The Four Pillars of Mood Management

1 October 2016 – By Melas Khole

Humans are moody creatures. We experience numerous emotions throughout an average day. Sometimes the emotions are feint, sometimes they are extreme, most of the time they sit somewhere in the middle.

Emotions come and go and are not good or bad, right or wrong – they just are. Emotions exist to let us know something is new or different and we need to pay attention to them. Emotions affect our mood but how much is up to us as individuals and we have the responsibility of managing both our emotions and how they impact on our mood. When we experience regular sadness, anxiety, frustration, anger, guilt or shame our mood becomes changes significantly and often the most important step to take is to have enough compassion for the self to ask for help from a counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist or a GP.

However, a significant number of us can manage our mood by changing how we take care of our bodies and improving our connection with others. This is sometimes cased ‘Behavioural Activation’ however I like to use the phrase ‘The Four Pillars of Mood Management’. Pillars hold up a roof and if the pillars are different lengths the roof will not sit well; if a pillar is missing, the roof is likely to fall; if the pillars are not reinforced or well constructed, they will crumble under the weight. Imagine your mood state as the roof of a building, without it’s stable base, your mood can be difficult to interpret, manage or even notice.

Woman lying in bed sleepingYour first pillar of mood management is Sleep.

If you are not getting an appropriate level of uninterrupted regular sleep, your body has less time to repair itself, your motivation, concentration and, of course, mood are impacted. Generally, 6-8 hours sleep is about right, though as we age we do tend to sleep less. Therefore, how much or how little we sleep impacts on or mood.

If you have trouble sleeping:

  • Try cutting caffeine out of your day after about 4 pm
  • Try to go to sleep at the same time each day to help your body clock into a pattern
  • A warm bath or shower may help relax the body for sleep
  • Clear your sleeping space of objects that encourage the brain to be active (TV, X-box, computers, social media access)
  • If you are not able to get to sleep within about 20 minutes, get up and do something mundane and boring until you feel tired, the return to sleep.

If your mind starts to race when you lie down to sleep, try to slow down your breathing. Breath slow and deep into your diaphragm and say to yourself in your head “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out”.

The slow breathing will encourage relaxation, whilst focusing on the breathing can distract you from your thoughts.

If you find that you struggle to sleep night after night on a regular basis you should speak to your GP. Try to avoid sleeping medications, which can become addictive relatively quickly. You might benefit from yoga, meditation, from seeing a psychologist to discuss further strategies for sleep.

Senior couple on walk in countryside
Your second pillar of mood management is Exercise

Exercise works hand in hand with both diet and sleep. Exercise requires the fuel from what you eat and drink whilst it contributes to tiredness and therefore can help sleep.

Exercise does not mean going to ‘Boot Camp’ or lifting weights. Exercise means working out what your body is capable of (even if that is a 10 minute walk twice a day as a start point and building up towards more strenuous exercise) and just getting out there and doing it. Exercise releases the bodies natural endorphins creating a ‘feel good’ effect and improves mood as a result, regular exercise tends to encourage regular endorphin release.

Side benefits of exercise include increased energy levels, which again help mood.

If you are overweight and want to lose weight then working with a personal trainer is your best path towards that goal. Muscle growth is a significant contributor to faster metabolism and faster metabolism encourages the body to burn fat. Exercising also takes you out into the sun, which is important for improving vitamin D in the body (many people are deficient in this vitamin).

Your third pillar of mood management is Diet

If the body does not have sufficient fuel it becomes fatigued, our concentration is poor and it becomes difficult to be focused. The body also tends to store fat and burn muscle in absence of regular intake of fuel.

Particularly if we are exercising the body needs the right amount of the right kind of fuel in order to give the body the energy it needs to grow. This means a mixture of proteins, low GI carbohydrates (particularly green leafy veggies with some high GI carbs) and oils (such as flaxseed oil, coconut oil, avocado, fish oil).

Most of the chemicals our brain needs to work at it’s best are created in the stomach and work their way to the brain via the Vagus nerve. This includes chemicals such as serotonin, which is important for management of depression. Therefore, good gut health is extremely important. A poor diet impacts on gut health. It is worth having daily pro-biotic in your diet.

Happy couple riding bicycle outdoors, health lifestyle fun love romance concept
Your forth pillar of mood management is Socialising.

When we are anxious or depressed we tend to isolate ourselves. We train ourselves to feel isolated and lonely which encourages depression and anxiety.

Consider this an approach of acting opposite to how you feel. Generally, once we begin to socialise it is not as difficult as we thought it would be, we even enjoy ourselves in spite of ourselves. Often socialising involves being attentive to others. When focused on other people we are less stuck in our own problems. Think of it as having a holiday from yourself; sure when you return home your sadness and nervousness may return, but you have had an experience away from it and that is a true feeling of freedom.

Socialising does not mean being a party animal. We are all somewhere along the extrovert/introvert line so socialising means doing what is comfortable whether that be a big party, a movie with a few friends or even just catching up with someone one to one. Sometimes a couple of hours is all we can take of being social. This is okay, know your limits and push just a little bit beyond them.

In Conclusion

If these basic strategies are not working and you have ongoing difficulties with low mood, anxiety or are just concerned about your mental health in any way, it is important not to be too proud or too ashamed to seek help. Speak to your GP, contact a psychologist or just speak to a friend you can trust. 25% of us will experience some kind of mental health difficulty at some stage in our lives (and those are just the ones who come forward). You are not alone.

If you know someone who is struggling psychologically don’t be afraid to ask RU OK?

Melas Khole is a registered generalist psychologist who works from the Kialla Medical Clinic in Shepparton, Victoria.

Melas Khole


21D/ 8025 Goulburn Valley Highway

Kialla, Vic 3631