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.

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.