Mood Management May Save Your Relationship
By Jaine Carter and JAMES D. CARTER
Reprinted from the nationally syndicated column "He works, She works"
As the pace of life continues to soar, so do tempers, depression, anxiety and stress. Yet you can’t go around venting your anger on difficult customers or co-workers. You’d lose your job. And you can’t run home to kick the dog or abuse your mate. That would land you in the slammer. So what can you do? According to a growing cadre of therapists, you can learn to manage your moods rather than letting your moods manage you. Is the new mood management trend any different than the old “count-to-10” advice our parents advised? Yes, claim consultants Sam and Bunny Sewell, who give mood management seminars.
“While counting to 10 may help you gain control of your temper when confronted with a difficult situation, that technique won’t work when you’re feeling sad or depressed. It takes more than 10 seconds to shake a down mood,” says Bunny Sewell. Counting to 10 is a form of distraction and provides only a Band-aid approach while mood management teaches you a system for permanent control of your moods. The Sewells say mood management involves a structured procedure under which, over a period of time, you come to acquire a whole new set of neuron pathways. As new pathways grow, the old ones atrophy from lack of use and die off. In the meantime, what you’re doing is building new habits and new ways of thinking about circumstances.
Where do you start? “First of all, it’s essential that your brain chemistry - your neuro transmitters - are in good working order. So get yourself in good physical condition,” advise the Sewells. Then check your eating and sleeping habits and make sure you’re getting enough of the proper nutrients. Stress plays a bigger role in mood management that many people realize. When we go for a long period of time under stress (90 days or more), our brain chemistry is depleted of serotonin, our natural mood management ally. A licensed massage therapist can help relax the body so that the brain can focus on replenishing serotonin. Many nutritionists believe that vitamin B complex and C help to combat stress.
Check with your health care practitioners for their opinion and advice. Once you’re assured you’re in good physical condition, practice a technique called “perception shifts”. Look at things from different angles. For example, let’s say your significant other just spent a week’s salary on computer equipment you don’t think you need. You’re feeling frustrated, resentful - and depressed. Remember, depression is anger turned inward. Hostility is anger turned outward. Ask yourself why you’re blaming him for your emotions. Practice shifting your perception of the problem from “Look what he did” to “Why am I letting this upset me?” Then shift your perception to what you could do instead of what you’re doing. Stop letting it eat at you.
Overreacting wastes energy. Better to work at being solution focused. When you focus on a problem, you feel terrible. When you focus on the solution, you stop thinking about the problem and start working on doing something about it.
“This is a gender issue,” says Sam Sewell. “Men naturally tend to be solution-focused. They just want to fix the damn problem and not hear about it over and over. They even want to try to fix the problem before they know what it really is!” Bunny Sewell agrees. “Women need to learn how to stop focusing on - and talking about - their problems. Many of us use our problems as a bonding technique with other women: ‘Gee, ain’t it awful.’ We would do better to shift our perception to a more masculine approach when it comes to problem solving.” Learning to control your moods requires taking emotional control over your thinking. Disciple yourself not to use five pounds of emotions on a one-pound problem. Stewart Carter, a physical therapist assistant, shares a concept he learned in the Navy. “I have taught myself to evaluate every problem I think I have in a series of graduated steps by asking myself, ‘Will this matter to me in three hours?’ If the answer is ‘Yes,’ I then ask myself, ‘Will this matter in three days?’ If the answer to that is ‘Yes,’ I go on to ask, ‘How about three months?’ I’ve found that no matter how bad a problem seems at the moment, I eventually get to a time in the future when I’m sure it won’t make any difference to me. If that’s the case, I shift my perception from now to then. I’ll do everything within my power to solve the problem, but if it’s out of my control, why worry about it now?” Jaine Carter, Ph.D. and James D. Carter, Ph.D. are a dual career couple, management consultants and authors of the book, “He Works She Works - Successful Strategies for Working Couples." James D. Carter is also a Collier County Commissioner in Naples,Florida