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  • Writer's pictureKjersti Ane Østvik

Moods - a few reflections

What is it about moods and why does it seem so difficult to change from a low mood to a high mood? Some days you wake up happy and perky, other days you wake up feeling heavy and annoyed, why is that?

The simple answer is that our moods naturally go up and down all day long without us having much of a say in it. The scientific side of things is that our brain is constantly body budgeting (Lisa Feldman-Barrett, 7 ½ lessons about the brain) and this is felt mentally in our bodies as moods. When you are in a low mood and your partner asks you why you’re in a low mood, I suspect a common answer may be that you’re not, while thinking that you wish you weren’t and that you could somehow take yourself out of it instantly. I have been there many times for sure. I suspect you have been there yourself. You desperately want to feel better and so you try everything to experience a higher mood without much success, or you try to put on a smile and fake a higher mood. Meanwhile your mind is churning to figure out why you are feeling the way you are and why you can’t take yourself out of it. I believe that if we could, we would, but it is out of our control. Sometimes the answer may be that you’ve had some thinking that has put you in a low mood, but often it is this biological mood elevator (Dr. George Pransky’s term) doing its thing and there really is no point looking for a reason. Trying to figure out why is likely to keep your low mood lingering and will just keep your mind spinning in circles anyway with little if any valuable information. The answer is that your biology is busy with something having to do with body budgeting and you feel this in your body as a low mood. The experience of moods may be slightly different for every one of us, and some people may stay more on the lower floors while others tend to be higher up or more in the middle, others may bounce from a very low mood to a very high mood over a short period of time. There are all kinds of variations to this. No matter how it may look to us, there is still fluctuation and change happening all the time even if it may be subtle. We often tend to say we have been feeling low for weeks or even months, because that is how our brain will generalise. To a generalising brain who wants to categorise and label, it is either black or white or high or low and often not much in the middle. If we take a closer look there has been fluctuations in your mood, however small, and maybe even some seconds or minutes of joy in between the low feeling. To a mind who loves to generalise, those seconds or minutes isn’t taken into account when presenting you with a story of how it is. That is just how a mind works.

While there certainly are actions we can take for our bodies and our health in general to perhaps experience more stable moods, like nutrition, exercise and sleep (Article in BBC Science Focus by Lisa Feldman-Barrett, How emotions fool your brain) your mood will still go up and down on its own. Knowing that this is happening and that there’s nothing we can do in the moment other than wait, is immensely valuable when you are interacting with other people and trying to figure yourself out. When you learn to notice when you are in a low mood it is easier to dismiss the thinking that is going on as low mood thinking that is not to be taken seriously and thus you have a better chance of not acting from it. Your mind will try to figure it out for sure, but you don’t have to listen to that voice in your head, even if it’s only trying to help. When we are in a low mood the truth is that we are not seeing clearly or thinking clearly. We always see the world and ourselves through the veil of our current thinking and not the way it really is. If there is an objective reality out there in some way, we are still always experiencing our very own separate realities mentally, that is just the it works.

What I find really helpful is seeing on a deep level how all human beings work, and to know that your low mood thinking and your low mood actions are not the real you. It is you acting and thinking through a dark veil of biological activity. When you know this about yourself it is so much easier to just wait to act until you have more clarity. To sleep on it or step back from acting until your thinking has changed. It will change because thought is transient. In a low mood we are not acting as our best selves. In a low mood we are not seeing clearly, but when the elevator rises to a higher floor we find ourselves at a higher level of consciousness and have more of our resources available to us and can act in much better ways. Acting from low mood thinking can often make us say and do things we regret, and the reason is that we didn’t have this clarity to see another option. We can’t see it until we see it. The way it looks to me, everyone is always doing the best that they can see to do from the thinking they’re in that seems real to them. Always, no exceptions. Whatever you did, you did the best you could see to do in the moment, and when your thinking has changed you see something else, but what you see in the moment is what is real to you. No forcing or trying can make your reality look any different than it does in the moment, only waiting for a new thought or higher mood can. The good news is that new thoughts are showing up all the time giving you the chance to gain a whole other perspective on things once you have more clarity of mind. And your mood elevator will go up again if you leave it to do its thing and don’t listen to your mind so much. The same is true for your partner, your children and your neighbour or colleague. Low mood interactions rarely lead to anything good. Knowing this, and knowing that moods and thoughts are always changing, can help us act in better ways more of the time and navigate life more smoothly. We will still all be fooled by our thinking because that is where our reality is coming from, but knowing how the system works will make you see through the illusions of your mind much more often making life easier to navigate more of the time. And you can stop taking other people's low mood talk personally - it's not about you.

I hope this is helpful to you in some way, and if you have any reflections, questions, insights or comments you want to share, drop me an email at You can also reach me on my Facebook-page Østvik/Ostvik Coaching where you can send me a message in Messenger or WhatsApp. I would love to hear from you!

With love, Kjersti

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