need the full-on cocktail of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine that comes with an all-out workout. So try something intense that challenges your body, like high intensity interval training, or HIIT. This type of workout usually involves doing short bursts of super intense activity, followed by even shorter rest periods (think: 50 seconds of burpees followed by 10 seconds rest, then 50 seconds of squat jumps followed by 50 seconds rest, etc). 

The chemical reactions triggered by working out like this can help you cope by squashing frustrating feelings, and the focus required to finish a challenging workout can take your mind off your problems. Bonus: HIIT workouts tend to be shorter, so once you’ve released your frustrations, and boosted your mood, you can get back to your day and turn things around!  

One word of warning from the experts: just be careful not to push too far past your usual effort level. One study found that going overboard can increase negative feelings, because you could end up putting too much stress on your body, leaving you feeling bummed out. To give you some idea of what might be too much, one study found that pushing your heart rate over 90% of its max for more than 40 minutes a week is linked to irritability and can increase your risk of injury.

And one more note: some experts also suggest using some other psychological tactics other than just distraction to get the most out of your workout on a day when you’re feeling frustrated. For example, try changing up the order you usually do things to give yourself a psychological boost. How? According to  Ted Butryn, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sports psychology and sociology at San Jose State University, “Starting your routine with…exercises that you usually do after your muscles are exhausted makes it easier to use more weight during those exercises. This changeup can leave you feeling stronger than usual, giving you the psychological boost you may need to keep exercising that day.”

Your mood: Anxiety alert

Uh-oh. You’ve got that feeling in the pit of your stomach again. Anxiety has reared its ugly head, and your mind is racing, going to all of the worst case scenarios you can possibly imagine. Now’s not the time to try to learn an upbeat dance routine, you need to clear your mind.

Your workout: Uncomplicated cardio

When anxiety hits, it’s time for you to hit the treadmill, or the road for a jog or bike ride, or do any other type of uncomplicated cardio, but at perhaps a higher intensity level than you would if you were feeling blue. Doing aerobic activity like this helps to clear your mind: “Not having to be too creative about your exercise will leave you more time to think through whatever’s causing you that anxiety,” says Richard Marsella, Ph.D., author of Welcome to Stress Management. woman laying down on a bench with dumbbells

We do want to point out that some experts recommend weightlifting for stress, because it requires you to be more mindful as you slow down and focus on your movements and on keeping good form. In fact, some research points to the possibility that strength training may lead to improved regulation of the system that handles your happy hormones, which could help you better handle stress over time. But there is other research that shows that you should be careful with weightlifting when you’re dealing with stress’ more jittery cousin, anxiety. According to psychologist Keith Johnsgard, “Research has shown that weight lifting can sometimes elevate anxiety levels for as long as one hour afterward, whereas aerobic exercise can lower anxiety levels way below their baseline.”

Your mood: Totally unproductive

Can’t seem to get yourself motivated? Just sitting there, staring at your computer screen, getting nothing done, and feeling like you’re phoning everything in? Don’t mindlessly choose a run on the treadmill, which could end up feeling like more wasted time, make yourself feel accomplished! 

Your workout: Compound strength training

To give yourself that feeling of accomplishment, try a workout that includes compound exercises, or moves that target multiple muscle groups at once, and trick your mind into getting into gear. These types of moves include multi-functional, strength-training moves like rows with lunges, step-ups with bicep curls, burpees, single-arm renegade rows, squats with overhead presses, and so on. According to trainer Meghan Trainor, “Add as much spice and pizazz to reset your mind into feeling productive and accomplished. You can always modify for your fitness level, but make it challenging and surprise yourself with how well you do.”

In addition, if your productivity problem is related to feeling overwhelmed, you might want to also try something that involves breathwork, like yoga, Tai Chi, pilates, or simple stretching, which can help calm your nervous system. You can even do these types of exercises as a cool down, and do double duty for your mood!

Your mood: Aggressively angry

Ok, now you’re p***ed. You’re not just frustrated, you’re ready to bite anyone’s head off who gives you a second look. Time to not only work through those feelings, but also use them to get the most out of your workout. 

