Coping with a Negative Mood

By Harold Cohen, Ph.D.

People under chronic stress often try to cope by feeling down, hopeless, or sad. It is a way of communicating to the world that “I’m not doing so well” or a subtle plea for help.

Negative mood can be both a consequence of chronic unresolved stress and a behavioral way of influencing those around us. Because of the complicated nature of these feelings, professional help may be needed. This is particularly true if you experience prolonged periods of depression, sadness, or hopelessness.

It is normal to feel negative occasionally. There is often a cleansing affect to occasional “down” times. Certainly for most people, life with but a few ups and downs could be quite boring.

However, frequent negative moods are a sign that stress is beginning to have a detrimental effect on you. You may be experiencing personal burnout. Chronic negative mood can affect your health, productivity, and relationships and is a clear stress warning sign that you need to make some changes.

Negative mood is usually the result of irrational thinking about people or events. This could mean focusing on the negative and not seeing the positive in your life and work. You may see situations as problems rather than as challenges.

Another example of irrational thinking is overgeneralization. When you overgeneralize, you go from one simple problem to all problems.

Negative mood is often magnified when you focus on your feelings rather than the cause of the problem or its solution. In fact, the more you focus on trying to change how badly you feel, the more difficult it is to change those feelings.

Depression and negative moods are closely linked but are not necessarily the same. If you think you are chronically depressed and not just experiencing the normal adjustments in everyday living, then you should seek professional help.

Keep the Negative at Bay

Feelings usually follow, not precede, thinking and action. It is a fallacy that you must first feel good before you can do something. Refocus your thinking and your feelings will change. Negative thinking produces negative feelings. Likewise, positive thinking produces positive feelings.

You have more control over your feelings than you may realize. It takes work, but even little changes can make an immediate difference in how you feel. To turn a negative feeling into a positive one isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. Recently, during the funeral of a loved one, a woman could see only the negative things she had said or done to her mother. As a result, she felt extremely guilty. Only when someone suggested that she also remember the years of support, love, devotion, and attention that she had given to her mother did she begin to make progress. The loss did not go away, but the guilt began to subside. By beginning to change her thoughts, her moods began to change, too.

Change irrational thoughts

Irrational thoughts have little basis in reality. You may think you are a failure, but by objective standards you may actually be a success.

An example of an irrational thought is, “I never do anything right.” Of course, everyone does something right. Do a reality check. Ask yourself if what you are thinking has any basis in reality. If not, change what you are thinking.

Here are the kinds of irrational thoughts that you should work on changing:

  • Extremist thinking: You view everything as all bad or all good. There is no in-between.

  • Stomping on positive: You choose not to see the silver lining in a situation and refuse to see any good.
  • Dwelling on negative: You filter in only the dark, negative aspects of life. By becoming obsessed with the negative, you are rendering yourself virtually a slave to your negative thinking.
  • ESP thinking: You think you know exactly how others feel and think about you. Usually you are wrong.
  • Overgeneralizing: A few things happen to you that are not good and consequently you think everything is going to pot.

When you are feeling down, there is often little you want to do. The solution lies in action, not inaction. While you may not want to do much, it’s important to do something. Anything! Take a walk, ride a bike, read a book, work on an art project, or visit a friend.

 

APA Reference
Cohen, H. (2007). Coping with a Negative Mood. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/coping-with-a-negative-mood-2/0001053
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.