Facts about Moods

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We are living in a time of great expectations and big disappointments. When things don’t go our way or stress at work or at home gets us feeling down, we become uncooperative, grouchy and even angry.

Though feeling blue or cranky is perfectly normal and healthy, there are times when we would like a bad mood to lift more quickly than nature will allow it to do.

What are moods?

Moods result from a complex interaction between the internal brain chemistry and the external events you experience.

In the brain, three major neurotransmitters affect the way we feel…

  • Serotonin, which acts as a mood stabilizer.
  • Dopamine and norepinephrine, which act as stimulants.

While the full extent of how these three neurotransmitters work is not very well understood, we do know that they are being generated all the time and they naturally move in their own cycles.

The chemicals are also affected by external stimuli such as foods, drugs and smells which can cause rapid changes in the production and balance of the neurotransmitters.

This helps explain why people can plunge into bad moods after hearing bad news. Likewise, a person in a bad mood can snap out of it instantly after getting a phone call from a beloved or humorous friend.

Shaking a bad mood

While feeling sullen is important to the development of a sense of critical self-analysis, there are steps you can take to trick your mind into letting go.

Important: If none of the strategies I’m about to recommend brings relief and your bad mood persists for more than two weeks, see your doctor. The problem may be depression, which must be addressed and treated more aggressively.

Strategies for pulling yourself out of a bad mood…

• Trace the source of your bad mood

Common sources of bad moods include recent illness, loneliness, boredom, unrealistic expectations, failure to accomplish a goal, catastrophizing by making mountains out of molehills and unacknowledged disappointment, guilt or anger.

In these cases, taking the time to analyze what was happening in your life before the bad mood occurred is useful. Knowing where the negative feelings come from gives you some sense of control, and uncovering the cause of your bad mood may actually give you clues on how to remedy it.

Example: One of my patients felt anxious and irritable but didn’t know why. We talked about what had been happening during the past few days and discovered the patient’s spouse was the target of unexpressed anger. The spouse had been spending money with little regard to the fact that tire couple was trying to get out of debt. Once the source of the bad mood was identified, the patient was able to talk directly about it and felt better immediately.

Another often overlooked source of bad moods is having been in a good mood for too long. People who are involved in highly intense projects at work find themselves disappointed when the projects end. In these cases, what feels like a bad mood is simply lack of rest or a neutral mood, neither good nor bad

• Make a list of all the positives in your life

When you’re in a bad mood, you view everything in a negative light. Setbacks and letdowns become magnified while positive things aren’t recognized at all.

Helpful: If you make a quick list of all the positive factors in your life, your negative perception will likely shift.

• Exercise

Physical exertion produces endorphins natural chemicals in the brain that are responsible for creating good moods. Depending on the individual, the physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous even a brisk 20-minute walk is sufficient to combat a bad mood. Just being outdoors will expose you to sunlight another natural antidepressant.

Over time, exercise will make you look better and improve your overall health. And by providing a steady stream of endorphins, regular exercise will actually help protect you from future bad moods.

• Socialize

One of the biggest errors we make while feeling blue is to separate ourselves, which can make a bad mood even worse.

Helpful: Force yourself to call somebody or even throw a simple party take-out pizza will do and call some individuals you haven’t seen in a while.

• Seek humor

Nothing dissolves a bad mood faster than laughter. Go to a comedy club, rent a funny video or call a friend who has a great sense of humor.

Helpful: Make a recording of your complaining, and listen to it. Even the most seemingly tragic woe-is-me complaint eventually sounds ridiculous.

• Do something nice for someone else

Forget yourself by concentrating on someone else. Buy a present for a friend. Call someone you haven’t talked to in years. Volunteer at a hospital or nursing home, where you’ll likely see others who have much more serious problems than yours.

• Change your immediate environment

The simple act of moving furniture around will help freshen your attitude. Hanging new curtains, switching lamp shades, changing your bedspread or rearranging pictures will also give you an immediate lift.

• Enjoy the arts

For centuries, the arts have been civilization’s tonic. It’s hard to stay in a bad mood when gazing at a magnificent painting or listening to music you love. Even fooling around with paints or a piano will divert you from your woes and give you another way to express yourself.

• Spend time in a natural setting

Being close to nature makes us realize that no matter how we feel, the sun still rises and sets each day.

Sitting on a bench in a garden, strolling on a beach or lying on a hillside and gazing at the sky will remind you there is a larger world out there than your own.

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