We were talking with a couple of wonderful psychologists about what it is that helps people come to terms with moods and learn to live with them creatively. One of the barriers to successful mood surfing is a fear of moods. I suppose the analogy is of someone who is afraid of the waves trying to learn how to surf. The fear of what is happening overwhelms the ability to learn from the event, and to react creatively.
There are good reasons why people develop a phobia of moods. One older gentleman that we have seen for a while has had the experience of almost losing his marriage every time his mood becomes manic. His wife is very important to him, and he is terribly sensitive to even the slightest elevation in mood or energy.
Many people have experienced suicidal despair and darkness of incredible things, from episodes of severe depression. Some have come close to death.
Of course, mood states that are this extreme are going to provoke anxiety and perhaps fear.
However, the problem is that having this kind of extreme fear reactions actually seems to make the feared outcome more likely.
A common example is someone who always seems to move straight into severe depression whenever his mood becomes a little bit worse. What happens is that he (or she) notices that his (or her) mood is a little worse. At first, he is able to deal with this and not get too anxious, but as the mood persists, he finds himself increasingly afraid that it is going to turn into one of those dreadful depression episodes. This fear makes it harder for him to do some of the practices that are helpful in preventing depression. It makes it difficult for him to interact with people socially because he is afraid it is very obvious that he is becoming depressed, and it makes it very hard if not impossible for him to practice mindfulness.
A lot of the work we do is trying to help people to develop a sense of confidence that there are tools that can prevent this kind of severe mood episode and then working with them to gradually expose themselves to more mood variation so that they can learn that minor shifts in moods don’t have to be catastrophic.
Otherwise, we end up prescribing doses of medication that are so large that in order to “stabilize” a person’s mood, you end up with somebody who is flat or constricted.
It’s very helpful to have support. You want your partner, and your friends to understand that you want to experience a gradually increasing amount of mood variation.
It’s useful to develop a crisis plan so that your partner or spouse can feel safe, just as you do. And it is of course very helpful to have a therapist and psychologist who can help you figure out what it is, how much mood stress is appropriate.