Have you been told to change your “bad mood”?

Here are some steps to figuring out your mood- and what to do if, indeed, you want to change it.

Our moods- or our feelings- can be extremely important in helping us understand ourselves, organize our behavior, know what matters, and have better relationships. One of the first steps to figuring out feelings is to be able to describe, understand, and put words on experience. Think beyond just being in a “bad mood”: Try figuring out what, exactly, you are feeling. Instead of thinking about your mood as bad or good, try approaching this task with curiosity. Are you down, flat, depressed, lethargic, or disinterested? Are you irritable, angry, frustrated or impatient? Are you struggling with loss or sadness? Remember that feelings give us information about ourselves, our situations, and the people around us.

Next, consider what is valid, relevant, and sensible about what you are feeling. Some reasons that others tell us to stop being in a “bad mood” is because they want us to behave a certain way. Consider this: If the person telling you to stop being in a “bad mood” got what they wanted, what specific action would that entail? If you stopped being in a “bad mood”, would you stop avoiding conflict, go to work, keep a relationship, participate fully in an activity, or attend a social event or function? We may know and understand our mood, and have a good reason to feel the way we feel, but our mood gets in the way of rising to the occasion and meeting an obligation.

Expressing negative feelings frequently or pervasively can hurt relationships; on the other hand never being to share our innermost pain can prevent us from having more meaningful and connected relationships. In other words, ranting, venting, or complaining can join people in their beef against the universe, while expressing vulnerability can increase caring and intimacy. Consider how acting or expressing how you feel works or doesn’t work for you. Does it bring you closer to the people you care about, or does it tend to push them away?

Next, consider if you want to change how you feel. Is someone else trying to get you to change how you feel? If so, trying to change how you feel can be much less effective.

One way to change how you feel is to act in ways that are incompatible with how you feel. In some situations, acting on how we feel can enable us to feel congruent and genuine with what is going on for us on a more personal level. However, sometimes moods are so pervasive that they interfere with our lives. If your “mood” is interfering with your ability to organize action, meet obligations, make deeper connections with others, keep relationships, or engage in meaningful activity, it might be time to experiment with alternative behaviors to shift gears, engage your brain differently, or do something you wouldn’t typically do.

Here are some suggestions: Express appreciations to other people, talk about what you value in the relationships you have, avoid “complaining”, practice not talking about anything negative, shift gears by doing an activity that demands your attention, shift gears by doing a something physical (washing dishes, raking leaves, taking care of a child), become invested in someone else’s problem or dilemma, try generating compassionate reasons for why people behave the way they do, soften your body and facial expression, wish other people well, do something that challenges you, do an activity you like or enjoy, or do an activity for someone else that they like or enjoy. Doing these things even if you don’t feel like it– may help you change your mood all by yourself.

Three things you need to know about anger: Is it mentally “healthy”?

The problem with figuring out if anger is “good” or “bad”; “healthy” or “unhealthy” doesn’t allow any opportunity to figure out what anger does, how it works, and why it makes sense.

Think of your living room couch. Is it a “good” couch or a “bad” couch? Wouldn’t it sort of depend on a bunch of different things- such as comfort, style, how old the couch is, how many people can fit on the couch, or if the couch actually suits you? Usually if a couch has a use, serves a purpose, or does what it is supposed to it is considered valuable. While it is possible that you are sick of your living room couch- perhaps you think it is time to get a new one- your couch may be necessary to hang on to for now. On the flip side, you may be very happy with your living room couch. This could make it more likeable and increase your tendency to say, “It is a good couch.”

Emotions- like anger- are like couches. Instead of thinking about anger as being “good” or “bad”, it is more important to consider the following:

How is anger serving a purpose, fulfilling a function, or doing something useful? Anger can function to communicate, get someone to back off or change behavior, or change a situation for the better. Think of it like a red flag, a signal, or a message.

Is the way in which the expression of anger is effective? In other words, is the way you communicate your anger working for you?  What a person can make use of their anger by being aware of it (experiencing, tolerating, and understanding what it does for them) it increases the opportunity for effective expression (ie, another person heard, understood, and responded accordingly). On the other side, ranting or attacking often hurts relationships and doesn’t always send a clear message about expectations or desired change.

What are the relationship consequences for how the anger is being expressed? Relationships at some point might undergo rifts, misunderstandings, and irritation. The ability for people to tolerate these things in relationships sometimes help people grow, initiate important discussions, and bring about change or intimacy. On the other hand, anger that is overly intense can damage relationships, hurt other people, or add insult to injury.

To say something or to say nothing: That is the question

Sometimes not speaking up leads to increased anxiety, agitation, helplessness, or feeling taken for granted. Sometimes it leads to feeling hopeless and overwhelmed.

Sometimes the experience of being “upset” is an indication to pay attention, take notice, and to take action. Sometimes self-defeating or problematic behaviors exist to communicate to oneself that something needs to change.

