Mood Management: Turning Around the Boat

If you’ve ever been my client, you’ve probably been subjected to the boat analogy when it comes to managing  moods. Even if you’ve heard it before, it bears repeating because we all need that repetition to get something into our brains in such a way that we have some hope of remembering it when we need it. It goes like this: The bad news that we can’t prevent feelings from occurring. The good news is that we all have the ability to affect our moods and feelings. We’re not stuck feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless or scattered. Changing our mood is like turning the boat we’re on in another direction, a more positive direction. So how do we accomplish that? It’s good to start with figuring out just how big is the particular boat (mood/emotional upset) we’re on. By that I mean we need to take note of how much energy those negative feelings have. The nagging discomfort of a relatively minor worry is a small boat. Feeling seriously afraid that one of our most important relationships is over, ruined beyond salvaging, is a giant sized cruise ship. I read once that it takes ten to fifteen minutes to turn a cruise ship around. It only takes a few seconds to turn around a zippy motorboat. So it is for our moods. It’s going to take more time, and definitely more energy, to turn around those bigger feelings, just like it takes longer to turn around a bigger boat.


Those little boats/feelings will often respond to simple, low effort actions like giving one’s self a pep talk, ("You could be worrying about nothing” or “Nobody’s perfect”). Or they might respond to a bit of deep breathing. Just those few moments of effort can get your mood moving in a better direction.


Once you get into mondo-sized boats/feelings, you may have to do the breathing for a solid ten minutes, call a friend for support, then get some exercise, do a little journaling and write down all your fears and negative thoughts and counter them logically. All that could take an hour. But if you spend an hour turning that big ol’ boat around, at least getting it moving in a better direction, you might have a pretty decent time of things for the next couple of days, versus staying stuck in the same emotional loop that keeps you from sleeping or concentrating, causes you to lose your temper or triggers unhealthy behaviors such as avoiding exercise, eating too much junk food, or drinking too much.


Don’t give up if your mood doesn’t change as soon as you try some of these things. Keep in mind that your bad mood could be a bigger boat than you thought, which means you may need to work on it longer or do a greater variety of coping skills for your efforts to pay off. Also remember that practice makes perfect, in everything. It takes practice to get good at turning one’s mood around. But it can be done! Even the most terrible situation can be improved by the effort we put into managing our moods.