Relating to our moods: labeling and monitoring

Moods colour our judgement. When our mood is bad, life seems grim and everyone is out to get us. Numerous studies show that a low mood causes us to judge others less favourably and to have an irrationally negative attitude towards life. Fortunately, studies also show that an awareness of our moods can mitigate this effect. If we know that we are in a bad mood, we can compensate for our negative thinking.

So it is good to be aware of our moods, but we must be careful of how we do it. There are two main styles of mood awareness. In the first, we cheerfully acknowledge our negative mood and realize that our dim outlook is probably a result of this. We ignore our grim thoughts and wait until we feel more positive. Thus, an awareness of our bad mood helps us to take our thoughts less seriously and stops us from making any rash decisions based upon them. The second style of mood awareness is less positive. Here, we tend to dwell on our mood and allow the thought “I’m in a bad mood” to keep us trapped in this state and to intensify our negative feelings. I’m sure we have all experienced this at times. These two styles of mood awareness are known as mood labeling and mood monitoring respectively (Swinkels and Guiliano, 1995). Mood labeling refers to the ability to identify and categorize one’s moods, whereas mood monitoring refers to a tendency to scrutinize and focus on one’s moods.

Although both styles involve self-awareness, mood labeling has positive results whereas mood monitoring has negative. The problem with mood monitoring is that we devote excessive attention to our state of mind, and have difficulty concentrating on other things. In other words, we dwell on our bad mood far too much. When we catch ourselves doing this, we can gently shift our style towards one of mood labeling. We want to be aware of our moods and the effect that they are having on our thinking, but we do not want to be caught up and absorbed by them. Awareness of one’s moods is good, absorption in one’s moods is not. Mood labeling is a useful tool to achieve this goal, giving us an awareness of how our moods are influencing our thinking, but without intensifying them or giving them power over us.

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