In our San Francisco therapy practice, we often see people who struggle with emotional overwhelm, or emotional dysregulation.
- Do you have a hard time getting things done when you’re upset?
- Can an argument with your partner wreck your whole day?
- Does it sometimes feel like your moods get in the way of you living your life?
Not being able to focus on other things when you’re having a hard time is one sign of emotional dysregulation.
One thing the test assesses is your capacity to follow through on commitments when you’re going through an emotionally rough time. If you struggle with overwhelming emotions, your plans may tend to fly out the window when you get upset. You may cancel plans with friends at the last minute because you’re down. Or choose not to meet a work deadline because you’re feeling bad.
In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), we refer to this as mood dependent behavior. This means that your moods regularly get in the way of you living the life you want.
Mood dependent behavior
Of course, everyone is impacted by their moods. We’re not robots! If your favorite sports team wins that may put you in a great mood for the rest of the day, or if they lose, in a crummy mood.
But if your mood regularly dictates your behavior, that creates problems. It’s hard for others to count on you if you change as your mood changes, and maybe more importantly, it’s hard for you to count on yourself.
If your behavior is mood dependent, you may struggle with:
You set goals for yourself around work, home life and your health. But when a bad mood strikes it feels impossible to follow through.
Knowing who you are and trusting yourself:
If you’re emotionally sensitive and base your identity on what you’re feeling, it will be very hard to have a stable sense of self. Because your emotions and moods are constantly shifting, you don’t know what to expect from one day to the next.
What to do when it feels like your moods run your life:
Become an expert on your feelings:
Think about things that you can control that make you more vulnerable to feeling overly emotional. Lack of sleep? Overwork? Not spending time with loved ones? Make a self-care plan that includes lots of the things that help you feel emotionally grounded.
Practice Opposite Action:
Do the opposite of whatever your mood is telling you to do. If you want to hide at home and cancel your social plans, do the opposite. Show up and engage with people. If you want to stay in bed all day because of a bad mood, get active.
Our emotions, thoughts and behaviors all influence one another. Changing your behavior can have a strong ripple effect and may change how you feel. This is very different than trying to suppress your emotions, which doesn’t work.
It takes a lot of willingness to get yourself to do the opposite of what your current mood is telling you to do, so be gentle when trying this out.