The word “mood” can get a bad rap.
Mood disorders affect approximately 21.4% of American adults, while most women experience mood swings at some point in their lives.
While being in a good mood is celebrated, it’s important to remember that both good moods and bad moods occur naturally across all species. Even our pets, wild animals, and microorganisms are subject to changes in mood.
So where do moods come from, and how can we change them? This article examines the fascinating origins of our moods–– where they come from, what role they play biologically, and how we might go about changing them.
The difference between mood and emotion
To better understand our mood, we can begin by exploring the technical difference between moods and emotions.
While emotions are felt immediately as a result of an external stimulus, moods are developed over time. For instance, if I run into someone who hurt me, I might feel the emotions of sadness or anger. But if I run into someone who hurt me on a daily basis, I, eventually, might be in a sad or angry mood.
While emotions are similar to the weather, moods are more reflective of the climate.
The biological role of moods
In a 2012 review entitled, The Evolutionary Origins of Mood and Its Disorders, researchers sought to deepen our understanding of mood disorders by taking a look at the biological function of mood itself.
As mentioned above, all species are prone to both positive and negative mood states. The important thing to understand is that moods don’t just randomly present themselves— they are the result of accumulated emotional experiences.
So for instance, if food is scarce and foraging for it is dangerous, we might feel fearful and anxious emotions during this activity. If the conditions remain this way for a few days or weeks, then we don’t just feel fearful and anxious emotions left over from the previous day’s trigger, our bodies can actually adapt to a fearful and anxious mood.
As the researchers outline in their review:
“The central question of our review concerns the adaptive function of having the capacity for mood over and above the capacity for acute emotion: why would it be advantageous to carry over an emotional state from one time or situation to the next?”
In an ever-changing world, all organisms must constantly receive cues from their external environment in order to produce appropriate physiological responses.
For example, if you hear leaves rustling, your body has a split second to decide if it’s just the wind, or a poisonous snake. For survival purposes, your body will err on the safe side, and, just in case, be prepared to respond as if it were a snake, even if it’s just the wind. This is because, over time, our bodies have realized that it’s better to have a “false positive” than it is to have a “false negative.”
As the researchers concluded:
“The adaptive function of mood is to integrate information about the recent state of the environment and current physical condition of the organism to fine-tune its decisions about the allocation of behavioural effort.”
In other words, our bodies are constantly learning our environment–– including what makes us feel good and what makes us feel bad. Moods are our body’s way of managing our expectations of our external environment.
Not only does this research better explain the adaptive function of mood, it also provides clues on how we can possibly adjust mood disorders.
How to Change Your Mood: 5 Steps
Since mood is essentially the summation of emotions over time, we can potentially improve our overall mood by improving our daily emotions.
Now, it should be mentioned that since mood change is consistent across all organisms, a bad mood isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If, for instance, we’ve lost someone close to us, then we may need to spend time in grief and sadness, rather than trying to force a good mood. Research suggests that there is an evolutionary function for grief.
However, if you just can’t seem to shake a bad mood, or you’re experiencing a prolonged poor mood, first, you should talk with your doctor. There are of course many mood disorders that should be taken very seriously.
Then, consider the adjustments below in order to encourage your body into a more positive mood.
1. Eat healthier
We sometimes forget it, but ultimately, the purpose of food is to nourish our organs, blood, and body so it can function optimally. When our brain or gut is undernourished or compromised physiologically, it can, understandably, affect the way we feel: mentally, emotionally and physically.
Research has drawn clear connections between food and our mental and emotional health. For instance, a diet high in refined sugars has been linked to mood disorders like depression. Alternatively, studies have shown that a diet rich in probiotics can help improve anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook. Further, people who eat traditional diets from Japan and the Mediterranean tend to experience 25% to 35% less depression.
Consider experimenting with a “cleaner” diet (plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, little animal products and no processed food), for a few weeks, and notice your mood. While everybody requires a different balance of nutrients, you can gain insight into your unique body’s optimal intake by starting with a baseline of clean, nourishing foods, including probiotic-rich foods.
After you’ve eaten clean for 30 days, consider slowly reintroducing other foods, and take note of how they make you feel.
2. Get moderate exercise
Since exercise can help support healthy functioning of the whole body, including hormone regulation and more, it also may be a promising adjunct treatment for mood disorders.
Exercise impacts both the physical causes of mood disorders, as well as mental health outcomes. It’s interesting to note that different kinds of exercise are beneficial for different physiological results.
For example, light exercise over a longer period of time is considered more effective for improving cardiovascular health, and increasing well-being, while short bursts of high-intensity exercise has particular benefit for improving respiratory fitness and reducing oxidative stress (cellular damage), and fatigue.
3. Drink less alcohol
Alcohol not only produces immediate physiological changes, but it can also influence mood and mental health for 24- 36 hours after consumption. After all, alcohol is a known depressant to the central nervous system and can trigger a wide range of effects depending on the individual
Alcohol can even lead to alcohol-induced mood disorders, such as alcohol-induced depressive disorder, alcohol-induced bipolar disorder, alcohol-induced sleep disorder, alcohol-induced psychotic disorder, and more.
If you’d like to change or improve your mood and drink alcohol, consider going without alcohol for a few weeks or a month and monitor your mood. Many people experience relief from depression and anxiety after abstaining from alcohol.
4. Sleep more
The data is clear: many mood disorders are closely linked with poor sleep. In a 2013 study, that measured the psychopathological health effects of lack of sleep on medical students–– sleep difficulties clearly led to feelings of anxiety, hostility, and interpersonal sensitivity.
As mentioned above, over time, these chronically-experienced emotions can become moods, playing a role in the development of mood disorders.
Treating sleep disorders can potentially reduce certain symptoms of mood disorders. For this reason, if you would like to change your mood and currently do not sleep well, it could be beneficial to focus on getting more sleep.
5. Participate in mood-boosting activities
When we are not in a good mood, it can be hard to muster the energy to participate in behaviors that might make us feel better. We might feel sluggish, depressed, and inward, and the thought of engaging in activities could seem like too much of a task.
when we stop participating in mood-boosting activities, it becomes harder and harder to break our negative mood patterns.
saying “yes” to mood-boosting activities (even if we are not currently in the mood for it), we can alter our mood for the better.
So what are mood-boosting activities? The data suggests that it’s different for everybody. To discover yours, consider a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based treatment called Behavioral Action. This process asks individuals to:
- Identify their values
- Identify activities that fulfill those values
- Engage in some of those activities every day and week
Like most aspects of health, our mood is not a random affliction, but rather, a result of our intake and experiences with the world around us. By being mindful of what we choose to consume and how we spend our time, we are likely to be able to improve our mood.
Interested in learning more cutting-edge health tips? Stay informed with the TelMD Upstream Blog!
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