Joyce Marter, LCPC, PsychCentral: Large and rapidly moving, ominous clouds of negativity roll into my mind, infuse my thoughts and deeply darken my mood. As I exhale, I feel the irritability fume from my nostrils like fiery smoke from a dragon’s. As I bristle with defensiveness and hostility, I feel the energetic spikes of anger jet from my spine, creating a non-verbal warning to others to steer clear. My eyes narrow and shoot lasers of fury. My tongue sharpens and my words become cutting and biting. As waves of anger ripple through my body, my energy and power grows. My walk becomes a stomp and I can almost feel the slash of my tail as I move, determined to defend myself and survive anything that comes my way.
“I’m in a bad mood today,” I said to my dear friend and colleague.
I feared she could see the dragon, was ashamed of my rage, and wanted to give her warning of my mood-state to protect our relationship.
“Really? You seem totally fine,” she said.
Interestingly, more often than not, others do not see the dragon. I have spent a lifetime hiding her and have apparently gotten quite good at it.
“Anyway, you are entitled to be in a bad mood with what you have going on,” she added.
What? Entitled to be in a bad mood? This was a radical new concept to me, and one that changed my life.
Growing up in my family, it was never acceptable to be in a bad mood. Angry feelings were not viewed as normal responses to life events, rather they were viewed as bad behavior. I was expected to be the happy, good girl. My feelings of anger were often invalidated. Subsequently, feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety were internalized.
Would my dragon exist had I been allowed to experience and express normal feelings of anger?
As I move through my own personal psycho-spiritual journey, I consciously strive for self-compassion for my negative feelings and less desirable aspects of self. I’m dedicated to a life aligned with love for self and others.
Because we are human, anger and foul moods are a natural and normal part of life. However, they need not be shameful nor destructive. They can be navigated and managed successfully, with little or no harm to any.
After 20 years of counseling clients and being dedicated to my own personal work, I recommend the following to pull out of a bad mood:
1) Don’t fight it. Fighting a bad mood is like flailing in water when drowning or panicking in quicksand—it makes things worse. Simply be mindful of your mood-state and accept that, “it is as it is.” (It’s important to note that I am referring to a “bad mood” and not depression, which requires treatment by a qualified mental health professional.)
2) Look for the lesson. Was there a trigger for the bad mood? Is there a hidden blessing or something to be learned? For example, I often get in a bad mood when I have over-extended and have not set healthy boundaries for myself. Sometimes negative consequences are opportunities for learning and growth.
3) Embrace it. Anger can be mobilizing, energizing and empowering. I secretly sometimes love my dragon energy. Man, do I get stuff done when I am in that state. I’m fearless and determined—-aspects of that can feel quite good and work to my benefit. Ask yourself, how can your negative mood state work to your advantage?
4) Understand that your feelings are always normal. Our feelings may be irrational, but they are always normal responses to our nature and our nurture. Sometimes a current event taps into a well of old feelings from the past, so our emotional response appears disproportionate to the event, but is actually understandable when you consider the full picture.
5) Cut yourself some slack. Nobody is perfect and we are all works in progress. Practice a mantra such as, “I am only human and I am doing the best that I can.” Accept and forgive yourself as you would your best friend or somebody you love very much.
6) Bring your attention to the present. Don’t exacerbate your bad mood by ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or meditation to reboot your mind, body and spirit.
7) Pay attention to your thinking. You can observe your negative thoughts and choose not to listen to them. Look for anything good, as gratitude promotes positivity. Compassionately coach yourself through the mood (i.e. “It’s completely understandable that you are upset…Take one thing at a time…It’s going to be okay,” etc.
8) Take pause. Give yourself a mental time out. A bad mood is a good time to take a walk around the block or shut your office door to have a few quiet moments. It’s not a good time to initiate important conversations about work or relationships! Let loved ones know that your not at your best and hold your tongue so you don’t say things you will regret later.
9) Infuse yourself with self-care. Think of it like an epi-pen shot of self-love. Give yourself what you need, even if it is as simple as a good cup of coffee, a yummy meal, a bubble bath or an early night to bed. Keep the self-care healthy, as drinking and shopping and other compulsive behaviors can masquerade as self-care but may be more harmful in the end. Think of it as being your own good parent and take loving care of yourself.
10) Tell people what you need. Don’t expect others to be mind-readers or you might end up in an unwanted conflict. Use assertive communication to ask for support or space, depending on your needs.
11) Know that you are not your anger. You might feel like you are the dragon, but you are not. You the unique spirit of light and love that your anger is temporarily eclipsing.
12) Understand, this too, shall pass. Like the waves of the tide, your moods ebb and flow. You can trust in the ways of the universe—your low mood will lift in time.
The more you practice self-compassion and self-care, the sooner your spikes and claws will retract and the dark clouds will clear from your mind. Inner peace and serenity will be restored. That is, until the tides change and life presents you with another lesson…
“Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves.” ~Carol Lynn Pearson