‘Mood Freezing’ for stress and other negative emotions

If lockdown has made you feel frustrated or stressed, you might expect that expressing those feelings onto an external target – through anger, shouting, or generally aggressive behaviour - will make you feel better. The problem is that taking your bad mood out on your partner can simply cause problems in your relationship as well, and it seems that ‘mood freezing’ can be a better approach.

Why do we take out our stress and frustration on other people?

This has been called variously catharsis, redirection, and displacement, but the idea that frustration and other negative emotions come out as aggression has been around for many years. A lot of people support the idea that it’s an attempt to regulate our own emotions: broadly speaking, if we let the anger out, we have somehow got rid of it. It's better, we think, than ‘bottling it up inside’. And although this explanation is now being questioned by researchers it is still a big part of many people's thinking.

What is mood freezing?

In 1984, experimenter Manucia investigated whether there might be a better way. He deliberately made people feel frustrated but gave them pills which he said would ‘freeze’ their mood so that in the short term it couldn’t be changed. In fact, the pills were placebos that had no effect at all.

People who originally believed that venting their anger would make them feel better didn’t vent nearly as much after being given the 'mood freezing' pill. Manucia said it was because they thought that it wouldn't help if their mood was frozen.

Once people were convinced that aggression wouldn’t make a difference, they were willing to try other solutions such as relaxation and said they felt happier.

Positive ways of dealing with frustration, stress and anger

Sadly, there is no one method of coping positively with frustration and stress that will work for everyone. You may have to try a few things till you find your best solution. But the effort is worthwhile and reducing your anger and aggression will be good for you and everyone around you.
  1. Work on making the best of whatever happens. Identify the things you can control and work on reducing them. As you do this, the factors beyond your control become less disturbing.
  2. Retire to a quiet place when you feel you’re about to explode. Count to ten. Go for a walk, preferably in natural surroundings. Parks, streets with trees and greenery and undeveloped areas with natural plant growth will do so you don't have to go miles from home. See this link for how this can help your mental health.
  3. Anticipate the consequences of different choices. Use that quiet time to work out how different approaches are likely to end and choose the response with the best long-term outcome.
  4. Talk it over. Direct discussions usually work better than letting resentments build up over time. But choose your moment – don’t try to talk calmly when you are feeling frustrated and angry. Set time aside later.
  5. If you want different results, do things differently. If there are specific situations that tend to make you lash out, plan ahead for how you can cope with them better. Or perhaps find a solution that means you don’t come across that situation in the same way – for example, if you get angry and frustrated in traffic jams, can you take a different route to work (even if it’s longer) or change your hours to avoid the worst of it?
  6. Make an effort to identify the real source of your feelings. Are you upset because someone criticised you or because they verbalised what you were thinking about yourself? This is often where a therapist can help.
  7. Separate reality from fiction. If you’re a movie hero or soap character, it might be fine to punch someone on the nose when they upset you or to smash household objects in a temper tantrum. In real life it's different, and aggression has emotional, legal and social consequences.
  8. Watch your stress levels generally. Develop relaxation methods that work for you and use them regularly. There are plenty of suggestions on this site, others include engaging in daily meditation or taking a walk. Listen to music or get a massage.

Benefits of mood freezing and other non-aggressive techniques

  1. Avoids regrets. When you lash out, you can say or do things that are difficult for you and others to live with when you calm down.
  2. Improves your relationships. Blowing off steam can distance you from your loved ones and cause problems at work. Respectful discussions smooth the way for staying connected and for greater cooperation.
  3. Allows you to be in control. If you have ever done something you regret in anger you know that anger controls you, not the other way around. Being calm and reasonable allows you to be in control of yourself.
  4. Creates more happiness. Anger may sometimes feel exciting. However, in the long term, abandoning aggression will make you more content.

If you want to be happier, try to vent less and relax more. No pill is necessary. 
With practice, you can train yourself to react peacefully to unpleasant emotions, and if you struggle with doing this, consider seeing a stress management coach or therapist to give you the support and skills you need.


Author: is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593

References: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bbushman/bbp01.pdf