Your workout: Weightlifting, HIIT, or Kickboxing

You’re going to want to get some of that aggression out, so yes, HIIT, or even a kickboxing-style workout, are great choices to let off some steam. But you might also want to consider starting out with a weightlifting routine. Anger actually makes you feel stronger; it elicits the greatest fight-or-flight response from your body, so you can use that hormonal surge for more strength. Use that adrenaline spike to try lifting a little heavier, or adding a few more reps – just remember to keep good form and listen to your body. 

Your mood: Finding fault…with yourself

Feeling self-critical? You’re probably just going to end up beating yourself up if you can’t accomplish what you want to do (and you might not feel so jazzed about getting outside in a skimpy workout outfit for all to see). But there are actually exercises proven to help.

Your workout: Hatha yogawoman doing a yoga pose with her legs in the air

Did you know that there are such things as “power poses,” or stances that give you an instant feeling of strength, energy, and confidence? While the mechanisms of how they work are still a bit unclear, researchers have found that postures like standing tall with your hands on your hips can have a physiological and behavioral effect that can increase your feelings of power. And you know what? Yoga poses that are similarly expansive, when held for just 2 minutes, can be beneficial too, increasing your self-esteem and energy, per other research.

So if you’re having a day when you’re being super hard on yourself, and can’t seem to do your usual workout, try Hatha yoga. This practice emphasizes holding static poses, giving you enough time to settle into your sense of strength and stability.

On a final note, if you’re having an absolutely smashing day, we are so happy for you! In that case, you’re probably already feeling great about working out, and maybe even have your favorite type of movement all lined up. Awesome! But don’t just go through the motions: when you’re feeling good, it’s time to raise the bar (no pun intended). Lift heavier or add more sets, do weightlifting exercises on one leg, run faster, farther, or both. The feel-good chemicals you release plus the feeling of accomplishment you get from upping the ante will be like compound interest on your good mood!

And really, what it all comes down to is doing what feels good to you on that particular day, in that particular moment and headspace. Science tells us these are probably the best movements for these moods, but you also have to do you! The most important thing is to get moving, because – trust us – you’ll feel better once you do.

Getting High on Life: How to Increase Your Endorphins

Even if you’ve never laced up a pair of running shoes, you’ve probably heard the term “runner’s high,” a phrase that describes the feeling of euphoria some people experience while doing intense exercise. If you’re exercise-adverse, you might be a little skeptical that pounding the pavement can actually make you feel good, but trust us, it’s a scientifically proven thing: that joyful, relaxed feeling is caused by a rush of chemicals in your brain called endorphins. But don’t worry, you can get a boost of these feel-good chemicals from doing (and even eating!) other things, so no running is actually required! But is there a benefit to them past the brief, enjoyable sensation you get from them? How can you increase your endorphin levels? And can you get too much of a good thing?

The Natural Pain Reliever

white pills in a packet
Endorphins are considered the body’s natural pain reliever.

So, what are endorphins, exactly? Well, the term itself comes from two words: endogenous (which means coming from the body) and morphine (the opiate pain reliever), so the name is actually a pretty good description of what endorphins do. They are your body’s own natural pain reliever, produced by your pituitary gland and central nervous system, and released to act on your opiate receptors in different situations. 

The situations in which they are released include pleasurable activities, but also situations in which you’re stressed or in pain; they increase feelings of pleasure and well-being, as well as reduce pain and discomfort. Endorphins, like dopamine, light up our pleasure centers, but while dopamine is more of a “reward” chemical, endorphins move us away from pain and toward pleasurable feelings to keep us going.

The Power of Endorphins

Endorphins have benefits beyond the brief moment of pleasure they give you; they help keep the joy in your life, and help you deal with any stress that is thrown your way. Some of the many positive side effects of these wonder chemicals include:

  • Reduced depression
  • Pain relief
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Regulation of appetite
  • Better immune response

It stands to reason that if having a healthy endorphin level is beneficial, then not having enough of them can be detrimental; it’s true that if you have low levels of endorphins, you could end up experiencing:black and white picture of a person sitting down holding their legs with their hands.

  • An increase in symptoms of depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • More aches and pains
  • Mood swings
  • Problems with addiction
  • Impulsivity

So these chemicals aren’t just something that avid runners are chasing, they’re something that we all need to be our happiest, most balanced selves – so how do we go about giving ourselves a healthy boost of endorphins?

Want Some More?

