Bad Mood? Here Are 5 Strategies To Figure Out What's Causing It
No one likes a bad mood, but what's extra frustrating is trying to figure out where it came from. There's a lot happening these days that could make you feel upset, scared, and hopeless, so it's normal to have days when you feel low but don't necessarily know the cause.
"Generally, life moves at a pretty fast pace that we have to manage with finesse," psychologist Dorian Crawford, PsyD, tells mbg. "Sometimes things happen that don't sit right or feel good, but you can't put your finger on it until later. A bad mood that seems to come out of nowhere might require retracing your steps to determine an origin."
If the thought of trying to figure out your own emotions sounds daunting, there are a number of strategies you can utilize to help you get to the root.
How to get to the root of your bad mood:
Notice how you feel without judging.
First, pay attention to how you feel, without judging your emotions. "Are you feeling angry, sad, irritated, exhausted, or something else?" clinical psychologist Carla Manly, Ph.D., tells mbg. "Ask yourself, 'How am I feeling right now?' Sometimes we assume that a bad mood is 'just a bad mood,' yet it might actually be sadness, anger, irritation, frustration, or sheer exhaustion at work. In order to move forward in resolving a certain feeling or mood, we must first understand and accept what it is that we are feeling."
Psychologist Nicole Issa, Psy.D., suggests looking for the source of your mood shift in the same way you would look for a misplaced set of keys. "Think about what you were doing and thinking right when you noticed a shift in your mood," she says. "Then, think about what happened before that. As you replay this, you may remember that something someone said or that you saw on social media (without even paying much attention to it) was the immediate trigger."
Improve your emotional vocabulary.
Often people will experience secondary emotions that cloud the root of their negative mood. "People frequently will say they don't feel angry, they feel 'frustrated,' or that they aren't sad, they are 'upset,'" says Issa. "Our individual learning history and societal expectations inform what emotions are acceptable or not. As a result, you may learn that sadness means you are weak or anxiety is stupid, and then experience another emotion—a secondary emotion—in response." Being specific about how you're actually feeling can help you pinpoint the cause of your emotion.
Get out your journal.
When thoughts are jumbled around inside your head, it can be hard to make sense of them. Take out a pen and paper, and journal nonjudgmentally and freely about how you feel. "It's important to let the journal be a 'safe space' for whatever unfolds," says Manly. "Don't worry about grammar and content; just let yourself write freely. Avoid going back to reread or critique your words." (Here are 26 journal prompts if you're not sure where to start.)
Consider what might be unresolved.
"Getting in a spat with a partner or good friend, having an embarrassing moment in an office meeting, or resisting confrontation with your mom about her persistent request for a grandchild may be weighing on your mind, even if you think you've moved past it," says Crawford. "Putting a period at the end of unfinished business might be an answer to the origin of a bad mood."
Once you've figured out what's causing your bad mood, you'll undoubtedly want to take some steps to make it go away. Unfortunately, you can't always just "snap out of it," but you can alleviate some discomfort using a few tools.
How to turn it around:
Look at your self-care.
How you treat your body can affect your mood. "[Make] sure you mostly eat a balanced diet, get some exercise, and focus on sleep," says Crawford. "When those areas are neglected, especially if it's for too long, your mood is sure to suffer. Also, exercise is a way to boost your mood by releasing endorphins and combating stress hormones, like cortisol." You can also try incorporating a hemp supplement to help ease some anxiousness.* Hemp is a (legal) whole-plant extract that's been shown to manage stress and support healthy immune function in clinical trials.*
Sit with your emotion.
"Allowing whatever emotion you are having to exist and pass is the best way to manage your mood," says Issa. "It is human nature to try to avoid unpleasant things (such as feeling a negative emotion), but the more you engage in behaviors to avoid your emotion, the longer you will struggle with it." Instead, Issa suggests attending to the present moment, observing your experience of the emotion, and tuning into how intensely you are feeling it. "Eventually the emotion will go down after it peaks," she says.
Go for a walk.
Going outside for a walk can help you release emotion and de-stress. "Research shows that a 12-minute walk can boost your mood for several hours," says Manly. "Often the work you did in the previous steps is unconsciously processed while you exercise, and [you can] allow yourself to 'just be.'"
Although you can't make a bad mood disappear, you can get to the root of how you're feeling by sitting with your emotions and taking the time to work through them. It's important to remember that although a bad mood is uncomfortable, it should be transient.
"If the mood persists, it could be that enough stress has accumulated to feed into some depression," says Crawford. "Are you consistently in a bad mood with a few moments of peace? If so, a therapist might be able to help you get to the root of some things that are interfering with a lighter sense of being."
Carina Wolff is a freelance writer and blogger who covers food, health and wellness. Her bylines have appeared in Bustle, Reader’s Digest, FabFitFun, and more. Carina has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology from New York University. She is the author of two cookbooks and runs a clean-eating food blog called Kale Me Maybe. When she's not writing and cooking, you can find her reading, hiking, or at the beach.