Years ago, while sitting in the Philosophy class in college and feeling very important and profound, we had asked questions to each other. One question doing the rounds was one of the biggest cliches in the world: “Are you the person who sees life as a glass half full or half empty?” “That would depend on our mood, no?” someone had said. “When you are generally feeling rotten about yourself, lying around stuffing your face, staring at the TV screen, your friends land up to drag you out for some fun. Or, better still, the guy you’ve been eyeing for so long decides to call you and, suddenly, the glass which was not even half filled, now starts overflowing!”
Quick-silver feelings that take us through big highs and awful lows in a span of a few hours are a fact of life. A roller coaster ride: A sense of relief, a feeling of calmness, love, confidence or feeling creative. Or, then boredom, restlessness, shame, guilt, or even numbness. Our moods make us the people that we are. Moods influence our behaviour, relationships, and our way of living as well as our psychological, emotional and physical health.
Moods are supposed to be the effect of emotions on our subconscious mind. But they are different from emotions. They are less specific, less intense and generally last for a few hours. Moods also differ from temperament or personality traits, which are even more general and long-lasting. Moods are internal and very subjective.
Our thinking affects our moods, and our moods affect our behaviour. When in a good mood, we are wiser, have a better perspective, deal with difficult problems creatively, listen with concentration, deal with others effectively and hope for the better. But attack on our minds can come from the stress of survival, work, family-life, illness. Such pressures end up putting us in a ‘bad mood’. We are then the face of blues, a personification of grumpiness or a perpetual case of PMS, no matter what our gender and age–crabby, on a short fuse.
While on gender, it is known that moods seem different for men and women. More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle, in his Historia Animalium observed that reproductive organs possess factors that can alter behaviour. While PMS and Post Partum Depression have been disputed by those who have not suffered from it, those who do, know how valid it is. In an interesting study carried out in Canada last year, titled Why Men Get Drunk and Women Get Depressed, it was found that male children and adolescents learn to cope by distraction, and from this comes the predisposition to drink, once these boys grow to be men. Behavioural scientists also say that female minds ruminate longer over the stress-causing issues than minds of males.
The expression of moods differs. Men are known to suppress their moods more, because their expression is considered a sign of weakness. Women express themselves more freely. However, this also depends on the society that one lives in. In more traditional societies, the expression of a mood like anger by women is frowned upon while men get away with it easily.
Moods are the effect of emotions on our subconscious mind. But they are different from emotions.
World over, women are said to be more susceptible to mood disorders than men. However, people of artistic inclination are also said to suffer from violent mood swings irrespective of their gender. The list is long and contains many famous names: T S Eliot, Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemmingway, Charles Dickens, and Vincent Van Gogh. All of them are examples of how inconstant moods can become a powerful crucible of imagination and creativity.
Most of us can improve our moods if we know why they have occurred. Once we know that, we can make changes in our life, leading to a better mood and more energy. Thayer writes, “Moods intrude into our consciousness, and bad moods often motivate us to take action.” People self-regulate their moods in a variety of ways, using behaviour therapy, sugars and other foods, as well as drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. But all people aren’t the same. Significant differences can be found between young and old, professionals and non-professionals, educated or otherwise, and even different weight types, and levels of introversion and extroversion.”
There are no solutions etched in stone. There are, however, general guidelines to manage your moods better:
Research shows that exercise is more effective as a way of overcoming a bad mood than prescribed drugs. Exercise causes a release of dopamine, adrenaline/epinephrine and serotonin, which are the body’s natural painkillers and anti-depressants.
Studies have shown that our bad moods are the worst for our bodies. Comfort foods, typically high in sugar and fat, make us feel worse when waistlines expand. Nutritionists say that vitamin B complex (folic acid, B6 and B12) is important, when it comes to brain, and nervous system, functions. Good sources of B vitamins are lean meats, whole grains and leafy vegetables. Salmon, tuna and flaxseed are some of the more bountiful sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help improve mood and brain function.
Unless you are leaning towards serious depression, being proactive about lightening your mood would include taking up a creative hobby, music, art, seeking out humorous writing, cinema, cartoons, forging better friendships, or even helping someone else feel better. The right colours and a great weather are also known to influence your moods.
Nothing to beat irritability like adequate rest and enough sleep.
Meditation or mental stillness, spiritual reflection and yoga have proved to be very effective. It is no accident that people, who meditate daily, report lower stress levels and better moods.
Most important is the awareness of how your mood changes – if there’s a pattern, what improves it and whether the vehicle of change is healthy or not.
At the first sign of a bad mood or sadness stretching over weeks or months, make an appointment with a mental health expert. Blues are not the best hue of life and there is no shame in getting well, is there?