Therapists Spill: How I Manage Murky Moods
Everyone gets into a bad mood. Everyone has a bad day. Or two. And everyone has a hard time figuring out how to cope with it from time to time. Even therapists.
“In the past when I was in a bad mood, I would compulsively work at pleasing others, hoping this would help me feel good about myself again and hence, in a better mood,” said Joyce Marter, LCPC, a therapist and owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance.
“I hunkered down and forced myself to plow through whatever I thought I ‘should’ be doing, in attempts to alleviate the feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing that were intertwined with my bad mood.”
For many years clinical psychologist John Duffy, Ph.D, ignored and buried his negative moods. “I could cover negative emotions, sadness and anxiety, with an assured smile.” He found himself in the “wrong career and suffering it profoundly.”
Clinical psychologist Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D, used to vent about her bad moods. But this just fueled them. “[W]hat I found was, the more I vented, the worse I felt. It’s one thing to discuss a problem I’m having — searching for a solution — or to reach out for support when I’m not doing well. It’s another to whine and complain and just make myself — and whomever I’m venting to — feel worse.”
Today, these clinicians have found strategies that do work. And maybe some of their tools will work for you, too.
1. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
“Years ago, I told a friend that I was in a bad mood and she said, ‘Well, you are human and you are allowed,’” Marter said. This was a major revelation for her, because being in a bad mood wasn’t really “allowed” during her childhood.
“Being in a bad mood was viewed as not being ‘good’ or ‘nice’ and bred feelings that somehow I was bad, wrong [or] inadequate.”
Today, Marter gives herself permission to feel her feelings. “[T]his has been extremely liberating.”
Duffy, author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, also connects to his emotions, which has been significant for both his own life and clinical work. “I find that so many people are out of touch with themselves emotionally, and a big part of the fix for many of us lies in the allowing.”
Plus, feeling your feelings can promote positive changes. Marter’s feelings of anger and sadness turn into energy for important improvements like revising a boundary in a relationship or stopping a self-sabotaging behavior.
2. Tell your close ones how you feel.
To minimize conflict, Marter lets her husband, kids and anyone else in her inner circle know that she’s in a bad mood.
3. Lighten your load.
“I lighten my load by taking everything off my plate that isn’t absolutely necessary,” said Marter, who also authors the Psych Central blog “The Psychology of Success in Business.” She then focuses her attention on self-care, which includes exercising and getting enough sleep.
4. Improve your energy levels.
Years ago Hibbert read a book called Calm Energy, which shifted her view of bad moods. “Basically, the author believed that a bad mood really just means that you don’t have the energy level you need to deal with whatever’s in front of you.”
So when Hibbert is in a bad mood, she focuses on improving her energy levels. She does this in several ways:
She goes for a walk. “If I want to feel happier, I get moving. It clears my mind, helps me get out of ‘my problems,’ and increases my energy level.”
She takes a power nap. Even five minutes is helpful. She also never makes big decisions or talks about important issues when she’s exhausted. “I’m much more prone to be in a bad mood and to let that cloud my thinking than I will be after a solid night of sleep.”
And she does something enjoyable or relaxing, such as reading, swinging in a hammock, taking a bath or watching a show.
5. Change your chemistry.
“Change your chemistry, and you’ll change your life.” Clinical psychologist Deborah Serani, Psy.D, uses that saying to guide how she copes with bad moods. “When a murky mood hits, I always try to do something to shift my neurochemistry.”
For instance, if she’s passive, she’ll do something active. This “increases dopamine and oxytocin, feel-good hormones,” she said. If she’s agitated and irritable, which “involves spikes of the stress hormone cortisol,” she slows down and gets grounded.
6. Use a thought record.
“Learning to use a thought record changed my life,” said Hibbert, also a women’s mental health, postpartum and parenting expert. It helped her become aware of her thoughts and how they were creating her bad moods. “Now, when I hear myself saying certain ‘bad mood’ type of things, I can stop and change them before they really get me down.” (She talks about this in greater detail in this post.)
7. Engage your senses.
Serani, also author of the book Living with Depression, focuses on engaging her five senses. For instance, she savors a delicious meal or listens to music. She lights a candle, opens the window or rubs essential oils on her wrists and temples. She “find[s] a pool of sunshine to dwell in.” She wears comfortable clothes or wraps herself up in a velvety blanket.
8. Count your blessings.
Serani also practices gratitude. “I count my blessings, I take inventory of the good aspects in my life, not the issues that are weighing down on me. I appreciate what I have instead of coveting what I might not have.”
9. Remember bad moods are temporary.
Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., a psychotherapist, author and teacher, views bad moods for what they are: feelings that are fleeting. He said:
I have learned to pay a lot more attention to mood swings and see them as what Arnold Mindell describes to be “time spirits.” They are energies, inclinations and even emotional reactions in a given moment at a given place that are authentic, however only truly last a few seconds or minutes, but typically not an entire day or week.
Oftentimes we find ourselves in a funk and then seek the rationale or legitimacy necessary to stay there instead of connecting with the feeling for what it is, just a feeling.
A bad mood does not give us license to take out bad behavior on others or even expect others to cater to our mood.
These days, I seek to stay more conscious and present in my life so that noticing and honoring my moods actually allows me to feel more “here” instead of “there.”
Serani also reminds herself that “a bad day does not make a bad life.” And that’s certainly a good reminder for all of us.
Tartakovsky, M. (2013). Therapists Spill: How I Manage Murky Moods. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 9, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/therapists-spill-how-i-manage-murky-moods/