The Physics of Mood

Dr. Keith WittPsychotherapy

We all want to feel better. Sometimes, this can happen instantly with insight, attention, loving acceptance, or shared understanding. But more often than not, feeling better takes time.

I call this the “physics of mood,” because our feeling states are based, to a significant degree, on our hormonal systems. Rage, shame, terror, and high anxiety create endocrine baths in our bloodstreams that often don’t instantly disappear when we address them.

If we’re not aware of the hormonal roots of our feeling state, we tend to compensate in other ways, hoping to make ourselves feel better quickly. For example:

  • Urgent, obsessive thinking/acting/relating, which makes things worse.
  • Medication abuse—loading up on benzos (benzodiazepines like Ativan and Xanex), antidepressants, and pain pills are American favorites.
  • Drug/alcohol abuse to change states.
  • Compulsive food/sex/gambling/video games/etc. to avoid pain by seeking pleasure and pursuing excess. These are called “Process addictions” when they are out of control
  • Unhealthy use of everything in the next list (including meditation, play, and exercise, because too much of anything, or anything being used for unhealthy purposes is unhealthy by definition).

The good news is that if we can tolerate pain and reach for healthy relief, we have lots of resources available that usually enhance our healthy, happiness, and success. For example:

  • Self-reflection and insight (though we still often have to wait some minutes to allow pain/stress chemicals to dissipate and be metabolized)—leading to disidentification (I have pain, but I am not identified with pain), leading to feeling better.
  • Healthy intimate interacting—discussing distress in ways that dissipate it rather than inflame it.
  • Touch, cuddling, caressing, massage, loving human contact.
  • Exercise.
  • Work.
  • Healthy play.
  • Healthy drug/alcohol use.
  • Sleep.
  • Meditation–which tremendously aids physiological/psychological soothing, self-regulation, insight, and disidentification.
  • Healthy sex.
  • Healthy distractions like books, videos, computers etc.

The key to all of the above, is learning to allow pain and unpleasant feelings to take their natural course. By understanding what’s actually going on, we can relax and observe with interest. We can allow discomfort to exist while proceeding onward into the next healthy activity/choice/pursuit of our lives.

This ability to observe ourselves having healthy and unhealthy impulses and to choose health is a human superpower. It also helps us grow our unconscious Shadow selves, since caring self-observation supports more deeply understanding (and thus clarifying and dialysizing) destructive impulses, and strengthening constructive impulses–both activities that literally mature our unconscious Shadow selves to deliver more constructive and less destructive material.


Image Credit: Mathias Reed on Unsplash.