How to seize back control of mood swings

Five years ago, Lauren Martin was ‘a regular girl’ working in New York and living with her boyfriend. But her moods were dominating her life.

‘On the outside, it looked like I had everything I wanted but I was going through this inner emotional turmoil and kept having these meltdowns,’ says Lauren, 29, who now lives in Philadelphia.

‘On one occasion my boyfriend (now husband) and I had a huge fight. He snapped and said, “I can’t deal with these ups and downs anymore, it’s exhausting”. It was like this awakening. It wasn’t just my relationship, it was my friendships, family and insecurities, my moods were affecting my life.’

And she wasn’t alone. One night, feeling ‘white-hot agitation’ she headed to a bar instead of back to her apartment and an inevitable argument with her boyfriend. She got talking to a girl who radiated confidence and success, but as they chatted, Lauren realised that despite outward appearances, the girl also felt ‘these moods’.

‘But clearly she’d got a handle on it. That spurred my decision to really study what moods are and what was happening when I got into these funks.’

As a starting block, she created the Instagram account Words of Women, now a huge online community with thousands of followers, that led to a weekly newsletter, which morphed into The Book of Moods.

‘This book is not about death, divorce or miscarriage… the big things you should have an emotional experience to and take time to heal. It’s about how to handle the little things in life, the seemingly small things that keep you from living your best life,’ explains Lauren, who acknowledges the belittling comments that often accompany the topic of women and moods.

‘The whole point of the book is to say “yes, women have moods more than men” because we’re more emotional and that comes from evolutionary needs. Even when women are resting, the paralimbic cortex [in the brain] – used to filter emotional reactions to the environment – is registering clues around us, so we should see it as some form of power. If it’s something you don’t accept in yourself, or you try to negate, it’s going to keep derailing you.’

For Lauren, ‘a good mood is who I am, it doesn’t need to be brought out of me, and my bad moods are when things trigger me’.

She explores these universal triggers in the book, kicking off with how fretting about the past and worrying about the future takes its toll.

‘A lot of stress comes from what we perceive is going to happen, but how we think about the future changes what it becomes. Like the story of the 75-year-old I met who looked so good because she refused to stress about things. She doesn’t see things as stuff she has to do, but what she gets to do, so you can see something as an opportunity or a threat.

‘Changing words will alter how you think, perceive and feel, too. Instead of saying you’re nervous, say you’re excited.’

What is a mood?

Neuroscientists have confirmed emotional responses last for 60 to 90 seconds, so a mood is technically anything you feel after that.

In My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, Dr Jill Bolte Taylor wrote: ‘If I remain angry after those 90 seconds…then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.’

Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön believes an emotion that lasts longer than a minute and a half is no longer an automatic response, but a decision to keep igniting that thought, that emotion, over and over again.

Lauren wasn’t sure whether to explore the body’s impact on moods, ‘especially PMS, which seems so trite’, but she felt it would be a disservice not to ‘because our moods can stem from physiological reasons’.

‘We’re always in a state of change and our hormones do play a big part. If we’re not taking care of our bodies, our minds are going to suffer, so we need to acknowledge our cycles, get enough sleep and create a routine.’

Routine, she’s found, provides purpose and makes the monotonous seem special, but her favourite take away is the notion of ego depletion.

‘My husband and I will say, “You’re depleted” to each other now. It’s realising we all wake up with a certain level of willpower, which depletes as the day goes on. It’s why we’re more prone to bad moods later in the day.

‘Things seem bigger, comments seem nastier, everything is misconstrued because you don’t have the willpower to see things as clearly. But it can be replenished. I watch mindless TV; my husband will play video games. Find what recharges you and do it. If you just try and plough on, you’re going to snap.’

In the concluding chapter, Unforeseen Circumstances, Lauren recalls doing just that on her 28th birthday. The plan was to have a cocktail at New York’s legendary Plaza hotel, her favourite place to hide from the humdrum of life, only to find it closed. She was furious, and like a child, recalls feeling life wasn’t fair.

‘I can seem like a brat in that chapter, but when things build up, it’s the silly things that can really you throw you off,’ says Lauren.

She notes this relates to judgement and what we personally perceive to be fair or unjust. We might not be able to change the situation, but we can adjust our reaction to it.

‘Life isn’t easy, and things are thrown at us constantly. It’s accepting this and knowing how to get back on track when we’re thrown off guard. I’m a very different person to who I was. I can still be moody, but the difference is I’m not controlled by moods anymore.’

Lauren’s guide to managing moods

  • Evolution has meant that, generally, women have moods more than men. See it as a form of power. If it’s something you don’t accept in yourself, it’s going to derail you.
  • ‘A lot of stress comes from fretting about the past or worrying about the future,’ says Lauren Martin, ‘but each of us can see things as an opportunity or a threat’.
  • Fake it until you make it. ‘Changing words will alter how you think, perceive and feel too. Instead of saying you’re nervous, say you’re excited,’ advises Lauren.
  • Learn how to recharge yourself – maybe watching TV or playing video games. ‘If you just try and plough on,’ says Lauren, ‘you’re going to snap.’
  • Acknowledge your menstrual cycles, as unusual patterns may be an indication of stress. If this is the case, be sure to get enough sleep and create a routine.

The Book of Moods: How I Turned My Worst Emotions Into My Best Life by Lauren Martin (John Murray Learning) is out now.

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