How do you deal with bad moods?

Most people do not understand the difference between the words, “feeling”, “emotion” and “mood”.

In Psychology, the words “feeling” and”emotion” tend to have different meanings.  In everyday language, they are essentially the same.

The word “mood” , while also used interchangeably with “feeling”, tends to have a different connotation.

A “mood” is a longer lasting “feeling state” that may not be related to any specific issue or point of focus.

The website (a good source of information on emotional intelligence) defines mood as “They’re not tied to a specific incident, but a collection of inputs.  Mood is heavily influenced by our environment (weather, lighting, color, people around us), by our physiology (what we’ve been eating, how we’ve been exercising, if we have a cold or not, how well we slept), by our thinking (where we’re focusing attention), and by our current emotions.  Moods can last minutes, hours, probably even days.”

If you are dealing with a mood, suggestions which involve distraction including going for a walk or listening to music can be effective.  Questioning the weather, your environment, or your physiology is also good.  Finally, just waiting it out allows you to avoid giving the mood too much “power” by elevating its impact on you and lets the mood pass.

As I will show below, using distraction for feelings may not be a good idea.

That being said, let me address this issue in terms of feelings.

Feelings tend to be more short term and related to a specific trigger.  In my opinon, feelings, and how we relate to them, are,  a different story compared to moods. The reason for this is the function feelings serve and the information they provide.  If you don’t understand your feelings (or emotions), you may find yourself doing things you later regret (anger), failing to give yourself permission and time to recover (sad), being too hard on yourself (guilt and shame), or missing out on opportunities to positively impact your life and your relationships.

As I’ve written about in my two Amazon best seller books Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management, while we can see manifestations of feelings in all human societies and in some subhuman species, feelings, in humans, helped us survive as a species and, in many ways, while we, as humans, have evolved, the 6 primary feelings (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) and how they impact us, have largely remained the same over time.

Four of the six  primary feelings are threat detectors which evolved in humans to subconsciously alert us to threats which in primitive times would kill us and prepare our bodies to deal with the threat. This is the emotional reaction to potential threats which we still experience today.

Over time, the thinking parts of our brains developed to the point where we now have the ability to choose how we respond to possible threats.

Incidentally, there are no good or bad emotions (This is an emotional myth.) just like there are no good or bad moods.

There are two reason that feelings (and moods) get labelled as “bad”.  The first is is that some feelings are hedonically negative (they are experienced as discomfort). Secondly, some people do dumb or hurtful things when they are reacting to a feeling.  Unfortunately, the feeling rather than the hedonic state or the unfortunate choice of behavior gets the label and the bad rap.

Each feeling communicates a specific message about how a “threat” is perceived.  Understanding this message gives you two advantages and it is these advantages which make feelings valuable and allow you to use them as tools to improve your life and your relationships. I’ve discussed the message of specific feelings in other posts.

While some writers suggest distraction as a viable means of dealing with uncomfortable feelings, I do not believe this to be the case. To ignore a possible threat(and the feeling which is alerting you to it) via distraction is the same as texting while driving.  If there are no obstacles, you may be able to multitask while driving.  However, if an obstacle or threat is real, you will miss it.

Moods do not have these advantages.

First, when you understand the message of the emotion you are experiencing , you can evaluate the nature of the threat and choose your response.  If the threat is valid, stay with the feeling, make a plan to deal with the threat, and execute your plan.  If you have misperceived the threat, change your perception and move on. This can have a positive impact on your life.

Second, when you understand the message of an emotion, you are in a better position to deal with another person who is directing this emotion at you.  This can have a positive impact on your relationships.

I welcome your comments.

Let’s take a look at “hate” and why you might want to avoid it.

America, today, is portrayed as a divided society.  In the news, we read read “hate” groups and “hate” crimes on a regular basis.

So, let’s look at the emotion of hate.

The Emotions as Tools Model notes that each emotion informs you about how you perceive your surroundings.  This is the message of the emotion. I discuss the Emotions as Tools Model in my book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not Your Feelings.

