Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Mood

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of those days where inexplicably you wake up in a bad mood? Apropos of absolutely nothing you're a grump? Yeah, me neither. Honestly, who wants to admit to that? Fine, I will. Yes, periodically for no good reason I just wake up and feel like something is wrong, that I’m wrong, and that life is bleak.

When that happens I do a quick inventory to see if there's something I’m not dealing with, some issue lurking below the surface like a shark trolling for a seal to snack on. If there is I allow myself the time to just be in it. To feel what I feel and work through it. Not too long, but long enough to acknowledge it.  Sometimes that involves a good cry, the utterance of a few choice expletives, railing against the universe, and then, like a thunderstorm it passes.

Then there are days, like the one I woke up to today, where there's no good reason at all for being unhappy, and probably not a lot of fun to be around.

The thing is we have some control over our moods. We're not victims to them. We have the power to change them and rescue our day from the clutches of grumpdom. Of course I am not talking about depression, a bad mood doesn’t affect your life in a big way, well, unless you’re a habitual grump, a bad mood will pass, and the good news is you can do some things to help it scurry along. And unlike some unhealthy behaviors, like binge eating, drinking or lashing out at others, these are things that are good for you.

When I’m besieged by irritability, there are a handful of strategies I pull out of my tool box, and whether one is more effective than another depends on you. I think it’s a combination of many things. Like building a sandwich, pick the ingredients that appeal to you. Great, now I want a sandwich.

In a bad mood? Try all, or some of these:

Exercise. We all know how exercise releases endorphins, those are feel good hormones. Whether it’s hitting the gym, a yoga class, going for a walk or whatever activity pleases you, getting your blood pumping changes your brain chemistry and is often all that’s needed to feel better.

Help someone: When I was feeling crabby I went to the grocery store. As I was walking into the store I saw an elderly woman with a cart full of bags, also tucked into the cart was a cane. I offered to help her put them in her car, learned she’d been a ballerina, had family coming for the weekend, and had grandchildren who loved cereal. She was so grateful for the help, and I smiled as I wheeled her cart back to the store. Hold doors open, pay for someone’s coffee, let someone in the endless line of traffic. Doing good makes you feel good.

Gratitude: You can't be sulky and grateful at the same time. Sit for a few minutes and think of three things you’re grateful for. Really feel it. Think of people you love, who love you, your cat or dog, a lovely meal you had the night before, anything that sparks some joy and heartfelt gratitude in you.

Breathe: Yes, you’re breathing all the time. But being consciously aware of your breath is something else. There are many types of breathing exercises, but a simple one I use is to making my exhales twice as long as my inhales. It calms my nervous system and changes the jagged feeling I get when I’m aggravated and my breathing is shallow. Take a deep breath. Yes, right now. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Don’t you feel better?

Meditate:Slowing down and letting thoughts drift by as you focus on breath calms you and gets you out of the cycle you’re in. Take ten, fifteen or twenty minutes to just be.

Music: Ah, good music is some of the best medicine there is. For some it might be classical, for someone else headbanging rock, or maybe you feel good when you listen to music that makes you want to dance! Find your own jam and turn it on.

Podcasts or books: Stay away from anything political or upsetting. There’s lots and lots of positive messages out there. Find one that resonates with you. I listen to spiritual podcasts, humorous ones and helpful non-fiction books. Escaping into another world is a good way to get out of your negative space.

Take the time to try one or all of these ideas. The good thing about a bad mood is it doesn’t last. For me, just knowing I don’t have to let my mood take control, and that I have the power makes an enormous difference.

So later, after going to the gym and helping the lovely woman at the grocery store, and after meditating, thinking about how grateful I am for so many things in my life, I noticed I was no longer grumbling. I was actually happy. And everyone I encountered after that was I’m sure grateful as well because just like a bad cold, grumpiness is very contagious.