The Art of Decoding Moods

20/05/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 20/07/2014 10:59 BST

I'm driving to work the other day and I feel something come over me, like a dark blanket. It's a mood alright and it snakes its way in like some odorless tasteless gas and before my eyes it has enveloped me. I hear myself saying "So what's the point of all this?" I'm knee deep in a dark hole and I am shocked because I know better, but there it is in all its irrational glory. I begin a process that I am quite familiar with now which is to go back in time to see what caused it. I start to add up all the small and large things that have happened to me recently and I find the triggers. I also remember the good things and I look at the sky and feel into the essence of my life and why I'm in it the way I am and it starts to fade a bit. I talk to myself in that understanding way that I have fashioned over the years and it eases some more. Funnily enough the guy who washes my car said something to me that was helpful. When I walked out I looked at the rim that I had skinned on the sidewalk near my house and felt again what was really bothering me and what was activating my mood, he kind of nodded his head and said "No one got hurt so everything is ok." I felt better.

So what are moods? A mood is regarded as a prevailing psychological state which can be either habitual or temporary. Moods can also be seen as a feeling state or an extended emotion that influences our internal life. It can relate to passion or feeling; as in a melancholy mood or a beseeching of something mood. Mood can and does affect health, personal confidence, ones perceptions of the world and our actions based on those perceptions. Moods can and do change often although mood swings of a sharp nature may be a symptom of an underlying psychological issue. Moods may signify happiness, anger, tension, or anxiety. Chronic periods of any mood state can be an indicator of a psychological disorder such as depression. Moods can either be positive or negative and in the negative state are considered to be connected to emotional pain.

Christopher Bollas, the famed psychoanalyst wrote in his classic book The Shadow of The Object that moods are actually emotional memories. We store painful memories in a different part of the brain than other memories. Pain is experienced in the body as life threatening, especially when we are young. So, the part of our brain that has to do with survival (fight or flight) connects with the experience and collects it, thus protecting us from fear and creating a sense of well-being that the child an then adult needs in order to feel safe. Later in life when something happens that in some way mirrors the initial experience or some recent trauma or fearful event, the feeling is triggered and appears seemingly out of nowhere as if it were happening totally in the present. My internal critic was blasting away inside creating a darkness about how I accidentally smashed my rim (while looking at my cell phone which I totally know better than to do) but was also a duplicate of what my father did when I made a mistake. Taking that connection and then expanding it to several other more minor infractions and voila, the dark mood.

People complain about someone being "moody" or "PMSing" and we accept this as an explanation for moods, like it's a personal flaw. There is a collusion in our culture to keep all this under wraps like a dirty little secret that we all participate in and none of us wants to know about. In uncovering this ubiquitous reality we have to slog through the layers of mythology and innuendo to come up with some viable working solutions. Working through moods allows us to get back to an even emotional state as opposed to a gloomy and depressed state. Here are some ideas about how to work through moods.

Don't Fight It. Trying to push down moods with drinking, drugs, work, exercise and distraction only adds fuel to the mood bonfire as it were. Pushing things down only increases their power. We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we are in a mood and then start the process of deconstructing it with empathy, compassion, understanding and finding the true reality as opposed to our myth about ourselves or what others may think of us.

Find the Trigger. We may know right away what caused our foul mood or maybe not. Either way it's important to know what caused it. Then connect our current mood to the circumstances that created it instead of blaming ourselves for it.

Think About the Good Things. There are many good things to consider before we make the whole world bad. Sure there are constant atrocities, kidnappings, wars, terrorism and the like but there are many good things too. I liken the world to the freeway. There are always a few maniacs weaving in and out and butting into our lane but for the most part everyone is behaving themselves. That's the world.

Take a Beat. When we think about our moods we don't usually take time to consider what is going on inside or what we need to do that will help us through this period. To add solvent to the darkness we need to bring in some light by remembering all the positive aspects of ourselves and our lives. That may not do the job either because moods tend to make us cynical. To beat the negative we have to see clearly that life goes on, things pass and we can do things to make our lives better moving forward, like learning from our mistakes instead of making it a death sentence.

Try to Not Criticize Yourself for Your Mood. Most people buy into popular culture where we talk about control freaks and moodiness like they are anomalies that we can flick off like lint from our sweater. "Just get over it" rings out from the peanut gallery of nay sayers and pundits like grease through a goose. It's just not that simple. Moods can be complex and almost invisible. We have to take time with them, give them respect and see where they spring from. Once we can decipher the code of our moods then we can go about easing ourselves through them. The juggernaut of finding what's true can be dicey at best, but well worth it when the mood abates.

Of course we don't really have to discuss good moods because when we feel great and the world seems to be cooperating with our every move then we can just go with it. Obviously good moods need no attention at all, it's best to celebrate at those times. However, life does not seem to comply as often as we might like but we can use our good mood as a resource when we are feeling down. "Remember the good times" might be an apt mantra that we can use for when we feel like we've been dealt a bad hand.

We see the world through the lens of our moods. J.H Van Den Berg writes in his famous work A Different Existence about a man who is waiting for his love in a cabin in the woods and everything looks so beautiful and amazing until she calls to tell him that she will never be with him. Suddenly, the room changes and it looks sinister and horrible. Moods can come over us without warning leaving us thunder struck by their stealth, depth and breadth. Moods are silent in the way they impose themselves on us but once they are present they make a lot of noise. Moods can last days and extend into weeks, months and years. Learning to work them though is essential for a more even and comfortable feeling state. The insidious quality of moods can reach back through our entire lives, beginning almost from birth. Understanding what our moods are telling us about our past and our present is like learning our own secret geometry that can help us to ease the dark mood state into a more positive one. Understanding what moods mean to us, where they come from and how they help us to see not only our own lives but what we want and need from others and from within ourselves is the key to working them through. It is a personal crime to let them be and not fight them mightily to improve the quality of our lives. Our resource is our history and the location is our very soul. As we find our way into the layers of our personal injuries and injustices we will also find what is good and true about ourselves along the way. The value of reflection as a means to a more centered life cannot be over emphasized, after all it is the last real frontier.