The message of hate is that you perceive a situation or person as extremely negative, or even demonic.  Hate is a very strong emotion that is usually reserved for people whose actions you view as totally unacceptable, evil, or reprehensible. Presumably, you would want nothing to do with this person because he, she, or it is extremely toxic, negative or hurtful.

Logically, you’d think that your emotional reaction to hate would be to cut ties with or avoid the person or situation you view with such disdain. This is not, however, what frequently happens.

I need to say something about how we use the word “hate”.

While we may say “I hate Brussels sprouts.”, the word “hate” is the same as used in the word “hate” crime but the intent expressed is different.    To be accurate here, while you might say that you “hate” Brussels sprouts, in reality, you just dislike them. (By the way, I did not like Brussels sprouts as a kid because of the way they were cooked.  I now like them a whole lot.) If you really do not like Brussels sprouts, you wouldn’t order them in a restaurant. And, while you might dislike them a whole lot, you probably are not emotionally attached to them.

With hate, however, what you tend to do emotionally is exactly the opposite of what you would expect. Instead of moving away from the object of your hate, emotionally, you bind yourself to the person or situation just as powerfully as if you were in love with them.

Let me show you what I mean.

Imagine that you are facing a person and you are firmly holding both of their hands in yours. Everywhere they go, you go.  And vice versa. Think of this as love.  You are emotionally connected to the person you love and they are with you all the time.

Now, let’s look at hate. You can visualize the emotion of hate by standing back to back with your partner and then firmly taking both of their hands in yours.  As you can see, you are now opposite them in the sense that many people consider hate to be the opposite of love.

But, and this is the important part, you are just as securely connected to them as you are with love. Where they go, you go. And, they are with you all the time.

If you truly hate someone, you will realize that you can be consumed by your hate.  Just as you can be consumed by your love.

This may be okay with love.  It isn’t okay with hate.

When you truly hate someone, you might find yourself engaging more deeply with them perhaps to get revenge on or to hurt them in some way.  When this happens, you are most likely also experiencing anger. The message of anger is that you perceive a threat to your values or sense of right and wrong and you believe you can “eliminate” the threat by throwing enough force at it. Hence, you are motivated to take forceful action against the person (or people) you perceive as a threat.

To mix anger and hate together can be very dangerous.  The hate emotionally binds you to the person (or object of your hate) and the anger emotionally energizes you to take destructive action.  Under these circumstances, logic and thinking about consequences often get eliminated. Think about hate groups, hate crimes, extreme discrimination, and so forth.

This is why you might want to avoid hating another person.

“Huh”, you say, “what does that mean?”

Well, as I said above, hate is a very strong emotion. When you are under the influence of hate, you tend not to take the next step in mastering an emotion which is to assess the validity of the message the emotion is communicating to you.   Thus, with hate, you should assess both whether the object of your hate is, indeed, demonic AND whether the actions you are about to engage in (moving toward rather than away from that which you hate) will, improve the situation in which you find yourself.

So, what are your options?

If someone or something is, indeed, terrible, reprehensible, or demonic, you can decide to feel disgust toward them.  The message of disgust is that you need to avoid or dispel the disgusting object.  Think of Brussels sprouts as disgusting.   If you find the actions of this despicable person as reprehensible and as a threat to your values or safety, you can use the energy of your valid anger to develop and execute a plan to neutralize this individual.  You are now engaged with, but not necessarily irrevocably emotionally bound to, the person or situation.

I discuss anger and the anger cycle in depth both in my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

By the way, you can download the first chapters of both of my books for free without opt-in by scrolling up to the “Welcome” post and clicking on the links.

I welcome your comments.


How to Handle Disappointment and “Failure”.

The classical advice about dealing with disappointment and “failure” is to pick yourself up and get back on track. While this is good advice, it focuses on the behavioral aspect of disappointment and not on disappointment as an emotion or on “failure” as a construct.

