Mood vs Affect

Defining emotions and feelings can be difficult at times. Often, you may experience difficulty in expressing or explaining how you are feeling or what you may be struggling with to a family member, friend, or medical professional.  In the same way, it can often be difficult to explain or understand the difference between an affective or mood disorder. These terms are often used interchangeably to define certain psychological states, and in most cases, opinions vary in the medical field. Depending on who you seek counsel from, the definitions of “emotions,” “moods,” and “affect” can be different.

In this article, we will seek to explain the difference between mood and affect and how they might be used interchangeably.

What is Mood and Affect?

As stated above, depressive disorders can be difficult to define. The way in which depression affects your mental and emotional state can vary depending on the disorder. Below, we seek to define both mood and affect and how they correlate with depression.

Mood Definition:

Your mood is different from your emotions. A change in your mood will often have a less obvious, immediate, or specific cause. Most often, a change in your mood can last longer than a change in your emotional state – emotions tend to be short-term. A negative mood may last for hours or days. As mentioned before, a mood change does not often have a known cause – waking up in a bad mood, for example. You may feel completely fine, yet your mood does not correlate. Moods are often described in a positive or negative way: “good” or “bad”.

Affect Definition:

An affect can be used to describe both your emotions or your mood. An affect is the base of your sense of feeling or expressing your emotions. This is better understood by your response to certain events: calm, agitation, or whether or not you are experiencing something pleasant or unpleasant. Yet, some differ in how they want to define the experience of the individual. Some believe that an affect is a conscious expression of emotion, while others believe an affect is an unconscious experience. One thing to keep in mind: an expression of emotion is most notably recognized through facial expressions. Yet, it is difficult to solely define affect as a physical expression. It is something that is abstract, yet is the driving force of an emotional experience, whether good or bad.

What is the Difference Between Affect and Mood?

Most often, an affect is a visible reaction regarding physical events. Whereas, a mood is a state of unconscious feeling. An affect can often be described by terms that range from: constricted, shallow, flattened affect (emotionless), normal, or expressions that are fitting in context. When discussing mood, we are usually referring to feelings of: anxiety, depression, dysphoria, euphoria, anger, or irritation.

When discussing affective or mood disorders, there are often various reactions that usually indicate the presence of something deeper. People with these disorders often follow these patterns:

  • Expression or responding to certain events in a way which are inappropriate or opposing to the required reaction: this is called an incongruent affect
  • A lack of emotion or expression, a sense of detachment from the occasion: lack of affect
  • Excessive response to a situation, emotional or otherwise: overreaction

How to Describe Affect

As previously mentioned, an affect is an observable expression of emotions. This can be observed through facial expressions, the inflection of voice (tone), or other physical expressions. An affect may be short-term or only last according to the occasion.  This, again, is different from mood. A mood refers to a more sustained or recurring emotion.

When we discuss terms of a broad affect, we simply mean a person is capable of performing expressions that fit the occasion: variations in facial expression, tone/pitch of voice, and hand or body movements. When we discuss negative affects, we use terms such as flat, restricted, or blunted. Each of these terms addresses variations in a lack of expressive variables.

Restricted: Restricted affect is noted by a reduction in the range or intensity of a person’s expression.

Blunted: A blunted affect is marked by a severe lack of intensity or range of emotional expression.

Flattened: People who have a flattened affect are often incapable of expressing or lack signs of emotion: monotone voice, immobile face.

Concerns regarding affects begin when there are repeated or abrupt shifts in a person’s expressions or emotional state. People who suffer affective disorders often express themselves inappropriately or in a way which is counter to their words or facial expression.

Often, however, affective and mood disorders are diagnosed the same. Depressive and mood disorders can be both characterized by shifts in mood or expression.

What are Affective Disorders?

Affective disorders are those characterized by fluctuations in a person’s physical activity or expression. In most cases, these shifts are often conspicuous. Different types of affective disorders can range from mental health conditions like depression or bipolar disorder.


Depression can often be a sign of an affective disorder. Medically, depression is defined as recurring, persistent feelings of extreme sadness, despair, or guilt. Often, depressive episodes can last for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Some of the most common depressive disorders include:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD): Characterized by prolonged episodes of fatigue, negative mood, despair, and other symptoms.
  • Dysthymia: Characterized by less severe depressive episodes lasting 2 or more years.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: a subtype of depression that often occurs during seasons with less daylight

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme shifts in expression. However, there are three types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I: defined by manic episodes that include impulsivity or elatedness lasting for a week or longer. In some cases, a depressive episode can follow a manic episode. However, in most cases, the person may return to a state of normalcy.
  • Bipolar II: can include episodes of depression that last for 2 weeks or more with a returned state of normalcy or hypomania (reduced elation and impulsivity).
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: is a milder form of bipolar disorder with no clear timeline regarding depressive or hypomanic episodes. You may be diagnosed with cyclothymia if you have experienced cycles for 2 years or more.

Mood Disorders

A mood disorder is classified broadly and covers a vast majority of depression disorders.

The most common types of mood disorders include:

  • Major depression: as mentioned above: excessive or recurring feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and/or other symptoms of depression that last for more than 2 weeks.
  • Mood disorder related to a health condition: Cancer, severe injuries, autoimmune disorders, or other chronic illnesses can often trigger symptoms of depression.
  • Substance abuse/induced mood disorder: Experiencing symptoms of depression caused by alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medication, or forms of treatment that include substance cessation (detox, withdrawal treatment, etc.)

Although bipolar disorder and dysthymia are commonly classified as affective disorders, they also fall into the classification of mood disorders.

If you or a loved one are suffering from any  mental illness, there are treatment options available to you. Contact your local health care provider or contact us at Freedom Now to learn more about how you can receive mental health treatment in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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