Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Mood cards and understanding our emotions

Recognising and understanding our emotions and knowing how to deal with them is an important skill for managing our lives both on and off the sporting field. Whether it's managing pre-competition nerves, dealing with anger on the pitch or learning how anxieties and fears about our personal lives are holding us back, moods and emotions constantly need to be managed. 

That's not to say that we should bottle up anger, fear, anxiety and other emotions which are perceived to be negative, and constantly exude happiness, excitement, love and hope. Quite the opposite is true. Expressing our emotions, both positive and negative, can help us to better cope with life, but recognising the emotions that drain our energy, the thoughts that we associate with certain emotions, and the situations that initiate or prolong negative emotions can help us deal with them. Sometimes emotions just need to be acknowledged.

Take the mood of depression*, for example. Feeling depressed is rarely a positive experience. Sometimes we feel depressed for no real reason. Sometimes it's something we feel when we're bored or have reached a crossroads in our lives. Sometimes it's something we experience in the lul period after a big event or time of extreme excitement or on a Monday morning after a particularly big weekend. Sometimes it's one of the many feelings we experience when we get sudden or unwanted news, experience an injury or go through a breakup. Depressed moods can also be associated with female hormone fluctuations (periods, in other words) and low iron levels. 

When we are feeling depressed, we may find ourselves crying unexpectedly, we may have a more negative outlook on life that usual, our lust for life may have temporarily disappeared, or we may find that we simply do not feel anything. In some situations we simply have to go through the emotions (or lack of), cry the tears and feel sorry for ourselves, for a while. But recognising and acknowledging the mood can help us to deal with it quickly. Acknowledge what is making you feel depressed. Ask yourself what you can do to change your situation. Think of a time when you were in a happier mood and what your outlook on life was then. Acknowledge the emotion, take time to deal with it, talk it through with someone or write down your feelings, and, when you're ready, move on. (If your depressed mood lasts longer than expected or becomes uncontrollable, make sure that you seek appropriate help.)

While I generally avoid labels and categorising things, I have found the naming and recognition of moods and emotions particularly useful, both personally and for some of the athletes I work with. A few months back, when looking for mood scales on the internet, I came across this particularly useful tool - a set of mood cards which each have a mood or emotion on them, a face representing that emotion and a phrase associated with the emotion. On the reverse of each card is a series of questions and an affirmation relating to that emotion. They are a great tool for personal exploration, group work, and one-on-one therapy sessions. They are probably the most useful and versatile I currently have in my toolbox.

*Depression can refer to both a mood or emotion and a mental illness. Unfortunately, because of the lingering taboos associated with the mental illness, we shy away from describing our emotions and feelings as being depressed. We don't want to be labelled as having depression or not being able to cope, but truth is that most people experience a depressed mood on a relatively regular basis. That doesn't mean that they have a mental illness. However, failing to deal with a lingering or severely depressed mood may predispose or lead to depression. 

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