Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Mark Tyrrell that gives us some practical advice about how to control our mood and emotional level. Enjoy!
The good news is that moods are much more controllable than most people realize. Most of us have at one time been struck by a gloomy or irritable mood.
Bad moods can signal to us that we need to eat or rest or address the bad treatment we are receiving. And they can be useful in that way, like any other signal such as thirst, pain, or hunger. We address what needs addressing and the bad mood passes. It’s done its job. But what about bad moods that seem to come from nowhere or are out of all proportion to any trigger that may have caused them?
Feeling victim to our own moods leaves us feeling powerless. Uncontrolled moodiness causes unhappiness in not only the person having the moods, but also the people around them. In this way, out-of-control moodiness can damage relationships.
But can we all learn to manage our moods better? Here are some tried-and-tested ways to take back control.
1) Remember that you can take back control
It turns out your expectation as to whether you can lift your own bad mood determines how likely you are to be able to lift it. No surprise there. People who expect to be able to influence their own mood tend not to feel so bad because of this expectation. And those who do not expect to be able to control their moods tend, in general, to feel worse (1).
So, one way to improve your mood is to remember that you actually can improve it. And all the evidence points to you being able to change your mood even quicker than you might have thought.
2) Use distraction; but don’t wait for a polar bear
Imagine feeling grumpy about what a colleague said to you today. How dare they? Your mood means you’re thinking about them. And, in turn, thinking about them makes you feel moodier.
What would happen to that mood if, shockingly, a real live two-ton polar bear walked in – right now! Or you suddenly found yourself tightrope-walking over Niagara Falls?
Distraction is powerful. Don’t wait for a polar bear, but do something – anything – that requires you to focus your attention elsewhere. Phone a cheerful friend. Go for a stroll, or even a run, in nature. Recent studies have shown that spending time or exercising in natural settings – even urban parks and gardens – has benefits for mental health, including lifting mood quickly and even improving immune function (2).
3) Change your mind by changing your physical response
Bad moods affect us physically. We might frown and breathe slightly quicker (as a result of the stress hormone now coursing through our bodies). So rather than trying to think differently, focus on changing your physical state – this may be the quickest way to lift your bad mood.
Breathe slowly and focus on the out-breath, extending it longer than the in-breath (the out-breath is associated with relaxation). And smile! We smile when we feel happy, but research also tells us that even making a fake smile (or saying a silent letter “e”) for around 30 seconds will begin to affect the mood centres in the brain, making us feel much better (3).
4) Go for damage limitation
Moods, like spilt coffee on your desk, tend to spread everywhere. Limit the damage by reminding yourself of why specifically you have been feeling moody: “I am angry with Jenny for letting me down at the last minute; so I don’t need to take it out on Mary, who is actually being helpful and nice!”
5) Don’t over-associate with your mood
When we have a mood, it can feel like our absolute reality. But later, when it’s passed, we may wonder why we acted as we did in the mood or even why we were really in the mood at all. You are not your anger or your despondency, any more than the sea is a passing storm or a radio is the music it happens to be playing. Get into the habit of practicing “mindfulness” and viewing your mood as separate from who you really are; doing this will help it pass more quickly.
And lastly, keep in mind the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Of cheerfulness, or a good temper, the more it is spent, the more it remains.”
The author, Mark Tyrrell is a therapist, trainer, author and co-founder of Hypnosis Downloads.com. Among the 600+ downloads there he has created a download for mood improvement.
- Mearn, K.J. and Catanzaro, S.J. (1994) Mood regulation expectancies as determinants of dysphoria in college students. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 37, 306-12.
- A study found that just a five-minute ‘dose’ of exercising in nature provided the biggest boost in people’s self-esteem. In the latest (May 2010) analysis published in The Environmental Science and Technology Journal, the UK researchers looked at evidence from 1,250 people in 10 studies and found fast improvements in mood and self-esteem.
- McIntosh, D.N., Zajong, R. B., Peter, S., and Emerick, S.W. (1997) Facial movement, breathing temperature and affect: Implications for the vascular theory of emotional efference. Cognition and Emotion (March 1997), 179-195.