A new study published in Psychology Today says that bad moods seem to impact the neural foundation of empathy, and that includes its implication on our relationships. Past research tells us "that our neural wiring allows us to feel what another human (or frog) is feeling - something called emotional resonance, an important element of empathy. This is why we get scared watching horror movies and why we feel when someone we love feels joy.
A study done in China asked 23 students to listen to music or a podcast that put them in either a good, bad, or neutral mood. The participants were then asked to look at photos of people going through either painful or neutral experiences; an example would be someone getting their hand shut in a door (ouch!) versus someone simply shutting the door. Afterwards, the students were asked how much pain they thought the person in the pictures was feeling and how painful it was for them to see the pictures. Findings revealed that the participants "who were in a bad mood were less able to mirror the other people's actions and facial expressions." In other words, they were less tuned in to others when they themselves were feeling good.
On the other hand, though, the study participants did not "consistently make reduced ratings of another's pain in the painful scenarios." So while a bad mood may affect automatic unconscious empathetic processes, they seem to have less impact on "cognitively controlled processes" - such as being able to imagine how another person might feel. Obviously, then, bad moods can negatively impact our relationships by not allowing us to orient towards another's sufferings and our desire to try and alleviate it. Additionally, since bad moods seem to be contagious, it can adversely affect the other person's ability to empathize with us and their desire to want to help can be hindered, as well.
How can we overcome a bad mood? So while it is impossible to stave off all bad moods, it can be useful to have a few tools handy that might help to lift our spirits.
1. Start with the basics liking getting a good night's sleep, eating well, and getting enough exercise. Taking care of our physical selves can help regulate our emotions as well.
2. Spend time outside. Nature helps to uplift us and makes us feel better. It also relieves stress. Awe, a positive emotion we often experience in nature, can help us to feel kinder and more helpful to others.
3. Try a mindfulness meditation. Granted, this is more beneficial when practiced over time but research is showing that even short bursts of it can help boost positive feelings.
4. Try a little gratitude. Remembering to be grateful for all we have can take the sting out of waiting in long lines or driving around the mall parking lot looking for a place to park. Focusing on the gifts you've been given can bring a big dose of happiness.
5. Reach out to family and friends. I know when I'm feeling down, talking to my mom and my best friend always cheers me up. The worst thing you can do when you're in a bad mood is to sit alone and "stew in your own juice." Get out and be with the people who love you. before you know it, you'll feel better and life will look a whole lot nicer.
Mondays can be a hard day for all of us. But it's helpful to know that there are ways we can lift ourselves out of the doldrums. And when you're feeling low, it's not the right time to open up the ol' wallet and make a donation to a charitable cause. Wait until you're not so upset with the world. You'll not only feel better about making the donation, but your organization will benefit more by receiving a larger amount that's made with love.
Enjoy your week, everyone. Peace.