Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.
In the past few years I have learned a new and more mature way of responding to my bad moods. I suppose it’s something most people go through as they transition from being a teenager to being an adult, but I don’t hear much discussion about it, so I can’t be sure. It comes down to this: how seriously I take my moods.
I used to take every mood and feeling extremely seriously. One factor was simply being a teenager (and my teenage years lasted until I was roughly twenty-four), with a brain that was developed less in executive functioning than in emotional processing. Did I feel a prick of unsatisfaction? Then, after expressing my unexamined feelings in some vague way to the people around me, I had to go off and probe my inner thoughts and feelings to minute detail, filling my journals with pages upon pages of navel gazing, often trying to reason myself into a better frame of mind.
Another factor in this tendency was my hyper-spiritual environment: with so much detailed emphasis put on one’s relationship with God, I couldn’t help but interpret every last fleeting thought and feeling as something to be seriously evaluated in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Did my connection with God feel distant? Then I would spend extra hours in prayer—when really what I needed was a nap.
When I finally discovered that my moods were usually physical in origin, my life calmed down immensely, as you can imagine. It wasn’t an immediate switch; I had to gradually change my habits of thought. Being a person who’s always played little games in my head, I made up a thing I called “Code Songbird.” If I noticed myself heading downhill fast in my thoughts and mood, I would say to myself, “Code Songbird!” and that meant that I was supposed to stop thinking altogether and do whatever I could to relax, take care of my body, and distract my mind until I felt better (which was back to “Code Pigeon”—beebopping along, business as usual; there was also “Code Falcon” for times needing extra alertness and attention, such as moments of sleepiness while driving). That technique served as a helpful stepping stone in my transition from being a slave to my moods to working cooperatively with them. 🙂
Now, I see my moods as messages from my body telling me what it needs. Am I feeling down, cranky, frustrated, anxious, touchy, stressed, etc.? Then, rather than futilely trying to talk myself out of it, I just ask myself what I need—rest, food, medicine, exercise, sleep, solitude, relaxation, social connecting, intellectual stimulation, fun? After I figure out the answer, I take the necessary steps to care of myself. If there are any legitimate problems that had contributed to my bad mood, I can deal with them when I’m feeling better. This way is much more effective!
Don’t get me wrong—I think extended introspection and self-talk can be wonderful tools for personal growth; I still turn to my journals when I need to think through or vent about a problem in my life. But these days, happily, my journals contain less introspective thinking and more diary-style recording of events and thoughts from my days.
Ah, peace. It sure is nice to grow up!