When Feeling Down Moods color our worlds, keeping us down BY Troy Murphy |June 2016
Stock Adobe Royalty Free Images
Throughout the days, weeks and years, we flow through a medley of moods, shifting back and forth, up and down. Some moods linger; others quickly pass. Some moods gently shadow others forcefully intrude. Moods become the backdrop of experience. Our life happenings and our subsequent interpretations significantly influence our moods; and our moods significantly influence our interpretations. Round and round moods, experiences, and interpretations go each independent but each complexly intertwined.
Moods are biological. We can’t force the body to chemically respond differently by adjusting a knob; working with moods is more complex. By approaching our moods—the moods we have little control over—with hostility, we create additional turmoil. We further perturb the irritant mood, adding non-acceptance to a feeling—our feeling, part of our experience. If we reject all discomfort as wrong, grappling to force correction on all negative experience, we disconnect from healthy feeling. The effort to desensitize feelings to avoid the ache of sorrow, we also lose sensitivity to enjoy pleasure. Denying emotions expression through feeling—whether passing emotions or lingering base moods—doesn’t dismiss their presence. They exist in the body. Desensitizing feelings disconnects us from their ancient wisdom.
Moods and emotions constrain and motivate behavior. Emotions are essential in survival for all living organisms. Our consciousness of emotion (a function of the cerebral cortex) arrived later in the evolutionary chain of human existence, pushing emotional elements into the brainstem doesn’t eliminate their function. Emotions are more reactive to experience, receiving inputs from the senses micro-moments before thinking intrudes. In the search for happiness, we cannot wish away the constraints of biological existence. We cannot force our bodies to chemically react different than their biologically and experientially programming. With acceptance, we appreciate the highs and gracefully accept the lows.
But we hate it. We don’t want to feel yucky. Instead of gracefully accepting the nuisance of displeasure, we try force emotions into submission, manipulating feelings into something they are not. This internal conflict—a self-rejection—creates more drama and more discomfort, alarming the body that something is wrong. Self-rejecting systems slowly stagnate and die. With focused energy on ridding normal emotional responses and lingering moods, we employ maladaptive thinking, intervene in the normal responses, we re-label, readjust and distort experience, making everything appear a little rosier and much less disturbing. But reality remains unchanged.
While we cannot physically, by sheer will, change a mood, we can influence moods indirectly by forming healthier environments that encourage enjoyable emotions. The friends we choose, the relationships we engage in, and the stability in finances we create significantly affects external environment. We also can examine the mental maps—internal environment—that organizes and creates meaning. Unrealistic expectations, lack of personal compassion, and harsh self-criticism all dampen experience, and spark discouraging emotions. There is a subtle but important difference between creating a positive atmosphere and completely rejecting anything less than joyous.
Recognizing moods and emotions slightly changes the felt experience, creating space for expression. Recognizing a low mood helps identify the moods influence on perceptions. When I am sad, I know the world appears a little darker. I’m able to separate from these dismal perceptions, knowing the mood is partially responsible. Understanding moods reign of control, I refrain from speaking hurtful comments, damaging important relationships, while I am clearly misinterpreting experience through the dreary lens of sorrow, or anxiety, or anger, or frustration. We misperceive other people’s intentions when taxed with painful emotions and distressing moods. Our actions and words escape with an added sharpness offending. Hurting our beloveds creates more tension and further deteriorates the mood. We must remember the low mood colors mundane interactions with deep meanings that don’t exist. When we recognize this, we can separate catastrophic interpretations from actual happenings.
Our understanding is not complete. A relationship is between two living beings, with individual dynamic experiences, involving individual moods and emotions. Recognizing a low mood in a partner, prepares our minds to respond less defensively when they make a sullen or cutting remark; we realize the mood is coloring their perception.
When we understand the power moods cast on perceptions, we no longer blindly serve the mood, protecting our hurtful words with ridiculous justifications. We may let a few cutting remarks escape, but with understanding, we own our words and apologize for their hurt. With greater awareness, we avoid relationship problems that moods intensify. Through graceful acceptance of low moods, we kindly create a better environment, nurturing enjoyable moods but still allowing all moods to give their appropriate wisdom and then gently fade away.
We will occasionally experience the blues—the normal malaise of ordinary living; but with balance, we disentangle from the extreme waves of sadness, anger and discouragement. By distrusting faulty perceptions and clinging to hope of a brighter tomorrow, the difficult feelings become manageable. We may even discover that during moments of sadness a subtle feeling of peace still shines through. ~Troy Murphy