One of the skills we teach clients is mood mastery —how to choose their mood. All of us have a profusion of moods at our disposal at any given time. So often, we choose negative moods simply because we’ve formed a habit of submitting to their strong presence. We’ve allowed them to take shortcuts to the front of our mind.
Mood mastery is akin to choosing your attitude. Mood and attitude are separate but interrelated. Mood is how we are feeling; attitude is how we respond to the mood. Choosing our attitude, our response to the mood, is one way we can actively achieve mastery over any mood. No matter what mood we initially experience, our attitude can either reinforce it or cause us to choose another.
Let’s be clear: Choosing a mood is not about reacting to an event or circumstance. Things happen and each of us will have a natural reaction, such as a surprise or anxiety, similar to the way anyone else might react. It is what happens next that falls under the category of choosing our mood. After our initial reaction, we have the opportunity to review that reaction. Then we can intentionally respond with a continuation of it, or we can respond with another mood choice.
Here’s a common example: We’re in our car on the way to work. Maybe we’re running a little late. All of a sudden, the car next to us swerves into our lane, cutting us off. Our reaction is probably one of shock and surprise. It may even be anger—it’s upsetting when we feel endangered or surprised by someone else's irresponsible action.
What happens next, however, is a choice. We can choose to take a deep breath and back off the bumper of that car, realizing it would probably be a good idea to have a little more room between that driver and ourselves. In other words, we can choose to respond intelligently. But we can also choose to respond angrily. An extreme example of this response is road rage. It begins when the actions, real or perceived, of another driver produce an angry, aggressive response from us. Even if we don't go as far as experiencing road rage, we can still allow that event to fuel a bad mood. We can choose to react to it by remaining angry long after the fact.
If an event such as getting cut off on the road can generate a day-ruining reaction, it’s not surprising that other, more serious or traumatic events can lead to a sustained bad mood lasting months or even years. Once people understand this, we can work to support them in expanding the moods they choose from.
Here are a few techniques to help you master your mood, regardless of what life presents to you:
- Practice gratitude. When confronted with a challenging situation or just a bad mood, instead of dwelling on the negative situation, refocus to think about five things in your life you are grateful for. If you can think of a gratitude directly linked to the seemingly negative situation at hand, even better.
- Breathe deeply. Before your emotions carry you away, stop and take 10 slow deep breaths. This will send oxygen throughout your body, physically calming you and putting you in a better state to deal with a situation positively.
- Get active. As you probably know, exercise can be a great natural mood booster, triggering the release of mood-improving endorphins.
- Go outside. Nature has an amazing affect on our mood, vitality, and overall health. Spending time outdoors and in nature has been proven to boost your serotonin levels and improve your mood.
- Help someone. Sometimes the best thing to do when you feel upset, angry, or down is to do something for someone else. Find an opportunity to give of yourself, even in a small way, to help someone. Whether it is opening the door, buying someone coffee, or paying someone a compliment, small acts of kindness can sometimes have a greater affect on the giver than the receiver.
- Smile. Even if you have to fake it at first, try anyway.
A good mood allows you to experience life in its fullest. But sometimes it doesn’t come naturally, while unconstructive moods do. To overcome such negative thought patterns, you must go against the flow and strive, even if it seems like you’re paddling against a strong current, to promote optimism, hope, and joy. Once you begin putting good energy out into the world, you’ll be amazed what you’ll get in return.
Gregory L. Jantz, PhD is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and an internationally recognized best selling author of 28 books related to mental wellness and holistic recovery treatment. Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Turing Your Down into Up: A Realistic Plan for Healing from Depression.