Moods versus Depression

A mood is a state of emotion sustained for a period of time. When we’re in a ‘good mood’ we feel buoyant, self-confident, and happy. We’re interested in what’s happening around us and want to explore new things. Usually something good has happened to us or we are having fun with people we like. We feel positive about ourselves and optimistic about the state of the world. Pity we can’t feel this way all the time! But if we did, we’d miss out on signs of danger.

‘Bad moods’ start when we feel anxious, angry, frightened, or sad. Often these feelings are provoked by some external event – not getting the promotion we wanted, finding out we’re overdrawn at the bank, or, worse yet, learning that our company is downsizing or our partner is fed up and thinking of leaving the relationship. If we didn’t feel anxious, irritable, sad, or frightened under these circumstances, we wouldn’t be able to look out for our needs. We have to be able to take steps to protect ourselves from hurt and humiliation so we can survive adversities and maintain our self-esteem.

The word ‘depressed’ can describe a feeling, as in ‘I’m so depressed that John didn’t call for a date for Saturday night.’ It can also convey a more persistent state of low mood, as in ‘I’ve felt so depressed since I found out I was passed over for the promotion I’d worked so hard for, and I can’t shake it.’ Usually, when we experience the feeling or mood as appropriate and understandable, we don’t rush off to a doctor. We know we will cheer up when things change, or we look for other ways to handle our disappointments.

Feeling blue, sad, defeated, depleted, or helpless is all part of being human. We experience these feelings when things go wrong in our world. Paradoxically, if we don’t accept these feelings – if we’re rigid and controlled – we experience even more emotional distress. Our energy gets used up in suppressing the feelings and denying the hurt. We give up but we don’t know why. At this point, the illness of depression can result.