The emotion of disappointment is defined by Your as “a feeling of sadness, dissatisfaction or displeasure when something isn’t as you planned”. So, in other words, when you are disappointed, you are sad about a situation that has not gone as you expected or wanted.

As I discuss in my book Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings, Sadness is a threat detector and one of the 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise). The message of sadness is that you have experienced a loss and the function of sadness is to both alert you to the loss you have experienced and prepare your body to deal with that loss.

The intensity of sadness can vary along a continuum from mild disappointment through the sublime sense of loss one experiences when someone close to us dies to depression, a condition which can be life-threatening.

The Emotions as Tools Model teaches that all emotions go through a similar cycle. For emotions that involve threat, the cycle starts with the unconscious scanning of one’s surroundings for threat, physically reacting to that threat, managing one’s reaction to the threat when appropriate and, in time, mastering the emotion by validating the threat and choosing how you want to respond to it.

When you experience disappointment, you want to acknowledge and label the emotion as disappointment and recognize the message of the emotion, manage the emotion by giving yourself some psychological space between the situation and your reaction to it and then master the emotion by assessing the validity of the loss and choosing your response to it. The point is that there may, indeed, be a loss or you may be misinterpreting what is happening as a loss and there is, in fact, no loss.

When you understand this approach to dealing with the emotion of disappointment, you now have a context from which you can interpret and evaluate all of the advice you can find about how to handle disappointment.

So that I can keep this post to a reasonable length, let me give you a link to a blog which will give you some good suggestions for dealing with disappointment including 5 key steps and what to do both in the moment of and after a disappointment but please don’t go there until after you have finished reading this post. Here is the link.

Let’s look at the concept of failure.

Many people view failure as a destination and split achieving a goal into two opposing positions. You are either a “success” when you have accomplished your goals or you are a failure because you have fallen short of whatever it is you were trying to do. In my view, and others, success is defined as getting back up and on track more times than you fall down (failing). “Failure” only means that you are off course. When you “get up” more times than you “fall down”, you are almost guaranteed to accomplish your goal.

I believe that a dichotomous view of success and failure is a psychological trap which can elicit a misleading feeling of disappointment, sadness, or even depression.

Let me give you an illustration.

There is a story about Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. When he was asked by a reporter what it felt like to have failed 10,000 times to make a light bulb, Mr. Edison reportedly said that he did not fail 10,000 times but he did find 10,000 ways to make a light bulb that did not work. Obviously, he kept on going until he “successfully” found a way that did work. There are numerous such stories in the theater (Muppets), literature (Carrie), and so forth.

Mr. Edison did not give in to disappointment or a sense of failure and give up. Giving up is a major downside possibility with disappointment.

So, when you define failure as a destination or as an absolute, you experience a sense of disappointment or loss. This sense of loss is “misleading” because, in fact, you have really not lost anything. As most successful people will tell you, you need to reevaluate, adjust, and move forward.

A very good book on the subject is John Maxwell’s book Failing Forward which is available on Amazon.

So, when you experience disappointment, approach it from an Emotions as Tools perspective. Acknowledge the emotion, take a psychological step back from the situation (management), and move into mastery by assessing the threat and choosing a response. When you hear yourself talking about “failure”, remind yourself that accomplishing a task in a journey, not a destination.

I welcome your comments.


Happy New Year to you my readers.

Dear Reader:

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours, as readers of my blog, a very happy and prosperous 2017.

It is my intent in writing this blog to provide you with information about emotions that is both educational and useful.  I do my best to pick topics I believe will benefit you.

For 2017, I am asking for your help to:

  1. make this a better and more meaningful blog and
  2. reach more people who might benefit from the topics I cover.

If there is any topic you would like me to discuss, please leave a comment and I will attempt to address the issues you raise.

Secondly, please pass on the link to this blog on FaceBook, in your twitter feeds, to your LinkedIn network, and wherever else you would like to publish it.

Thank you for reading and, again, let me wish you a very happy and successful 2017.

All the best,

Ed Daube, Ph.D.   The Emotions Doctor