Thursday, October 13, 2011


Every bad mood has a physical component. Have you ever thought about it?

Those who insist on compartmentalizing emotion, as if it were separate in some way from body and mind, will focus (when in a bad mood) on the cause of the crankiness, for instance a big fight with a partner or someone at work, traffic jam, gloomy weather, bad news of every kind, etc.

But in truth, the bad mood was already firmly in place before the arguments or traffic. Life's circumstances act as fuel for the ill humor, but it was already there, waiting. If you're in a good mood, you'll simply crank up the stereo when the traffic jams occur, car dance until you get moving again. At work or with your partner, if you're feeling chipper (love that expression) you are more likely to be compassionate, to listen, and thereby avoid blaming and/or bumping heads.

When you get angry, it's not because of external circumstance. You were already angry. You know that expression, "Woke up on the wrong side of the bed," ? Yeah. It was there, waiting for a trigger. Some days it's only matter of another person looking at you funny; suddenly you're furious, judgmental. The temptation to blame the other is very compelling, but it never actually helps the mood. In fact, blaming external circumstance tends to make the mood even worse.

Bad moods (like every kind of mood) are complicated combinations of physiological, psychological and experiential circumstances. The psychological and experiential aspects of a foul mood are difficult to change. A traffic jam is a traffic jam, yes? But you can pay attention to the physical symptoms and circumstances. Sometimes simply by attending to the physical components of the mood, it's possible to turn things around.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed often occurs after a bad night of sleep. Sleep is so important! Sometimes it's possible to trace a bad mood to a head or stomach ache. Sometimes those symptoms are very low level, hard to track. A hint of queasiness, constipation, heartburn, conditions you're likely not to notice, can be the foundation of terrible moods. In the aftermath of eating too much of anything, but especially sugar, bad moods are common. Too much caffeine is initially exiliarating, but a couple of hours later? When blood sugar crashes, so will your mood. Oh yeah. Need I even mention the impact of hangovers? Remorse, at the very least, is always part of a hangover. Hunger, too, contributes to bad moods. Are you on some kind of crazy diet? No wonder you're cranky!

Just as culpable are the symptoms that follow an injury. You stubbed your toe and now it aches, so it's harder to walk, or, for that matter, do anything. That nagging pain could put Mother Teresa in a bad mood, hey? A stiff neck, back-ache and other muscular or skeletal pain, acts as a trigger for all kinds of bad moods. Think of phrases like, pain in the neck. Try to remember it's YOUR neck that hurts, it isn't the boss, partner, dog or situation at hand. Same goes for pain in the ass. That's YOUR ass that's hurting. Yeah.

Lethargy and depression are, if you ask me, the same condition. When I'm in a mood, if I can remember to get up, go outside and walk around briskly for awhile, or take a big bike ride, I will inevitably become more cheerful. People who exercise regularly are happier than those who don't. When those people can't exercise for one reason or another, stay away from them because lord, they get so irritable! Yikes.

There's no way to avoid bad moods altogether; it's part of our heritage as human beings. I always smile when I hear people say, There's no point in getting worked up about this, or some similar phrase. Moods are not rational, and will not disappear through the great, tyrannical powers of logic, no matter how much you might wish it. This approach is denial, pure and simple. Try as hard as you can, you can not think your way through a mood.

But you can attend to the physical aspects, if you pay attention. Instead of pointing your finger at another person or a situation over which you have no control, sit instead with your sensations for awhile. Does your stomach hurt? When was the last time you got out for a nice walk? How did you sleep last night? These are things you can attend to, if not control.

See, there are so many reasons to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. It isn't just about physical health, nope. Living well will make you a happier person, I guarantee it.

Be well today. Life is good. Shalom.


The Bug said...

This is so true! I woke up Monday morning with a pain in my side that actually makes walking difficult (it hurts when I move - and is VERY tender to the touch - but doesn't hurt when I'm sitting still). I was getting depressed because I've been trying to walk without my cane & this new pain makes it very hard. Oh woe is me! I'll never walk right again!

Then I figured out that it's this pain that's making me so annoyed with my recovery. Doesn't help me walk properly, but makes me realize that I haven't had a setback - it's just a pulled muscle or some such (I assume).

Anyway, the point is that feeling bad physically always affects my mood - but I haven't always really been aware of that. Thanks for helping me realize it!

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm sorry you're having aches and pains even now, though of course that's part of healing. If it doesn't dissipate, have someone make sure you're ok, OK?

Shelley said...

I understand what you mean about being in a great mood, and not being affected by traffic jams, or long lines and such...but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, sometimes it's hard to separate the external and internal connections.