Sometimes, when upset, people will rant and rave about the problem to anyone who will listen, but they will avoid expressing anger directly towards the person with whom they are upset.

Here are a few things to remember:

If nothing is done to change a problem or situation, there is no good reason for it to change. In other words, not speaking out will not change problems.

There is a benefit to being able to tolerate some degree of tension in a relationship. It may be that you will put the information out there and the other party will not like it, will not tolerate well, will have reasons to dislike you because of it, or will punish you for making it explicit. Sometimes, if you put the information out there, it will be up to the other person to decide what to do with it. It is possible that they will have difficulty getting their mind around the information.

If you are thinking of speaking up about something that has been bothering you, how would you do it in such a way that you feel good about yourself? How would you address it without losing your self-respect?  Consider planning what you would say- then rehearse saying it with an emotional intensity that matches the message.

PS. (More information on matching emotional intensity to the message is available in the 7 steps for sailing through emotional storms- just join my mailing list!).

How to deal with angry people

If you are uncomfortable around angry people, don’t know what to do or say when other people express anger, are quick to avoid angry people, or become desperately eager to change the subject when the tone of the situation shifts to anger- then this blog post is for you.

First, if someone is very angry with you it is usually helpful if they are direct in their expression of their anger. It is much harder to address and solve problems when people are angry but will go out of their way to minimize, avoid, diminish, or deny that they are upset. When you know exactly what is in front of you, you will be able to figure out what you can and cannot do about it.

If someone is willing to be direct in their expression of anger, first try to simply understand what it is they are saying. This can be extremely difficult because if your integrity is threatened (or if you feel under attack) you will likely come across as guarded and defensive. It is hard to listen attentively and try to get accurate facts when emotional arousal is high. Conversations with angry people can be difficult, but if you can get through them skillfully you will be better equipped to navigate emotionally charged situations in the future.

Try to them to clarify what it is they expect, want, or anticipate happening. It is sometimes the case that people who are expressing anger are so emotional that they are not at all clear about what they want, what they expect, or what it is they are asking. If you are being attacked or criticized, try to diminish personal attacks and guide them towards stating their intentions or desires clearly. If personal attacks continue, you may want to suggest revisiting the conversation when they are done attacking you and are ready to work on problem solving.

Skills for clarification and understanding might include 1) summarizing what they are saying 2) asking them for correction or clarification 3) being willing to let them clarify or correct you. See if there is anything that might make sense from their point of view despite holding a different point of view. This may take multiple tries- and you may need to repeat these skills frequently throughout any one conversation.

Consider the intensity of emotional arousal. If a person feels as if someone is taking them seriously, listening, and working to understand them; their arousal will likely go down. When arousal is low enough for problem solving, then problem solving is much easier!

Next, realistically assess what can and cannot be changed and address the consequences. What can you possibly do to accommodate their request? What might you be willing to do differently? If you are a parent, supervisor, or other person in authority it is possible that you will not be able or willing to accommodate their request. Be honest and realistic with what you can and cannot do. Be gentle in laying out the facts for them. If they are still having difficulty accepting your decision, you may want to acknowledge disappointment, help them work on acceptance or alternative solutions, or encourage them to solve the problem differently. By doing this, you are showing that you are attentive to their concerns, care about the relationship itself, and can possibly be a resource when future conflicts occur. Hopefully you will have navigated an emotionally charged interaction without avoiding it, openly explored what could and could not be changed, and demonstrated that strong emotions can be tolerated without destroying the relationship.

Communicating anger without killing your audience

The blog post this week is for persons who have a hard time with anger. If you are a person who tends to rant and rave, gets in trouble with personal attacks, or comes across as interpersonally abrasive, this post is for you.

Communicating anger can be done effectively when the intensity of anger matches the message. Anger has to be at a manageable level. If you can get anger to go down, you may have a very strong point to communicate- but you’ve got to do it in such a way that anger works for you, instead of getting in your way. Here are some suggestions:

  • Soften your gaze, relax your face, and try smiling with half of your face.
  • Unclench your jaws and your fist, open your palms, and relax your body.
  • Stop glaring.
  • Be clear about what you want to communicate. Try stating it in a matter-of-fact but firm manner.
  • Slow down your breathing.
  • Try to pay attention to how your face communicates. A flat, impermeable look can be negatively interpreted or misinterpreted. (Notice if/how you are drawn to particular TV characters who have expressive faces).
  • Wiggle your eyebrows. Try shooting one eyebrow up.
  • Notice your tone of voice. Try singing what you want to say before you talk to the person. This will get you to notice your emotion in your voice and make it hard for you to hang on to the intensity of the anger. Another option is to use a cartoon voice.

If you act or behave in such a way that is incompatible with anger, you will have a pretty good chance of getting your anger to go down. Being clear, matter-of-fact, and firm; staying connected, rooted, and close to your inner wisdom can be a much more effective way to communicate anger than sarcasm, attacks, and rants.