I woke up this morning in a funky mood. I went out on the patio with a cup of coffee and mostly stared off in space. I wasn’t in the mood for anything. I wasn’t interested in talking to anyone, nor was I particularly interested in doing anything.
Why Mood Swings?
I decided to go online and read about moods. I found that small mood swings are a natural part of our lives. We all understand relatively simple moods like happy or sad. We also understand when somebody is in a somber mood or in a silly mood. Knowing about somebody’s mood helps us understand people in the here and now.
My funky mood seemed to be related to insomnia. It was important to know there was a connection between my mood and the amount of sleep I had last night. Specifically, when I lose sleep I have a hard time getting focused and I’m not much fun.
What About Dark Moods?
By dark moods I mean moods that lead us into the dark caves of our existence. I was recently seriously ill from sepsis infection. It was the kind of infection that required an ambulance ride to the emergency room.
My mood gets darker when I spend time thinking about the “what if’s." For example, I can easily reflect on “what if” my wife had not acted as quickly as she had. My mood is darker when I think about “what if” we were still in New Mexico on our way home the day before.
It serves no purpose to dwell on things that can not be changed. Nevertheless, all of us get caught up in the dark dungeons of our past that conjure up our darker moods. But sometimes we just can’t let go.
Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D., Psychologist, has given helpful ideas. Here are some of his ideas about letting go:
1. Analysis creates paralysis.
2. If you pay attention to the darkness, you will never find the light.
3. A contented person is fully caught up in the moment—and is not thinking about the past or the future.
4. We worry about what could go wrong, instead of focusing and paying attention to the rational, the positive and the good.
5. We should train ourselves to focus on thoughts that will move us forward in the right direction.
6. Thoughts grow with attention. If you focus on negative thoughts, they will grow and grow and become even larger. If you focus on your progress and the new thoughts you are learning, they will grow stronger and take "automatic" control.
What to do About Mood Swings?
When mood swings become a concern to you there are several things I suggest.
1. Work at being optimistic. When I had a private practice in counseling and psychotherapy I often asked my clients, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” The question frequently changed their perspective.
2. I suggest that you place your feelings of optimism on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being a pessimist and 10 being an optimist and then ask yourself what you need to do to change that number higher on the scale. What behavior do you need to change?
3. Try to know what triggers your mood swing? Be on the lookout for when your mood changes significantly from one day to the next. Try to trace what happened, for example, did food or drink play a part? I know that the amount of sleep I get is related to my mood.
4. Name the mood. It is important that you be able to name your moods. If you find your moods change rapidly try to understand the precipitating factors. If your mood swings are similar to a person with a bipolar disorder you may want to seek professional help.
5. Cultivate a relationship. A mood swing is easier to handle when you have a meaningful relationship with another person.
6. Talk to someone about your mood swings. That individual may be either professional or non-professional. The important point is for you to share how you feel and what you would like to do about your mood swings.
There are a variety of ways to control your moods. For example, as I have suggested above, when I have had a sleepless night I know that I will need to use some energy to control my negative mood. People in my counseling practice whose moods interfered with relationships learned to focus on the moment.
Other self-help strategies are:
Cultivate optimism, eat well and keep active, take time out to do things you enjoy, set small goals for yourself, hope for the best, expect the worst, take what comes,
avoid over generalizing negative outcomes, make space for the gray areas of life,
learn to laugh at yourself
Age and Mood
I will be 84 on my next birthday. I can’t ignore that I am in the home stretch. There are days when I get up, go out onto the patio with my cup of coffee and stare at the mountain in our back yard. I think about my life past and present. I find it interesting that my mood is one of comfort and satisfaction. As Thomas Richards puts it “find the light.” I am in a good place.
In conclusion, understand that mood swings are a natural part of our lives but there are times when our mood interferes with our happiness and our relationships. It is not helpful to deny a mood that wraps itself around us so tightly that we have problems moving. Those can become heavy-duty moods from which we can escape only with professional help.……………………………………………………………………………………...
Lawrence J. Epstein, MD, Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D. Director of the Social Anxiety Institute ……………………………………………………………………………………..
I am professor emeritus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney where for 30 years taught classes in counseling theories, counseling methods, group counseling, practicum and psychodrama. In addition to my current book, One Hand Clapping (2015), I wrote Counseling and Drama: Psychodrama A' Deux in (2009) which was translated into Mandarin and published in Taiwan in 2013. I appreciate any comments.