How to Be the Boss of Your Mood Swings

Bad moods are impossible to avoid altogether, but we can help ourselves (and others in our wake!).
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Bad moods are impossible to avoid altogether, but we can help ourselves (and others in our wake!).

We all have those days where it seems like a dark cloud is hovering overhead from the moment we wake up. It’s easy to let your negative mood get the best of you. Your temper is shorter, your patience dwindles, and you find yourself easily annoyed or irritable.

While PMS is often blamed as the culprit for mood swings, there are many other reasons besides our periods for why you might be feeling particularly moody, ranging from stress, anxiety, and depression to something more in-the-moment such as receiving bad news.

The good news is that a bad mood doesn’t have to set the tone for the rest of the day. The trick to being the boss of your mood swings (rather than the other way around) is to have an action plan in place when a mood strikes. Think of this plan as an adult version of “turn that frown upside down.”

Recognize Your Triggers

Mood swings may seem to happen out of the blue for seemingly no reason, but there’s often something that happened to trigger them.

Maybe an email containing constructive criticism showed up in your inbox one moment and you find yourself snapping at a coworker the next. On the surface, these two events might not appear connected, but the negative emotions you experienced after reading the email probably left you feeling low, stressed, or defensive. In turn, this left you less tolerant of your well-meaning but slightly annoying coworker.

All it takes is a little self-reflection along the lines of asking yourself, “Why do I feel so stressed all of the sudden?” and working your way backwards on the timeline of your day until you find a potential trigger. In my work as a therapist, this is one of the most valuable exercises that I encourage my patients to use. If we know why our mood took a turn for the worse, we have the information we need to cope with it.

Get Enough Sleep

If mood swings are a regular occurrence, your sleep schedule could be to blame. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University notes that sleep and mood are closely connected. One study cited found that anxiety, depression, and mental distress are correlated with chronic sleep issues. Participants in the study who slept four hours a night reported declining levels of optimism and sociability. These levels improved when the participants returned to a normal sleeping schedule.

If you aren’t getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, you might be making it harder on yourself to be the boss of your mood. Try making quality sleep a priority (you can even enlist your smartphone on this quest) so that you’re at your best when life throws stressful moments your way.

Seek Out Something Fun

A study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital found that participants who were in a bad mood were more likely to seek out activities that boost their mood, what they call the "hedonic flexibility principle". The article notes, "Specifically, the model shows that people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities such as playing sport when they felt bad, and engage in useful, but mood-decreasing activities such as doing housework when they felt good."

Use these findings to your advantage and, at the first sign of moodiness, try doing something you enjoy. Chatting with a friend or coworker, going for a quick walk, watching a cute baby animal video (bunnies in cups, anyone?), or listening to your favorite song, can help you get your mind off of whatever is bothering you and boost your mood at the same time. It helps break the cycle of dwelling on what’s bothering you and perpetuating a negative mood. It's a great excuse to engage in a healthy distraction to help you get back on track.

Hangry? Eat Something

It turns out that there’s a scientific basis for being hangry (hungry and angry). Hunger means low glucose, which makes it harder to regulate emotions. Hence, your emotional fuse gets shorter when you’re hungry.

But don’t head for the vending machine just yet. Choose foods known for their mood-boosting power. A study published in The British Journal of Health Psychology found that the more fruits and vegetables participants consumed during the week, the greater their sense of well-being, curiosity, and creativity. There’s even research that supports the finding that dark chocolate is beneficial because it can help raise mood-boosting serotonin and endorphins in your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important mood regulators. Research has shown that individuals with low levels of Omega-3 can experience fatigue, poor memory, mood swings, and depression. So the next time you feel your mood taking a turn for the worse, consider your eating habits.

Don’t let a momentary bad mood ruin your day. When you recognize that moodiness is making an unwelcome appearance, it’s time to take ownership and launch your action plan. Whether that’s managing stress, identifying your triggers, snacking on some protein, or doing something fun, you can be the boss and turn your mood around for the better.

Photo Credit: The Mullers