Moods are radioactive. You can start with a delightful day, and then someone calls you, ‘radiates’ their moods to you, and changes your mood for the rest of the day.
In various parts of the world, the weather is unpredictable. If you visit London, for example, even if it looks gorgeously warm outside, even if the forecast says the weather will stay that way, it can still be pouring later that day.
Because of it, Londoners don’t take that unpredictability personally. The rain is not trying to ruin your plan. It just is. So, they don’t tie the success or failure of their day to the fluctuating weather.
They simply bring an umbrella.
People’s moods are like the weather. When someone is suddenly upset, rude, or sad, when their reaction is disproportionate to what you just did, it is rarely about you. And you can’t always anticipate when that will happen.
What you need then is to ‘bring an umbrella’. You prepare and deal with that unpredictability, without taking it personally.
Practical principles to deal with others’ unpredictable moods
How does ‘bringing an umbrella’ work in practice? You can try three principles:
1. Do nothing, but be everything.
This is beyond listening to others. Be with them — really be with them. Empathy does not equal sympathy. You don’t need to agree with them. And often, you should not agree with them. Remember, you can see their errors easier, not because you are smarter, but because you are outside their emotional maelstrom.
However, do not judge them. Do not offer a solution. Do nothing.
Instead, use everything you have within you to simply be there. Attempt to imagine what it is like to be them, with all their magical qualities and imperfections, dealing with all the pains they are experiencing at that moment.
If you are a young guy, I know you don’t get why this works . Fortunately, for it to work, you don’t need to grasp its underlying psychological and spiritual mechanisms.
Be careful, though. You should not do only this in all contexts, all the time. Balance it with the second principle:
2. Limit your emotional energy allowance to others.
When you practise a heartfelt empathy, you may feel spent. Imagine your emotional energy like fuel. You burn that fuel every time you ‘be there’ for someone .
So, remember to be selective. Do not carelessly ‘be there’ in every situation, every time, for everyone. Because it diminishes your well-being in the long run. You will then end up depleted, too weak to be helpful to anyone.
Limiting your emotional allowance to others also prevents you from rewarding negative patterns.
For example, in every conversation, your best friend keeps absorbing your energy away, telling you all the annoying and unfair things about her day.
Here’s what you do. At times, you practice the first principle, you ‘do nothing, but be everything’. At other times, you assert changes to the conversational moods. Talk about your day instead, things you are grateful about.
You ‘be everything, but do something.’
They may not welcome that change (you can see it on their face). Their ego, just like yours, craves attention towards its negativity. It wants to be rewarded with your unquestionable nodding head.
So, keep challenging it. Keep alternating the two principles over a long stretch of your friendship.
They will learn, no matter how slowly, that you don’t reward uncontrolled negativities, that your emotional energy is not infinite, and that your spiritual well-being matters too.
3. Bring their awareness to their moods.
Find openings where you can bring their spiritual awareness to their state of emotion. It is the most valuable gift, but it is not the easiest to give. To increase your probability of success, you and the other person should talk about it when both of you are calm.
Choose the vocabulary appropriate to your religion, culture, level of education, and personalities. Use any interesting ideas around you to enter that conversation, for example:
‘You know, there is this one lecturer, he sees his anger like a creature. Ridiculous, right? Like Luna Lovegood seeing thestrals or something. So weird.
But it’s kind of useful, though. When you and I are moody, we can’t see it. It envelopes us, and then we say things we later regret. But if we see this “creature” early, we have a chance of controlling it before it takes over.
You know what? Maybe this is silly, but when you see me getting upset, remind me of this weird creature idea. Remind me it’s starting to take over. Maybe I can catch it early enough.
What about you? How would I help you to be aware of it when that happens in you?’
Bringing an umbrella may not stop you from being wet
An umbrella is not meant to protect you against every molecule of raindrops. You just hope you will not be thoroughly drenched.
And sometimes, when it rains too heavily outside, it‘s best if you stay indoors.
Even when you prepare for others’ unpredictable moods, rarely do you end up unaffected, especially if you love them. You merely hope that your own moods won’t turn gloomy.
And sometimes, when it‘s too much, it‘s best if you stay away from them.
Either way, you need not love or hate the unpredictable moods of others, just like you don’t have to love or hate the weather. It is seldom about you. So, summon your courage to be close to others, despite that uncertainty.
Just don’t forget to bring an umbrella.
 Many men have ‘systemiser brain’, according to autism scholar Simon Baron-Cohen. See Baron-Cohen, S., Knickmeyer, R. C., & Belmonte, M. K. (2005). Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science, 310(5749), 819-823 (full-text).
They view others’ emotional expressions and behaviours as deterministic systems. When they see you being moody, they want to determine how your ‘system’ works, and then fix it, so you can stop being moody.
 In helping others, we can experience compassion fatigue. Here is a good website dedicated to its awareness. People whose beautiful careers involve taking care of others (nurses, counsellors, imams, priests, palliative caregivers, even animal caretakers) are susceptible to compassion fatigue.
Researchers recommend exploring self-compassion as a protective measure. For example, see Voon, S. P., Lau, P. L., Leong, K. E. (2017). A Review on Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-Being among Counselors in Malaysia. International Journal of Education, Psychology and Counseling, 2(6), 46-56 (full-text).
This applies to you, too. When you are taking care of your loved ones, either physically or psychologically, don’t neglect yourself. Taking care of you is a vital part of taking care of them.