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The Key to Preventing Bad Moods

How to no longer be blindsided by your emotions.

Key points

  • When we find ourselves in a bad mood, we often have no idea how we got there.
  • Feeling powerless to change the mood keeps people stuck.
  • Emotional blindsides are far less common when you build awareness for what you're feeling in the moment.

A trademark of a bad mood is that we are often completely unaware of how we got there. This reality intensifies the bad mood because when we don’t know how we got there, we feel powerless to pull out. So, the bad mood lingers creating other symptoms—irritability with others, low motivation, isolation, low self-esteem. These symptoms carry a tidal wave of consequences: relationship conflict and distress, issues at work, lack of productivity, a negative self-image, loneliness.

The cumulative consequences of bad moods can be crushing and leave a person believing they are at the mercy of their moods with little agency for how to feel better or how to get what they want out of life. This cycle can go on and on throughout a life span.

Over the years it can feel as if you subsist for momentary highs and then fall back to a prevailing sense that you can’t predict or know how you’re going to feel on any given day. This pattern doesn’t mean you don’t have moments of joy and pleasure, but, because the bad moods feel out of your control, you never know when you’re going to feel poorly again. Never knowing if you’re going to be happy or sad or annoyed or anxious makes it hard to make plans, keep commitments, and feel the confidence needed to pull off your goals.

Tuning in to Your Feelings

Bad moods generally result from a lack of emotional awareness and compassion to what’s going on for you in your day-to-day experience of the world. In short, you’re pushing through life with little attunement to your feelings.

The culture at large, well-meaning caregivers, coaches, and media all supply the idea that if we act confident and push away the negative, we will thrive. In fact, repressing our negative feelings is typically a misguided attempt to feel better: “Why would I dwell on the bad?”; “I’m afraid I’ll never be happy if I let my feelings in; they will overwhelm me”; “I’ll get depressed if I connect with the negative”; or “I don't want to be a ‘Debby Downer’; it’s better to be positive.”

In reality, all humans have difficult emotions and moments of emotional turmoil or confusion. We are far healthier and more in control when we note these fluctuations and give our emotions kind attention.

The key is to develop a regular, simple ritual to tune into these fluctuations so that you aren’t surprised by a bad mood onslaught. It’s an investment in yourself, a small tax, so that you can be more self-aware and less likely to have your emotions blindside and overwhelm you at a later date.

Key Steps to Preventing Bad Moods

  1. Tune into physical body sensations: If after an event or interaction or email, you feel your heart beat faster, your stomach sink, or your thoughts racing, these are signals that you need to slow down and go inward. Gently note your physical sensations without judgment: “Heart beating fast, stomach sinking….”
  2. Ask yourself this question: What is my body communicating to me? Likely something happened in your environment or a thought came to mind that is bothering you.
  3. Invite in what is upsetting you: The way your co-worker spoke to you, your mom’s criticism of your work, your dog’s hyperactivity: No matter how mundane or trivial the trigger appears to you, do not negate it. Invite your upset into your awareness. Make it know you see it.
  4. Validate yourself: Literally make sense of your feelings. Find a reason why what you feel makes sense. There’s always something true in our emotions.
  5. Soothe the emotion: Find a few phrases that make this part of yourself feel better—“These feelings will pass”; “This was only one moment in time; there will be other opportunities to prove myself”; “I am doing the best I can”; or, simply, “It’s OK to feel this way. I see you and I am here for you.”
  6. Take behavioral action: What can you do that will help you to feel better? You can talk to a friend, journal, or exercise, or maybe you just need to eat or sleep. Sometimes the best action to take is to accept the feelings and the situation as it is and turn it over to the universe, accepting that you only have so much control.

Rinse and repeat every time you feel your body change in response to what’s going on in your head or in your life. Over time, this will become automatic, and you will have plenty of data to help you understand yourself and what you need to feel better.

When we consistently tend our emotional gardens, dark moods are less frequent and far easier to bounce back from.

For more, check out my book Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps.

More from Jill P. Weber Ph.D.
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