We’ve all been there: in a state of sadness. Sometimes it’s despair. Next day we might get over it, particularly if the sun is shining. But sometimes it doesn’t just go away. And when it persists, low mood can become deeply depressing.
Perhaps the most debilitating effect of pathological worry, deep anxiety and the pit of cerebral despair itself – depression – is that soulless, cheerless feeling of anger without enthusiasm, leading the mind to stay firmly focused on ‘what’s wrong’. This cognitive version of tunnel-vision literally loses sight of ‘what’s right’. But not only is it an imbalance; it’s highly resistant to any remotely positive perspectives. When challenged by any optimistic attempts to diminish the insidious feeling of mental angst and gloom, the mind can be downright bigoted.
Persistent low mood inexorably takes root within the deepest recesses of our mind, from when it becomes a gloomy-grey filter, literally clouding out all other perspectives. Most sufferers will know that only too well. And everyone would agree it is difficult to feel motivated to challenge our morose thinking when we are in low mood mode. Which, for some, is all the time, especially if we feel powerless in the downward spiral as our spirits plunge. So our self-esteem drops to the point where we feel worthless; as well as helpless. But there is an alternative to challenging our thinking. After all, our rational mind is not all that strong when it comes to challenging how we feel.
When the language of self-talk has become all-or-nothing/black and white: You’re a total failure and you can’t do anything right – leading us to focus on all the things that went wrong, totally ignoring anything remotely positive, our emotional low becomes our ‘reality’. So we really do feel like a total failure.
Not only that, we become telepathic and imagine everyone can see our inner flaws. And, of course, we believe this will never change, and that we will remain useless and desperately sad for ever. Wow! What a lot of labelling has taken place.
When we realise that our inner voice has become persistently pessimistic, it is definitely time to stop listening. If we become embroiled in a weary argument with errant friends and family, we often say: ‘I’ve heard enough!’ So why not say this to ourselves?
Time to stop listening and stop thinking. Literally. Just telling ourselves we have ‘had enough!’ can quiet our mind. So do that, and be ready to fill the moment, before your inner voice does.
Tempting though it is to take up permanent residence on the couch in front of mindless TV programmes, get up and move around, preferably vigorously. Feel the difference, but stop listening to what your mind may be telling you. If you feel tired and want to flop, just try this: no matter how exhausted you feel, tell yourself you will get up and take ten steps. A tired mind can never ever prevent leg muscles from working. Try it! Just ten steps. Don’t even think about it. If you’re doubtful, just test out the theory that you can get off the sofa. Test yourself. Take ten steps. That’s all. Just to prove you can. What have you got to lose? There is nothing worth watching on TV, after all. So get up and take ten steps. Once you have taken ten, you have beaten inertia.
And that’s the time when it’s time to go for a walk. Don’t think about not wanting to. This is really important. It’s not time for a deeply introspective debate. It’s certainly not time to listen to your inner voice telling you that you really are going to be so much happier back on the sofa, channel-hopping for the least mind-numbing and tedious TV programmes. Trust your long-subdued real you to get some fresh air. If the sun is shining, so much the better; take the sunglasses, but hang them fashionably from the neck of your shirt, and feel the rays on your face. If it’s raining, just remember Billy Connolly’s wise observation that there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. So dress accordingly. You won’t dissolve in rain.
While out, remember not to think, but do look around. Listen. The brain can only cope with a very limited number of stimuli so tune into what your senses are alert to – listen for bird song, look for plants and trees, clouds, touch walls, windows (only your own!), feel the buzz of the city or the peace of the countryside. Do not even think of judging what you do or do not see.
Quicken your pace. It’s virtually impossible to stay gloomy while walking briskly. Feel what’s happening: your feet landing, arms swinging, head up, looking around. You are starting to get back in touch with feelings that you may have mislaid. Pay attention to what you can hear around you and the feelings of mud squelching under foot or the soft scuff of soles on the pavement.
After 15 minutes or so you will feel better. That’s the time to realise you have literally taken the first steps back to the real you, that deep down you really do want to be. Again.
There is so much more you can do. Eat better for example. When we’re feeling low we may only feel like sugar-rich junk food. But healthier food fights fatigue. And makes us feel better. The trigger of the Golden Arches may momentarily make you drool, but do those chemical-laden fast food burgers really ever make anyone feel great inside? Get some vitamins and omega-3 oils (found in fish) inside you. They can make you feel better.
There are other things you can do. Keyword here is doing. Do things you enjoy, or used to enjoy doing. Don’t think about whether or not it’s a good idea – just think Nike and just do it. Tell yourself you will assess whether or not it was worthwhile after you’ve done it; not before.
Connect with people; a smile, a friendly greeting, or something you know you will be appreciated, like resuming contact with someone with whom we’ve been remiss at keeping in touch; we all have someone who would appreciate a call. Try a random act of kindness; there are lots of opportunities to help someone. The key thing here is to remember to not even think about not doing. Just do it and see if it helps. Do not imagine you can predict how you will feel. Although your inner voice will do just that.
I’m not so naive to imagine this is all some magic wand that will turn your life around. Only you can do that. But if you suspend your gloomy thoughts and negative self-talk for one morning or one afternoon, and do as many of these activities as you can, there is no way you won’t start feeling better. The more vigorously you engage in doing things that make you feel better, the more you start to undermine your feelings of powerlessness and despair. And who knows where that might lead you?
John Castleford has been a teacher since 1976, and then studied life coaching in the 1990s.
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