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What's the Difference Between Emotions, Feelings, and Mood?

Moods, feelings, and emotions are often used interchangeably, but there are important distinctions between them. While they all have to do with our internal state, understanding the differences between them can help us better understand ourselves and our own behavior. In this article, we'll delve into how emotions are created by chemicals in the brain, how feelings are the result of experiencing those chemicals, and how mood is a long-term feeling of emotions over time.

Emotions are incredibly complex and powerful: they drive our behavior, consciously and unconsciously. Emotions are produced in the brain when we experience a stimulus such as a thought, sound, sight, smell, or taste. In response to this stimulus, a series of reactions occur in different parts of the brain and nervous system, resulting in a psychological response. This response is known as an emotion.

These reactions include the release of different hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which cause physical changes like increased heart rate and blood pressure. These hormones also facilitate communication between the brain and body, allowing for various behaviors associated with emotions, such as smiling, crying, or blushing.

Our emotions are also heavily influenced by our memories and experiences, which is why we often have strong reactions to certain stimuli. In addition, our environment and relationships can also shape how we feel and act in response to particular events or situations. Feelings, on the other hand, are what we experience when those emotional reactions occur.

Feelings can range from being subtle to intense depending on the situation but essentially, they involve an awareness of one's own emotional state as it manifests within the body. For example, if someone tells us a joke, our first instinctive reaction is likely to be amusement (an emotion). Our body then responds to this emotion by producing a feeling of happiness or laughter. While feelings usually last longer than emotions, they don't usually last as long as moods do.

Moods are essentially long-term feelings that tend to linger for days or weeks at a time. Whereas emotions and feelings involve specific moments in time (e.g., feeling relieved when you wake up and realize you can sleep in a few hours longer), moods involve more pervasive feelings that stay with us for longer periods of time (e.g., overall contentment, anxiety, or depression). Moods can be affected by factors such as stress levels, diet/nutrition, sleep patterns, and even genetics. However, the most common causes involve ruminating on negative thoughts or experiences and suppressing unaddressed emotions.

What to do if you find yourself in a bad mood?

To help break the cycle of negative thinking and feeling, it's important to identify what is causing the bad mood, accept that it exists, and try to resolve it. Fully processing your emotions and trauma is critical to prevent ruminating and a bad mood. If we fail to process our feelings adequately, we are much more likely to become overwhelmed and struggle with low-mood states. This can lead to chronic rumination and negative thought patterns, which in turn can cause depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health issues. Some strategies for managing a bad mood can include:

  1. Engaging in physical activity or relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, or deep breathing.

  2. Talk to friends and family about your feelings and ask for help if needed.

  3. Practicing self-care activities that make you feel good such as getting a massage, listening to music, walking in nature, or taking a bath.

  4. Keeping a gratitude journal or list of positive experiences.

  5. Reminding yourself that bad moods are temporary and will pass with time.

By following these steps, you can help break the cycle of negative thinking and feeling and progress toward finding ways to cope with your bad mood. Additionally, if you feel like your bad mood is worsening or lasting for an extended time, it may be beneficial to speak with a mental health professional to determine the best course of action.

Remember, bad moods don't have to control you - there are tools and techniques you can use to help manage your mood and take back control. With persistence, patience, and practice, you can reduce the impact of bad moods and start feeling better again.


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