By Linda Kelly, MSW, RSW
Maybe it’s loneliness. Maybe there’s something you’re supposed to be doing and you just can’t. Maybe you’re on your own and you don’t want to be, or you want to enjoy yourself but all of the old vices aren’t available to you.
You could be one of those people, like me, who used to turn to food. For some, it’s cigarettes or booze. There’s an entire culture built around indulging in wine and chocolate, and it’s so normalized that if you choose not to go that route, if alcohol doesn’t agree with you, and if you’re SICK of spending money to feel better about your life, you’re left dealing with these uncomfortable feelings.
If you’re like me, you’re going to skip through this article, read the bolded items, and hope for the best. I’m not going to stop you. But I should tell you…
If you’re feeling alone,
If you hate how you feel right now,
If you wish you could indulge in something that you know isn’t going to help,
You are not alone.
I am right there with you. I HATE how this feels, and I wish I could escape it too.
Which Thoughts Are Feeding The Monster?
Negative feelings are signals, like traffic lights. It’s up to you to interpret them and figure out what they are trying to tell you. What are the thoughts that are feeding those feelings? Are you making unfair assumptions? Sometimes you have to do some good old introspection to figure it out, so in that case I’d recommend opening a word doc or grabbing a pen and paper, and jotting down the first 10 things that come to mind. Even if they don’t make sense, those items will give you a pretty clear idea of what is occupying that very valuable real estate in your head. Here’s a scenario. One of the things on the list is that you have nothing to do (more likely it’s that there’s nothing you WANT to do). Why is that? What assumptions are you making, and is there any room to rethink your conclusions? If there’s nothing I want to do, it’s probably because I’m focusing too much on the negative aspects of the activities (e.g., while going for a drive is fun, you just end up coming back again so what’s the point?). That IS the point – you come back feeling better because you managed to spend actual minutes engaged in an activity. Maybe you sang in the car (even better!) and released some tension.
Just because the dishes will get dirty again doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wash them. You’re going to focus on the negative parts because you’re feeling negative. Recognize it, and take control.
Be an Observer
Rather than being overcome by the negative feeling and letting it dominate your entire being, step back from it. Examine the feeling, making mental notes on how it actually affects you. Keep in mind, feelings are hormonally driven, so there are physiological changes happening in your body that reinforce those negative thoughts. This is how humans are built, by the way. The worse we feel, the more likely we are to change the situation that made us feel so badly. Notice these things with a sense of amusement. How interesting it is that a mere thought can influence your entire body, and that physical feelings can stimulate more negative thoughts, such as the old favourite, “I feel like I’ve never been happy.”
Reverse the Physiological Effects
How close are your shoulders to your ears? Lower those things down! How tight is your stomach? Breathe! Let it loose! Even if you don’t feel like a calm, relaxed, content person, try acting that way for even a minute. Smiling when you don’t feel happy has been shown to actually increase feelings of happiness and contentment. (Probably because you imagine yourself looking like Schwartzenegger in Terminator 2 when he’s told to smile for the first time to blend in).
If it’s a really rotten feeling, you might feel like gravity is pulling harder and even your movements are slowed down. Force yourself to move around to get the blood pumping through your veins for 20 seconds.
Make Room for a Percentage of Happiness
If the whole of your being is 100% negative right now, you’ve got to carve out some room for positive. Don’t undervalue even a single percentage of positive, because every bit offsets the negative and gives you a much-needed break from the discomfort.
What does that mean? Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. If I can’t find something to solve this whole issue, it’s not even worth trying. Um, no. Give yourself a break and add 1% of fun into your day. Stick your head outside and let the sunlight touch your face. Vitamin D is vital to mood stability (and sunlight feels NICE). Better yet, take 4 or 5 deep, full breaths and get some fresh air into those lungs.
Music is Powerful; Use it Well
Turn on music that will make you feel the way you WANT to feel. Not the way you do feel. There’s a time and a place for listening to depressing music and purging those feelings by crying and looking dramatically out the car window like you’re in a music video (you have all done it). But if you want to feel better right this instant, do the opposite of what you’d normally do. Listen to Miranda Lambert’s We Should Be Friends and try to perfect that country twang with all seriousness. Learn Britney Spears’s “Drop Dead Beautiful” and try staying serious while singing along with the lyrical genius who wrote “steam me like a pot full of vegetables.”
A Music Challenge
Turn on music that you do not like, and see how long you can stand listening to it. How long can you keep it up before laughing your head off and making fun of whichever friend loves that song?
An Old Fashioned Reach-Out
Think of someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, and then reach out via Facebook, Email, or even phone to ask how they’re doing and to extend a compliment. This is easier in the age of Facebook because you may be able to find out about their accomplishments or current lifestyle online, enabling you to do this part without the awkwardness of calling them out of the blue. This step gets you outside of yourself, and focused on others. You’re also putting good feelings into the world, which is rewarding in itself. Other options could be to write a thank-you card to the last person who did something for you, and actually mail it. People don’t get much in the mail apart from bills anymore. Imagine how kindly a person would feel if you put the effort into thanking them!
Walk at a Pace that Matches Your Mood
Avoid setting some impossible standards that are out of your realm of normal, like expecting that you have to go do yoga or run a 6-minute mile for exercise to be worth it. Walk. Stroll slowly. Bring a warm drink with you. This is about making your outsides match your insides, and feel free to speed up if your mood starts to improve. There doesn’t have to be a reason or a destination, but if you need one, I’d recommend you going for that walk for the sole purpose of counting the number of people you see. Or making a game of looking for dogs that match their owners, like in the intro of 101 Dalmations.
Find a Dog and Let it Love You.
Do you have friends who own dogs? Do you have one yourself? Are there any dogs that are out walking right now? A well-loved dog is love incarnate. Just be near one and it’ll know what to do. Don’t be shy of dog owners (though ask before petting!) – they probably know better than most people how much a dog’s love changes your life.
No One is Happy All The Time (and if they act like they are, they are lying!)
Let’s just acknowledge that happiness is not the normal, everyday state of being. You do not need to excuse yourself or apologize for feeling low. Sometimes it’s just hormones, other times it’s lack of sunlight, exercise, sleep, nutrition, human connection, stimulating hobbies, or even just needing a change in your life. Don’t try blocking or avoiding it. The feeling will pass…if you let it.
Talk to a Professional. When we feel disconnected, we want to talk about it. But the negative feelings can make us feel like a burden to others if we disclose too much. If this is a problem and it has lasted for more than a month, talking to a professional can help with getting you back on track to feeling in control once again.
We can help.
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