While you can actually get a great rush of endorphins from stressful and painful situations (think spraining your ankle while out jogging in the woods and having the ability to limp to safety despite the pain, or even of the stories you hear of people being able to lift heavy objects like a car after a traffic accident to save someone), you would probably prefer not to have to go through something like that to get the benefits of endorphins. And you don’t have to! You don’t even need to run a marathon or do anything crazy – you can also do other things like:

  • Have sex – Get in some exercise AND bond with someone – the perfect endorphin-releasing combo.
  • Create or listen to music 
  • Make some art
  • Dance
  • Have a good laugh
  • Eat spicy food
  • Get a massage
  • Sit in a sauna
  • Use aromatherapy – Try adding some essential oils to your cleaning products, or using a diffuser in your house. Vanilla seems to work particularly well!woman sitting down in a white bra and black yoga pants meditating.
  • Meditate
  • Watch a drama on TV – Laughter works, but so does getting sucked into a serious storyline.
  • Spend time with friends – Avoid socially isolating yourself, as this can be a real drag on endorphin levels, and lead to a vicious cycle.

These are all excellent ways to release endorphins, but in case you’re wondering what the best ways are, according to Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler, chief of sexology and clinical research at the Felnett Health Research Foundation in New York, “Research shows that sexual activity and playing competitive sports produces the highest level of endorphins in our body. You could think of it as a form of defense mechanism — when we anticipate strenuous exercise, or really want to excel at an activity, the body releases endorphins to help us accomplish this goal.” So, you might want to snuggle up, put on that TV drama, and see what happens…

Too Much of a Good Thing

All of the above sounds great: pain relief and boosts of pleasure – and you can get it all by eating chocolate, having sex, or binge watching a great drama? Yes, please! But is there a dark side to endorphins? Well, unfortunately, like all good things, yes – you can actually get too much of them and, in fairly rare cases, become addicted to them. Again according to Dr. Sendler, “On a basic chemical level, endorphins have very similar properties to opiates that we use to treat pain. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why there is an opioid epidemic going on – we get easily ‘hooked’ on their analgesic effect. The same happens with endorphins and their particular ability to influence our sensation of pleasure.”

While there is no risk that you’ll need more and more of them to get the same reaction, like with opioid drugs, you could seek out the feeling endorphins give you in unhealthy ways, like:


  • Self-harm – Self-harm refers to hurting yourself to relieve emotional pain or distress; as we’ve seen, the body’s natural response to pain is to release endorphins, so some psychologists believe that the endorphin rush can become an addiction, leading to a cycle of self-harming because of the need to feel that emotional release. At any rate, the release of endorphins most likely means that those who self-harm do not experience a lot of pain when harming themselves, and some even say that they feel a “rush” or “high” from the act.woman in a blue track suit positioned down to race on a track.
  • Exercise addiction – Some people can actually become addicted to exercise, and, although there are probably many complicated reasons behind this addiction, endorphins can certainly play a part – in fact, some people can end up exercising for hours a day, just to feel the effects of endorphins, which is more harmful than helpful for their bodies.  

But, interestingly, there is a way to avoid endorphin addiction – according to Dr. Sendler, it’s roller coasters. Roller coasters? Yep. “This is actually the safest way of quenching our thirst for endorphins,” says Sendler. “While riding a roller coaster, our body experiences excitement and fear, prompting release not only of endorphins but also adrenaline. [Riding them] creates a cycle of fear, excitement, euphoria, all in a controlled environment and happening within a span of just a few minutes. Therefore, for most people, a day spent at places like Six Flags is more than enough to give them so much rush of endorphins that they are calmed for an extended time.”

Sendler adds, whatever you do to boost your endorphins, “try to space it out so you can maintain a healthy addiction to your activities. When you begin to break down barriers of fear too fast, at some point, you might start engaging in activities that are truly unsafe and dangerous for health.” And remember, if you’re engaging in self-destructive behavior, it’s important to speak to a mental health professional.

Our bodies are truly amazing: we produce chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins to keep ourselves feeling healthy levels of joy and manageable levels of pain and stress. And the other amazing thing is, if we’re starting to feel low, stressed, or achy, we can actually do something about it: get out there and boost our endorphins! So grab some dark chocolate, do a happy dance, paint a picture, laugh with some friends, go for a run, or even get busy with that special someone, and you’ll be feeling like yourself again in no time!