Everyone feels low from time to time. If you are going through challenging times your feelings of despondency may be entirely valid and appropriate to the situation. Other times you may be feeling flat for no reason you can put your finger on. Either way, allowing yourself to experience your misery for a short time is not a bad thing. The problem arises when you get stuck there, or find yourself waking up in a bad mood and struggling to shake it off.
Here are seven simple steps to feeling better:
Accept: Start with accepting where you are right now. By tuning in to your feeling and acknowledging it, you start to feel less overwhelmed. The point is that trying to push down a feeling or pretend it’s not there doesn’t help. Pushed away feelings tend to pop back up – sometimes when you least expect them. Instead tune in. Ask yourself with an attitude of curiosity (as opposed to judgement): What’s going on? What am I feeling? When you tune in you may find yourself aware that your feeling is anger or sadness or shame or a combination of these things. Whatever it is, just notice it for now.
From what to why: Now you realise what your bad mood is made up of emotionally, the next stage is to apply the same curiosity to the question of why you feel this way. This is a short process of self-inquiry that helps you shift from an idea that you are a passive recipient of your mood to recognising the contributing factors. When you know what makes up your mood, you know how to change it. You may realise that actually you’re feeling frustrated because you overslept and your car didn’t start and you were late for a meeting or whatever it may be. If it’s unclear to you why you are so affected by whatever has triggered your mood, ask yourself what it means. For example, you can ask yourself: What does it mean to me that I was late? The answer may be that you’re making a bad impression on your boss. And so what? Then I might not get a good appraisal. And so what? Then I’ll feel like a failure. And on until you get to the problem beneath the problem. Sometimes even though on the face of it our bad mood is triggered by some minor event in the here and now, the underlying issue is deeper and belongs in the past. For example, you may feel frustrated by bad service when you went to the coffee shop but from a brief self-inquiry may realise that in fact you felt ignored and this taps into some other issue you have about feeling unimportant, and who knows, maybe that feeling has been with you since childhood when your mother was preoccupied with your demanding younger sister and you felt your needs were neglected! Not all here and now responses are rooted in the past but some are, and it’s useful to identify when that’s the case. When you know where your emotion really belongs, you can let go of it more easily in the present and lessen the likelihood of over-reactions and disproportionate responses.
Have a word with yourself: Next on the agenda is giving yourself an encouraging pep talk. Most likely you are giving yourself a hard time about something – either what has gone wrong with your day or why you can’t snap out of your bad mood. You cannot always resolve the problems that arise and without a resolution your mood gets stuck in negative. However, what you can do is accept that life is like that, you don’t always get things to go your way, you won't always accomplish everything you planned and life is not always going to align perfectly with your goals and desires. Instead of getting into an inner dialogue of annoyance with yourself or others, remind yourself that this is simply how life is for each and every one of us. We all struggle in many ways, big and small. Others are not perfect and neither are we. Show some compassion to yourself and others.
Reset: Often we find that we feel better after a good night’s sleep and it’s easy to write off the whole day if it started on the wrong footing. The effect of a night’s sleep - as well as being refreshing – is to give the impression of a fresh start. But you don’t need to wait until tomorrow to have the fresh start. You can encourage this simply by taking a break with a clear intention to return to whatever you are doing with a new attitude. You might want to go for a run or read a book, whatever has the effect of taking you into a different emotional environment. Changing your physical environment as part of that process helps. A few minutes of mindful breathing can also be the perfect way to reset. Take a few minutes and simply focus on the breath. Whilst your mind may wander, just allow it to return to the focus without judgement. A few minutes of this practice can have the effect of quieting your mind and the rumination that contributes to maintaining your bad mood. Another option is walking. Research shows that the simple act of walking lifts your mood, even if you don’t expect it to!
Commit to feeling better: After your break, make sure you have set your intention to take a more positive attitude. Let this commitment be reflected in your body language. If you do not make a solid intention to feel differently, then you’re not supporting yourself as much as you could. Shift your posture from slumped to walking tall. Notice the ways that your body or tone of voice reflects your bad mood and instead adopt the posture and tone of a positive mood. Notice your internal dialogue and shift to a voice of support and encouragement. Set your intention to commit to feeling better and let that show in your words and actions.
Get some perspective: Whatever is bothering you, chances are in the scheme of things, it’s pretty irrelevant. Take some time to get perspective. One way to do this is to count your blessings and mentally list all the things that are positive and going well in your life. Turn your attention to your successes, to what is going right, to what you have to be grateful for. You’ll find it’s hard to be in a state of gratitude and in a bad mood at the same time!
Seek help: Sometimes it’s more than just a bad day. If you are struggling with challenging life events then it’s not always easy to lift your mood. Sometimes it’s important to go through a process of pain and grief when you are going through big challenges and changes in your life. If you find that you are struggling with bad moods that you can’t shake on a regular basis you may want to seek support through online counselling or online psychotherapy. You can also visit your GP to get advice and be put in touch with appropriate services local to you.