What Causes Bad Moods and How Can You Actually Benefit From Them

02/08/2012

Bad mood main photoYou started your day as you normally would, rolling out of bed, brewing a fresh cup o’ Joe, and then seamlessly gliding into your routine. But somewhere, somehow the entire vibe of the day took a turn for the worst. The causes of a bad mood are as varied as the stars in the sky depending on your personality type and your life’s situation, but what actually happens biologically when you’re in a bad mood? 

Jonah Lehrer over at Wired described what goes on when your mood goes sour. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology said that we usually hold ourselves together based on self restraint and bad moods and the aggression they cause usually come from losing that very rational thinking that had formerly held us together.

Bad moods happen when your ability to self regulate is depleted. “Participants low in trait self-control were particularly likely to express intentions of behaving aggressively in response to provocation, whereas participants high in trait self-control did not express intentions of responding aggressively," according to the study.

What causes a depletion in self regulation? Well, that’s the same thing that causes that nasty mood in the first place. Maybe it’s your starvation diet, a painful caffeine headache, or even a particularly trying hangover. Some studies have also shown what many of us already feel, that the weather can turn a good mood upside down in a few minutes flat. “[A] study of 16,000 students in Basle City, Switzerland, although not the most robust study designed, found that nearly one-third of the girls and one fifth of the boys responded negatively to certain weather conditions. Symptoms reported included poor sleep, irritability, and dysphoric (depressed) mood.”

Bad mood photo

Photo: Thinkstock

But in fact this grumpiness can be good for you. The BBC reported on a study that found that we do our best work when we’re pissed off. “The University of New South Wales researcher says a grumpy person can cope with more demanding situations than a happy one because of the way the brain promotes information processing strategies.”

Professor Forgas said: "Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, co-operation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world."

So whether your too tight jeans pissed you off or you garnered a bit of road rage on the commute back from work, there’s certainly a biological cause and maybe even a biological benefit from your untamed crankiness. 

Photo: Thinkstock

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More on Moods
Break the Cycle of Negative Thinking 


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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