I can be in a wonderful mood, happy and un-phased by any sort of external annoyance UNTIL my husband takes a snarky, sarcastic, or just plain mean or angry verbal or emotional jab at me, and my good mood absolutely vaporizes in a surge of rage, or tears, or both.

My throat closes up and aches, I get a physical pain in my heart, my stomach knots up and my joyful feelings are completely overwhelmed in either anger or sorrow.

How does that tie in with what you are saying? I wasn't angry, I was not having any pain or physical symptom UNTIL the argument or sarcastic attack.

I guess maybe when it's a personal relationship issue, the anger is lurking under the surface, but just isn't apparent and doesn't affect me, until the emotional button is pushed?

Reya Mellicker said...

In close relationships there is a level of merging that further complicates everything. I will write about that today, Shelley. Thanks for your wise comment!

Reya Mellicker said...

Shelley I'm trying to write about this, but having some trouble.

Here are some questions for you. You do not owe me any answers! These are for you.

How is it that you're unaware of the fact that your husband is about to attack you? When people are angry or whatever, it is usually pretty easy to sense that or notice certain postures, facial expressions or other indicators. When I'm around angry people, I put my shields up! Do you know how to do that? You don't have to take every punch, you know that, right?

What leads up to these attacks? Is your husband desperate for you to understand he is suffering? Does he have to get ballistic for you to notice? Or is there some cruel dynamic he is playing out, maybe someone was cruel to him in the past, so it feels "normal" to treat you so poorly?

How do you respond to the attacks? Is there some way you could unhinge this kind of exchange? Could you sidestep the attack, then with compassion suggest he go out for a big walk, come back when he's calmer? Or could you go out for a big walk, take some deep breaths and let go of his pain. You don't have to take it on!

Oh. That wasn't a question.

Behavior such as what you describe does not come out of the nowhere. Something was already happening for him before the attack. If I were you, I would learn to notice when something in him is coming to boil. Then I would sidestep the attack, allow him his feelings without taking them on.

God, I make it sound so easy! It is not!! A good therapist can help you create better boundaries. A good couples therapist could help both of you dismantle this dynamic.

I hope you will turn it around. Misery may love company but you don't need to take on his condition, you really don't. Wishing all the best for you! Thank you for the comment.

Shelley said...

Reya, thank you so much for yourinsightful questions and taking the time to consider and respond to my comment.

I will deeply ponder all the things you have suggested. Almost everything you said resonated with me in some way.

I would actually like to answer your questions, as it would help me get some clarity on the situation, and I value your input and perspective immensely (however this probably is not the place for that).

Reya Mellicker said...

Shelley, you can email through Facebook (I'm the only Reya Mellicker on FB. Wow.) Or is there somewhere I can email you? If you post an address here, I'll remove the comment after getting your address. xx

Shelley said...

Reya, I sent you a message with my email address via Facebook. Thanks for suggesting that. Let me know if you get it.

Val said...

i hope you can work this out Shelley; wishing you strength and clarity

Shelley said...

Thank you, Val. This isn't a new situation. We have been together since we were 19, and we're 58 horrible times, and everything in between.

Strength and clarity is definitely what I need now (perhaps with that will come the ability to remain peaceful inside while the storms are raging). I can't change anyone but myself, but it seems to be human nature sometimes to wish otherwise.

Shelley said...

No idea what happened...That last post got a bit garbled...It should have said:

We have been together since we were 19, and we're 58 now. We've had wonderful times, horribly challenging times, and everything in between.

Reya Mellicker said...

Shelley I did not receive your message. Maybe you have to "friend" me first. Or you could leave your email address here; I'll delete the message once I've picked up your address. I'll keep an eye out here so your address is not floating around. x

Shelley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Val said...

hi Shelley - it seems there could be historic patterns and possibly well used buttons to push? As Reya says you need to work on your boundaries so you can step back and assess things more clearly. Could it be that husbands mood swings are linked to health issues? maybe he should have a check up too if you can suggest that.
I know Reya will give you the best advice, so just to say I hear you, and I know how hard and confusing this is! It seems like you have reached a point where you are ready to change this pattern.All the best to you and remember to breathe x

Reya Mellicker said...

What wonderful advice, Val!! Thank you.

Shelley said...

Val, you are so right. There's so much history and emotional baggage and well-used buttons that we both push too frequently.

The mood swings have always been an issue, just worse now...male menopause maybe?

I am so ready to change our relationship pattern though, and just talking about it is helping me to get some clarity. Thanks for listening.