Can You Catch a Bad Mood?

So, you’re starting off your day.

Random thoughts are running through your mind – about what lies ahead. Then it’s off to the races!

Routine tasks like brushing your teeth and taking a shower are breeding grounds for ideas – both positive and negative. Usually, this takes place without other encounters. So you have the opportunity to create your own mindset. (Inspirational messages on my bathroom mirror help me start the day on a positive note!)

Things are going fairly well.   You’re excited about the day. And then it happens.

Your Good Mood Goes Out the Window


Your balloon bursts. Maybe it’s that tone of voice from your spouse. Or the “attitude” from your kids. That e-mail message you just opened.  A blurb on the news. Bad weather. Coworkers. Whatever.

Before you know it, your thoughts are turning negative. Those things you were looking forward to have been drowned out. You’re feeling resentful and angry.

What happened? Did you catch a bad mood?

As strange as it sounds, there’s evidence to support this theory. Some of us are more affected than others – just like some catch a cold while others don’t. Can we fortify ourselves? Is there a vitamin for that?

Protecting Yourself

While I don’t know about a vitamin, I’ve uncovered some helpful hints. Moods seem to infect people just like germs, according to therapist and author, Martha Beck, Ph.D., and Peter Totterdell, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield in England.

Shielding yourself from another’s negativity requires a suit of psychological armor, Beck says. The strength of the armor is determined by the degree of “sponginess” you possess.

Sponginess has to do with your level of absorption. It’s not good, bad, right or wrong.   Some people are just more susceptible to taking on the energy of those around them. That’s why venom, spewed out by others, can have such an effect on some of us – and not so much on others.   Here’s a handy checklist to help you fend off the negativity.


  • A – Acknowledge

Spongy people often dismiss their own feelings. Let yourself actually feel your emotions to begin the healing process.

  • R – Recognize

Aren’t contagions those uncontrollable epidemics that require hazmat suits? This image  conjures up just how dangerous emotional contagions can be.

  • M – Monitor

Are you always angry after you have lunch with a certain friend – or nervous after a day with your high-maintenance family member? Pay attention to see who may be “contagious.”

  • O – Observe

As a highly contagious person gets closer to you, observe your emotions – something like, “Hmm, there’s that surge of uneasiness I always get around her.”

  • R – Relax

Take a deep breath and flip the emotion. Picture a peak experience – closing that big deal, luxuriating in a favorite vacation spot, enjoying the best time you’ve spent with your funniest friend or snuggling up with your dog or cat.

  • U – Understand

If a stressed out person wants to inflict his or her anxiety on you, simply remind yourself you have tools to block their contagious germs.

  • P — Protect

Be ready with that positive image (your pet, best friend, etc.). Burn that image in your mind like you’d burn a CD. Play it often – while you’re driving or in the shower. So you’ll be able to put on your armor at a moment’s notice.

Flip/Switch Technique

“Flipping your energy” is a quick and easy technique to get yourself centered and back to neutral so you can make the best decisions for yourself – without being pulled into a negative vortex around you. When you find yourself going into a negative spiral, say to yourself, “Stop it!” Switch your thought to one of your “happy places” – a pet, child, grandchild, pleasurable activity, etc.

It takes lots of practice. Over time, though, you’ll become more aware of how many times your mind goes to the negative. This Flip/Switch technique will help create new neural pathways. You may even find it helpful to use a simple phrase along the lines of, “Thanks for sharing, Babbler” to acknowledge that inner voice. And then go on to switch your thought.

Head Off a Bad Mood

If you’re a bit spongy to the unsettling energy of others, count yourself lucky. You’ve been given an advance warning to put on your armor. Head out to battle, and victory will be yours.

Now, go suit up!