3 Healthy Ways to Stop Bad Moods

We all have bad moods from time to time—prolonged periods of difficult emotion.

But most people’s bad moods are far more intense and longer lasting than they need to be for one very simple reason…

You were never taught how to manage bad moods well!

In the rest of this article, I’m going to teach you 3 of my favorite skills to quickly break free from bad moods in a healthy and effective way.

1. Inventory Your Bad Mood Triggers

Arguably the most powerful way to free yourself from bad moods—and potentially avoid them entirely—is so simple that almost nobody thinks about it…

Eliminate the element of surprise.

See, most people get blindsided by their bad moods. And it’s a fundamental principle of emotional dynamics that surprise intensifies other emotions…

  • Surprise birthday party your spouse throws… Even more joy and excitement!
  • Surprise burst of anger after your coworker shows up late to a client meeting… Even more anger!
  • Surprise burst of anxiety after an intrusive thought about failing a big exam… Even more anxiety!


If getting surprised by bad moods makes them more intense, anticipating them will lessen their intensity.

For example, if you anticipate that your coworker will show up 5-10 minutes late for the meeting, you can prepare for it by having something productive to do during those 10 minutes, rather than sitting there ruminating on what a jerk she is which will only generate more anger and possibly a bad mood for the rest of the day.

Of course, you can’t anticipate every difficult emotion that might trigger a bad mood.

But most people’s bad moods are far more predictable than they realize. And if you look carefully, you’ll notice that there are some pretty obvious patterns to your bad moods.

This is very good news because it means that you can anticipate and plan for many of them, and as a result, be much more resilient and less likely to get stuck in a bad mood in the first place.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Head to your favorite coffee shop with a pen and notepad.
  • Get yourself a delicious drink and maybe a nice lemon scone or blueberry muffin.
  • Then sit down for 20 minutes or so and list out as many times as you can remember having been in a bad mood recently.
  • And for each one, identify what the trigger was—what situation immediately preceded the bad mood?
  • Look for patterns. And if you identify any triggers that are likely to recur, write a sentence or two for each about how you would like to handle that situation ideally should it happen in the future.

It sounds almost too simple, but often the best way to avoid bad moods is to anticipate the situations that trigger them.

2. Acknowledge Difficult Emotions Early

Like many struggles in life, difficult emotions are annoying when they’re small, painful when they’re medium-sized, and downright overwhelming when they’re big.

Unfortunately, because most people don’t have an especially healthy relationship with their emotions, they tend to avoid them—especially the uncomfortable ones. But the longer you avoid an emotion, the more it festers, and the bigger it gets.

If you’re curious, this happens because of a process called emotional fear learning: If you immediately run away from a difficult emotion, you train your brain to view it as a threat. Do this a lot, and you start compounding every emotion with a bunch of anxiety and shame, which only makes them much more intense, longer lasting, and far more difficult to manage effectively.

The result of this unfortunate situation is that most people’s experience of trying to manage difficult emotions is heavily skewed by the fact that all their difficult emotions seem medium to big sized because they’re in the habit of ignoring them when they’re small and only confronting them when they’re big.

Your emotions always seem overwhelming because you only acknowledge them when they’re huge!

And these big emotions are far more likely to metastasize into full-blown bad moods.

The way out of this mess is to do something very counterintuitive: Acknowledge your difficult emotions early.

Instead of ignoring or minimizing small feelings of, say, irritability, nervousness, sadness, and the like, take a brief second to acknowledge them and show your brain that you’re not afraid of them.

A good way to get started with this is a little habit called emotional validation—which means reminding yourself that just because an emotion feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad.

Now, because they’ve been acknowledged early, those difficult emotions are less likely to morph into big gnarly overwhelming bad moods.

It’s pretty simple. But it takes a lot of self-awareness, patience, and practice to make this a habit which can replace your habit of avoiding or minimizing your difficult emotions.

But stick with it and the results will be well worth it.

3. Let Go of Self-Pity

The first two suggestions are mostly about avoiding bad moods in the first place; because in a lot of ways, prevention really is the best medicine.

But what about those times when, despite your best efforts, you find yourself stuck in a bad mood?

While there are dozens if not hundreds of things you might do, here’s one that I’ve found to be incredibly powerful but also underrated and missed by most people:

Let go of your self-pity.

See, most bad moods last much longer than they need to because—strange as it may sound—we want them to keep going.

What are you talking about?! Why would I want my bad mood to go on?

Well, strangely enough, bad moods are appealing because they can temporarily boost your ego by making you feel like a victim.

A couple examples:

  • You’re in a bad mood because your coworker was late (AGAIN!) for a very important meeting. You were in a bad mood all afternoon and evening, and you’re still in a bad mood as you try to put your kids to bed. Well, this bad mood could very well be “functional” in that by ruminating on and complaining about how unconscientious your tardy coworker is, it makes you feel very superior by contrast. And that feels good.
  • Or, let’s say you’re in a bad mood because your partner said something insensitive to you. All the dwelling about how insensitive they are, and why couldn’t be me more (fill in the blank), and if only things were more (fill in the blank), etc. etc. — all that dwelling does keep you in an irritable mood, but it also makes you feel good by constantly reminding yourself how they did something wrong—and by extension—how you are in the right.

Now, I’m not saying this always is the cause of bad moods. But it does happen way more often than most of us realize.

We perpetuate our bad moods for the brief ego boost that comes with self-pity.

Of course, when you really add up all the pros and cons, this self-pitying and the bad moods it generates probably isn’t really worth that brief ego boost. But like so many everyday addictions, it’s easy to sacrifice our long-term values for the briefest of present pleasure.

In any case, if you struggle with bad moods, it’s worth doing some self-reflection about what part you may be playing in those moods, especially the tendency to engage in self-pity.

All You Need to Know

Despite how it feels, we have more control over our bad moods than we realize. Here are three helpful ways to free yourself from your bad moods:

  1. Inventory Your Bad Mood Triggers
  2. Acknowledge Difficult Emotions Early
  3. Let Go of Self-Pity

Work with Me to Master Your Moods

Once a year, I lead a small group of students through my live Mood Mastery program. Over the course of 5 weeks, I’ll teach you the core skills you need to build mental strength and emotional resilience for life.

Learn more about Mood Mastery →