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.

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