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By Katie Marshall
It’s easy to slip into a bad mood. The thing about bad moods, though, is that they are comprised of thoughts. A mood is like the weather. Often, we think of bad moods as a thunderstorm and feel overwhelmed. However, a mood is in fact the culmination of many small thoughts. One rain drop is not so bad. A million is a storm.
An important thing to remember is that you can choose your own thoughts. You can create your own weather. With practice and diligent awareness, you can work your way out of a bad mood. You can get unstuck.
Let’s start with the two hardest things: doing nothing and asking for help.
1. Do nothing. (Yes, really.)
There is a thought that says the best way to let mud clear is to leave it be; mud clears out of water on its own. It is tremendously difficult to do nothing. Think about it: even when you are “doing nothing” you are doing a million things: watching Netflix (most likely), or at least breathing, and most importantly, thinking. Bad moods, for me at least, generally come from the anxiety of not being in control. When you do nothing – when you decide to wait for two co-workers to resolve an issue over an email chain on their own rather than calling them both to a meeting or when you wait for the light to change to green rather than shifting dangerously into another lane to get moving faster – you relinquish your control. You accept that things will happen as they will. You give yourself the space to breathe. Time moves differently when you’re anxious. When you do nothing, you allow your brain to operate at a normal time.
2. Admit when you need help. Acceptance is just acknowledging the situation for what it is. It doesn’t mean you have to like it.
Another doozy. I’m not great at this one. I imagine myself as a warrior queen who needs little to no help; asking for help feels like weakness. I am learning, however, that it is in fact one of the strongest and bravest things you can do. Loneliness is a cruel beast. It convinces us that we are alone. There is something scientific in the fact that when you feel lonely, you are less willing to reach out to someone. Use your problem or frustration as an opportunity to connect with someone else. Be brave enough to admit when you need help. Help will always be given to those who ask for it.
Now that we’ve gotten through the big ones, what else can we do to transform a bad mood thunderstorm into a clear, sunny day (or snowy weekend, or rainy Sunday – if that’s your thing)?
3. Evacuate the dance floor. (Alternatively, drop it like it’s hot.)
Sometimes, you just need to go. Listen to your instincts that tug at hand, guiding you internally toward the door. Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Here, let’s reverse that thought. If you’re not going to get rid of your anger, see if you can change your surroundings. Change is just as helpful as rest.
We’re taught that giving up is failure. That leaving is flighty. I hope you have the guts to keep leaving until you’re where you want to be.
4. Check in with your body.
Are you hungry? When was the last time you drank water? If you work in an office, when was the last time you went outside? Do a physical check of everything going on inside of you. Often when I was frustrated as a child, my mom would say, “You’re not angry, you’re just tired.” This used to annoy me further, until I realized that she was right. Your body is your home. When it is in disarray or not taken care of, you can’t operate at your optimum level.
5. Identify the emotions hiding beneath the ones that you’re expressing.
Anger is a secondary emotion, which is to say that it happens in response to a primary emotion, such as fear or sadness. Often, situations can stimulate a primary emotion, but we jump to anger because it feels like armor. If you are regularly angry at things, ask yourself why that might be. If your morning commute is full of your road rage, think back to a time when you were late and what happened. Was it something painful? Or, have you been in a car accident before? Before anything else, you have to know yourself. When you get into that certain mood, ask yourself, is this an on-going feeling? When else do you feel this way? Is there a pattern? It is important to be honest when answering these questions. Remember that there is no shame in being honest with yourself. It is the first step to moving forward.
6. Get help from the people who know how to give it.
If you are honest with yourself and come to the conclusion that you need help, please know how supported you are in asking for it. Counselors, therapists, psychologists, nutritionists – the list of who can help you find what you are looking for is long. Empower yourself by connecting with them.
7. Motivate yourself with the promise of future peace. (And make good on that promise.)
If you are frustrated with a boring task, motivation can be difficult to locate. Often, we can push ourselves through this situation by finding fulfillment in the task. However, sometimes it’s really bad, like, filling out an Excel worksheet bad. In these cases, I find it helpful to put something wonderful on the other side of the task at hand. What brings you joy? What gives you that feeling that you are free? What makes you smile? Decide that you will do those things, or at least something enjoyable and gratifying once your task is done.
8. Pump up the jams.
Music can amplify any situation. It’s why the best dramatic scenes have a building crescendo and why you plug your ears during high-tension moments in horror movies. The music makes the moment. Most of us listen to music that amplifies our current mood. You just went through a break up, so it’s Adele on repeat. However, doing this leaves us where we are. What if music was more than art? What if it was a tool to get us where we want to go? The next time you reach for your music, choose music for the mood you want to be in; not necessarily the one you are in.
Laughter is critical for our survival. It alleviates stress – you know that – but do you know why? Laughter encourages humility and acceptance. When you’re tangled in a web of complication or anxiety over a relatively small thing (your pants are still damp after the dryer cycle, for example), it’s easy for your ego to kick in and start the usual litany that gets us stuck: why is this happening to me? I just needed this one thing to work out. I am too good for this to be happening. I don’t deserve this. When you hear these thoughts come knocking, keep the door closed, and laugh. A little bit of nonsense is good for the soul. Laughing brings you back to your truest, most joyful, and most humble self. Laugh when you can; well and often. You will feel a difference.
10. Send out kindness. Give it most especially where you least want to.
What we send out, we receive. I know this to be true especially of kindness. When you are at your lowest, think about how you could help someone else find joy a little easier. Could you compliment someone on social media? Could you plan and execute a random act of kindness? It doesn’t take much – money or energy – to pay for someone’s meal when they are behind you in the fast food line. Try it one time. I promise you that the result is worth whatever awkwardness you may feel when asking the drive-through worker to pay for the person behind you.
11. Return to your physical/mental/emotional center.
What is something that you believe to be true about the world? Not the weird specific things you hold on to from life experiences, like how you believe guys with man buns make better boyfriends. But the big things. The quiet things. The things that you realize when you’re looking at a beautiful mountain scene or the ocean. If you believe, truly and completely, that everything in this life happens for a reason, remind yourself of that. Remember that for everything to happen for a reason, then literally everything – from sleeping through your alarm to the sneeze on the elevator – happened for a reason. Trust in your truths.
12. Keep a weather eye on the silver lining.
Some things are not terrible, but they just really suck. Bed bugs. Losing your debit card. Having a flight cancelled. In these moments, you can wallow. But you can also look for opportunities. Matthew Keith Groves once said, “Replace the word “problem” with the word “opportunity” in all your thoughts.” What can happen when you look at a bad situation for the opportunity it could provide? Difficulty inspires us to create. Look for the good in the annoying and the possibility in the problem.
Life can be hard. That much we know is true. But remember: perception shapes reality. You can choose your thoughts. You can create your own weather.
Image: Alagich Katya