Losing altitude? I’m noticing that by this week we all seem weary. We’re tired of being good sports, adapting and innovating, sheltering in place, getting basic supplies, and homeschooling.
Time to talk about intentional mood management. A friend of mine notes that after watching an hour of COVID-19 news he usually feels very low and discouraged, and that if he takes his dog out for a walk, he just as reliably experiences an uptick in his mood. I don’t have a dog but going out in my garden and taking care of the plants provides the same reliable uplift of spirits for me as his dog walk does.
Managing our mood also involves mindfully managing our contact with the things that make us happy and things that make us unhappy. We must stay informed about things that are hard, saddening and scary. But some news sheds more light than heat, and spending 30 minutes catching up is quite different that sitting in front of the television for hours taking in discouraging content. We can mindfully manage many variables about disturbing news: the source, the medium, the timing or the length of exposure – in order to get the most benefit with the least harm.
So often, we experience our mood as being a by-product of external events, something that happens to us. We get in a fender bender (in the days when we used to drive to work!) and of course we are in a bad mood the rest of the day. Right?
No, not exactly. We get in a fender bender and we have an immediate emotional reaction: fear, anger, worry about the cost, anxiety about being late for work. And then the next thing happens. We jump out of the car, find that we are not hurt, learn that the other driver is not hurt, and we feel relief. The day unrolls like that, with a series of brief emotional reactions, some large, some small, some pleasant, some not so pleasant.
But mood is not like that. Mood is a feeling tone that stays with us, the background for all of these momentary ups and downs and it influences our ability to enjoy the pleasant moments and to roll with the unpleasant ones.
Fortunately, mood is something that we can influence and create. Especially now, being intentional about creating a supportive mood for yourself is similar to and arguably as important as figuring out how you are going to keep yourself and your family supplied with groceries. Groceries don’t just happen to you. You actively plan for what you will need to do to make sure you have food and the ubiquitous toilet paper.
Imagine you have a mood meter and keep your eye one it. Learn to keep the needle in the green by actively managing what you take in of both the difficulties and the pleasures.