It’s here again.
Your most dreaded house guest: a crappy mood.
Who knows what triggered it — maybe someone said something rude to you and you can’t stop ruminating about it.
Maybe you just can’t explain the sudden feeling of worry, anxiety or dread that seems to be creeping in.
Maybe you just can’t get motivated at work and feel guilty and depressed.
Either way, it sucks, and you want it to be over.
See, it’s not just the yucky mood that bothers you — your thoughts make it worse:
How long is this going to last?
There must be something wrong with me if I feel like this.
I need to find better ways to take care of myself.
I have no reason to feel sad, I’m so ungrateful.
Less than happy moods are as common and natural as thunderstorms, and most of them pass just as quickly — yet we treat them as unwanted invaders that must be removed or annihilated before we can move on. Worse, we see them as a sign of personal defect, and it feels like we must be the only one suffering.
“Bad” moods are a part of life — there’s no getting rid of them, but we do have a lot of power in how we respond to them, and a compassionate response can make a world of difference in how much we suffer.
When you’re “in the thick of it,” it’s hard to put a dark mood in perspective. Below are 4 comforting reminders for you to bookmark and return to when the fog of an anxious or depressed mood rolls in.
1. Nothing is wrong
If there is one hallmark thought that comes with a bad mood, it’s “There is something very wrong here.”
This feeling of “wrongness” creates tension in your body and mind and triggers the desperate urge to try and fix or get rid of the mood.
Because our attempts at ridding ourselves of our feelings often don’t work, we end up feeling more frustrated and defective.
Is a bad mood really wrong? And do you need to struggle to get rid of it?
Your mood change could have been triggered by a distressing event or life situation, and in that case, it’s not wrong at all — it’s completely appropriate and natural.
Sad or anxious moods can be messengers — they can give you clues that you might be unhappy at your job or in your relationship, or that some change is needed.
Do you really need to get rid of something natural that helps guide you in the right direction?
You can also experience a low mood for no reason at all — you just suddenly feel in a funk. This is also a completely normal part of being human.
I was recently getting my kids ready to take to a nearby park with my husband and dad, and suddenly I felt worried and anxious. I felt like I was failing in some way, and that everyone was mad at me or thought ill of me. My chest and throat were tight, and distressing thoughts were streaming in.
Why do I feel like this?
This isn’t right.
I won’t be able to enjoy the park if I feel like this.
I need to snap out of it.
But as I was riding in the car on the way there, an new thought occurred to me:
What if there’s nothing wrong?
I wondered what would happen if instead of struggling against my worried feelings and trying to get rid of them, I allowed them to be as they are, and adopted the attitude of, There is nothing wrong here, these feelings can stay.
The mood didn’t go away, but the tension in my body started to relax a little.
When we let go of the belief that our yucky mood is “wrong,” we don’t necessarily feel better, but we shed the extra layer of self-induced tension and frustration that comes with struggling to rid ourselves of the mood.
2. It’s not your fault
When I was preparing to go to the park — getting my shoes and coat on and getting my kids in the car, I couldn’t stop trying to analyze why I suddenly felt anxious and irritable. I thought,
Was it something I ate? Too much sugar or carbs?
Have I been thinking too negatively?
Are my hormones imbalanced? — I haven’t been to the doctor for a check up in over a year!
I’d probably feel better if I exercised more.
The bottom line: This bad mood is my fault.
When you feel “off,” it’s easy to blame yourself for feeling this way, and like it wouldn’t be happening if you just took better care of yourself.
Our bodies and brains are complex, and there could be many reasons for your mood change that you’ll never understand. Trying to analyze it and figure out the cause is exhausting and mostly pointless. It’s another form or struggling with your feelings.
When we let go of self-blame and over-analyzing, we reduce the noise and drama in our minds. Our funky mood is still there, but extra, unnecessary suffering is reduced.
3. Your mood is only one small part of your environment
“Bad” moods tend to take center stage in your mind, making it difficult to think about anything else.
When I was in my funk on the way to the park, I felt like my mood and my internal attempts to control it were all that existed, and all that mattered. I was really fixating on it.
But when I got out of the car, something unusual happened. I felt the crisp, late fall breeze on my skin. I heard the gentle, crispy rattling of the last remaining leaves on the trees. I looked up at a bright blue sky and wispy white clouds.
I thought, and experienced the felt sense that the world is much bigger than my internal experience.
Other things were happening. Life was still alive and changing outside of, and along with my mood.
Because we tend to view bad moods as threats to our well-being, our mind wants to focus and fixate on them — the primal parts of our brain want to keep the questionable mood in its cross-hairs at all times.
But if we let go of our mood being wrong and our fault, and we intentionally try to notice and tune into the larger world around us, we can create a sense of spaciousness.
When I directed my attention toward nature and and all of my senses — the smell of the smoky November air, the sounds of leaves crunching under my feet — I felt a sense of peace and openness. I was able to rest in my awareness of it all.
When I checked in on my internal experience, the hazy mood was still there, but it felt less significant, overpowering and all-encompassing. It was not the only thing that was here right now.
I also felt my internal experience merging with the rest of my environment. Could my mood also be a part of nature?
Redirecting your attention during a nasty mood is much easier said than done, but making some gentle attempts to just open up to the flow of life outside of, (and with) your internal experience, it’s possible to find a little more space.
4. It’s impermanent
As much as we try to let go of wrongness and blame, and to open up to all of experience, sometimes we’re just stuck. Stuck in ruminating and obsessing, and stuck with an unwavering fixation on our mood.
Even when this is the case, we can still rest in the knowledge that moods are impermanent — they will eventually change or pass away, just like everything else in life.
My massage therapist once told me a helpful metaphor in dealing with the chronic pain in my neck.
He said to think of my pain as a thunderstorm. We don’t worry about how long a thunderstorm will last, we know it will pass. We check to make sure we are safe, and then we allow it to happen. Sometimes we even look at storms with curiosity and wonder.
This metaphor is helpful when thinking about stormy moods too.
Rather than obsessively asking yourself, “How long will this last?” Rest in the knowledge that it’s temporary, just like a storm.
Fortunately, my anxious mood did fade away within an hour of being at the park that day. But there have been other occasions when my mood has lasted much longer, or it’s been difficult to open up to. In these cases, I try to remember that everything always changes, and so will my mood, eventually.
Weathering the Storm
Being human isn’t easy — especially when a less-than-ideal mood creeps in.
It’s natural to feel like something is wrong, that you’re defective, that your mood is all that matters and that it will probably last forever.
While moods are mostly unchangeable, if we can remember to view them from a different perspective, it’s possible to reduce unnecessary suffering.
When you gently remind yourself that nothing is wrong, you relax the frantic urge to control or get rid of your mood.
When you tell yourself it’s not my fault, you reduce painful feelings of shame and blame.
When you redirect your attention to the larger world, you create more room to breathe.
And when you remind yourself that this will pass, you feel like you’re up to weathering the storm.
A “bad” mood may not be your favorite house guest, but when you stop struggling with it, you create more space for it to move and breathe, and maybe even make it’s way out.
Most of all you’ve found a way to find peace within yourself, no matter what mood decides to come knocking.