Emotional Numbers

Janet Coburn
4 min readMay 14, 2023

What’s the relationship between mood and emotions? How is the mind involved? Is it even possible to sort them out?

These days, people talk a lot about one’s Emotional Quotient, or EQ, also known as emotional intelligence, or EI. EQ is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Emotions are “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” Mood is “a temporary state of mind or feeling.” Obviously, the definitions overlap somewhat.

All of these terms are used by the general public. EQ is the currently popular term. You can find any number of “tests” online that claim to determine your EQ. Often these are phrased in terms of your “personality” and may refer to enneagrams or other psychological theories. Other searches revert back to showing you your IQ, even if you were looking for EQ tests. Many of them charge money to show you the results. I’m not interested enough in my EQ to spend the money, though I took one of the tests. I might ask my therapist if she has a handle on what my EQ might be. I’d be happy with a subjective evaluation such as Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, or Terrible. Anything more, like a circular chart with bright-colored segments, I believe I’ll pass.

How do EQ and IQ tests compare? Healthline says, “IQ tests measure your ability to solve problems, use logic, and grasp or communicate complex ideas. EQ tests measure your ability to recognize emotion in yourself and others, and to use that awareness to guide your decisions.” So, completely different things. A person with a high IQ could have a low EQ and vice versa.

So, what else do the experts say about the difference between moods and emotions? “Moods can last for hours while emotions last anywhere from seconds to minutes, at most.”

There I would disagree.

At least, I have an opinion. An emotion is something I feel for a defined amount of time, usually a short one. My husband and I disagree and I feel an emotion of annoyance. But it seldom lasts for mere seconds. It can dissipate within a minute or last for several hours, depending on when we talk it out.

A mood lasts longer than that. Now that I’m relatively stable, my moods may last longer than a week, but less than years. Right now, I’m having a mood of anxiety, which has lasted for nearly a month, which doesn’t show much sign of pulling back, and which I’ve had to discuss with my therapist and my psychiatrist.

Moods certainly can last for more than seconds or minutes — hours, days, weeks, or longer — but emotions can last a long time too. Have you ever held a grudge? It’s not a fleeting emotion. It’s not a mood, but it can last for potentially years — even the rest of your life. What’s left? A state of mind? A personality trait? A decision?

In my research, I did come across a piece about EQ and various disorders. It was on a site that promotes a treatment center for drug abuse, so I don’t know how accurate it is. But it said that empathy, being a major component of EQ, will change in a person with depression. They may feel more empathy for a person who is also suffering, but less for a person who isn’t. This leads to numbness, they say, which may further impair one’s mental health.

In cases of ADHD, the center says, people may have trouble reacting to emotional stimuli and engage in “inappropriate behavior” for a situation. Without treatment and EQ, they may still feel internal restlessness.

Anxiety and EQ, they say, are complicated. Low EQ may mean detachment from things that threaten safety and self-esteem. On the other hand, people with anxiety and high EQ may have a tendency to be so empathetic that they overthink and lack the ability to self-regulate.

The treatment center says it can improve EQ and thereby improve self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, all in the context of addiction recovery. Whether this is true — whether raising EQ is possible and promotes benefits in understanding and behavior — is, as far as I can see, far from settled. It’s also unclear to me in which order this would happen. Would treating the mental condition raise the EQ, or would raising the EQ help treat the mental condition?

I also encountered a study that said high EQ is positively associated with good general physical health. Yet another investigated the correlation among EQ, a sense of belonging, and mental health among college students. Rejection in particular was associated with poor mental health outcomes.

I’d like to see more on the subject.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.