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Emotions and emotional disorders
Emotions and emotional disorders

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1  Moods, emotions and disorders

Mood, like emotion, is an affective state or in layman’s terms; ‘a feeling’. Those in favour of a distinction between the terms ‘mood’ and ‘emotion’ suggest that emotion has a clear focus (i.e. its cause is self-evident), whereas mood is diffuse and can last for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Other researchers use the terms ‘emotion’ and ‘mood’ interchangeably. The basic disagreement seems to be about whether it is important to recognise that one state (emotion) is normally associated, by the person experiencing it, with a particular object or cause, and the other (mood) is often not. What difference might this make? Some evidence suggests that a particular ‘mood’ can affect our thoughts, perceptions and behaviours for prolonged periods – the so-called ‘mood effect’.

There is evidence that when a mood or its source is brought to the attention of the person experiencing it, the mood effect can disappear (Schwarz, 1990). So it has been suggested that although moods (like emotions) can have identifiable sources, the effects of moods depend on the sources going unnoticed; and that a distinction between moods and emotions is therefore meaningful and even useful.

Certainly, it may help our understanding of some kinds of treatment for affective and anxiety disorders. For instance, mindfulness-based or cognitive therapy approaches may exert their effect by training people to become more aware of their moods, and of what is influencing or causing them.

Another common distinction found in the study of moods and emotions concerns states and traits. A trait is a relatively stable attribute of an individual, whereas a state is a temporary response to circumstances.

Take, for example, anxiety. A person shows state anxiety when something causes him or her to feel anxious temporarily. The anxiety then dissipates and the person feels ‘normal’ again. An example might be the anxiety that some people feel when heading to an appointment with the dentist, or waiting for an operation. However, in some people anxiety is a trait – they can simply be described as ‘anxious people’. Trait anxiety has therefore been suggested to be a relatively stable characteristic of a person.

While traits may indeed be more stable, it does not mean that they are not malleable, at least to some extent, though perhaps they are harder to change.