When we get overwhelmed we tend to see things in black and white. Depressed, sad, angry, anxious, take your pick of mood, when the going gets tough, it can feel like a heavy wet blanket of yuck. We feel helpless to do anything about it, it is too consuming, a blinding fog, and feeling hopeless isn’t too far behind.

Instead of giving into the dark feeling, stop and take a closer look. Take your mood temperature.

Using a 0-10 scale, assign the extremes first because they are easiest. Think of an old-fashioned thermometer: 0 is totally relaxed, happy, content, free of strife, however you want to describe bliss, that’s 0. The temperature rises as the stress level and the negative mood rises so 10 is the extreme version of whatever your particular bugaboo is: panic, out of control rage or depression so oppressive you are thinking self-destructive thoughts.

Five might be having moderate stress to deal with but feeling like you have it in control, in balance. Now describe the numbers in between 0-5 and 5-10. Under 5 you may experience increasing stress but still maintain a sense of control. On my scale for anxiety, even up to 6, I feel like I still have enough of a grip that I can easily apply coping techniques to get the temp down.

Seven and above is when the negative mood may be getting out of control and intervention is called for, like taking a mental time-out, conscientiously addressing negative thoughts with more reasonable thoughts, calling a friend for support, or your therapist, if your temperature is rapidly heading for higher numbers.

The idea behind the mood thermometer, developed originally by child psychologists to help children learn how to describe what they were feeling, is to become more sensitive to the nuances of mood. In other words, we can be more effective in dealing with our mood if we can see the different degrees of color in between the black and white. If I only see 10, I am overwhelmed. Also, it is easier to do things to keep from boiling over if you catch the bad mood before it gets too hot. If I stop and note that my mood is more like an eight, or a 7, I can do something about that. Improving my mood suddenly seems attainable.