moodchart graph

Mood: Operating Definition

A system in balance maintains an internal predetermined level even though the external environment changes; for a system to make adjustments means feedbacks from the environment, and the capacity to self-regulation.  Self-regulation is accomplished by making adjustments to the system so the difference between the predetermined set-point level and the actual condition is zero1.

Mood disorders might be characterized as a “wondering thymostat”, that is, the mood system has trouble maintaining mood levels within a small deviation around the predetermined set-point of neutrality to slightly positive. For individuals with mood disorders, the set-point might not be set at neural or their moods have difficulty in returning to neutral when disturbed. For example, people with bipolar I disorder have mood swings consisting of periods of depression and a periods of elation or mania. People with bipolar II disorder have recurrent depression and have similar pattern as bipolar I except the election side only exceeds normal intensity for joy (hypomania) but does not reach a manic episode. People with bipolar III disorder (not yet recognized by the DSM) refers to the experience of recurrent episode of unipolar depression. Bipolar disorders vary in a range from illness free-spells of many years to extreme variations happening over the course of hours or minutes2.  Predisposal to specific set-points for mood states appears partly genetic. An infant’s temperament characterized by excessive reactivity and behavioral inhibition relates to older emotional responses of depression and anxiety3 .


A scale for measuring personal mood might be:

Level                           Trait of the Level

+5                               Explosive, Invincible

+4                               Flight of ideas, tantrums, impulsive

+3                               Irritable, decreased need for sleep

+2                               Increased energy, more social

+1                               Enthusiastic,

0                                  Balanced, calm, rational

-1                                 Mild sadness or melancholy,

-2                                 Sluggish, complains of low energy in the

morning, feels bored;

-3                                 Depressed mood, feels hopeless, tearful,

Anxious, energy going down, sleep upset;

-4                                 Withdrawn, no energy, sleeps all of the time

-5                                 Pacing, can’t settle, very agitated, paranoid delusions.

If you think that your moods are unstable, use this scale and keep track of your moods upon awaking. See if you switch to a higher or lower state, and have trouble finding neutral. See mood disorder chart which is included in this blog.




1.  Smith, T.S. (1992). Strong Interactions.  Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press; 1992 :pp.20-30.

2. Ferrier IN, MacMillan IC, Young AH. The search for the wandering thymostat: a review of some developments in bipolar disorder research. Br J Psychiatry 2001;178(supplement 41):S103–6.

3. Liraud, F.,Verdoux, H. Which temperamental characteristics are associated with substance use in subjects with psychotic and mood disorders? Psychiatry Research, 2000; 93, 63–72.


Rational Versus Irrational Beliefs

Probably mood swings within a –2 to +2 would be normal. (I presented a scale in a previous note the provided general descriptors for a mood range from +5 to –5.) Since mood represents a filter to reality, positive mood swings provides energy to achieve goals, and overcome obstacles whereas the negative moods indicate reasons to slowdown, re-evaluate the situation, and maybe even stop progress. When moods exceed these values in either direction, the person will naturally draw conclusions about reality based upon irrational beliefs, and distorted thinking with, of course, deleterious consequences.



Seasonal Affective Disorder

In the attached chart  is a composite of mood diagrams for individuals with SAD that I have treated in Maumee, Ohio. The days with the least amount of daylight happen in December. The numbers shown in the block for each month is the amount of additional daylight for the month compared to December. These data are computer for the 15th of each month.

I will try to describe their experiences:

About half way through March the “switch” goes off. Energy starts to come back even though people continue to feel depressed. The next 30 days are very difficult for some people with Mood disorder. Their thoughts begin racing, Trouble with sleep. Irritability. Some people start getting really great ideas, “lets buy a new car!”

April is the time the leaves have not covered the hardwoods. I get feelings of apprehension. I’ve always thought it represented a time when our hunter-gather  ancestors were themselves hunted by other animals. Without leaf cover it becomes very hard to hid from the bears. No place to hide until the leaves on the trees begin to cover the path.

May: The wind direction shifts from northwest the southwest; warmth, Spring. Things look better. Time to go outside. Think about planting and the summer. Love is in the air.

August begins the downturn, slowly at first. The light is going away. Birds are leaving. September is a little more loss of light.  In October, the bottom falls out; time for antidepressants, again. Become a “dial tone” until spring.

November, and December, I think the best way to describe the mood is flat; for some every worse than flat; dark thoughts; and energy begins to drift away. If it weren’t for the holidays, depression might set in. [It would be a great time to haul into the cave some green trees and light them up!].

For many people, the first 60 days of year are the lowest mood point. Dark, cold, with nothing to do except feel miserable.


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