You are bound to have times when you feel down because of your circumstances. Life doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes you can get yourself into situations where there doesn’t seem to be a way out. It could be that your financial situation has hit rock bottom, or your relationship is in tatters. Perhaps you’re a sports person and an injury means you have to give up, or take a long break to recover.
No matter how hard we try, bad things happen. They may be our own fault, and we may beat ourselves up about them, or sometimes we are the victim of circumstances, and we feel at the mercy of fate. Sometimes the situations are created by other people in our lives, over whom we have no control.
At times like these the crisis can seem insurmountable. You churn and ruminate and there is a danger that you will plunge into depression if you can’t break the cycle.
So what do you do when you feel down and positive thinking doesn’t really hack it. Focussing on the good things, counting your blessings and being grateful are too much of an upward step from where you are? Here are 5 simple strategies that you can use to help you shift out of that deep negative state.
1. Talk to someone
This must be the first option. Talk to anyone. You can call one of the many help-lines – the Samaritans, Campaign Against Living Miserably, ‘Nightline’ if you’re a student. You can contact your local mental health provider or see a therapist or a coach or mentor.
Alternatively, you can phone a friend, a loved one, or a relative you trust. Share your problem with someone and you may find that your perspective shifts slightly. It is even possible you may discover that the problem isn’t as big as you thought. But even if you don’t, you can feel better just getting it out there. Don’t expect solutions, advice or offers of help, and be prepared to be a listener yourself.
Sharing the problem will help you feel less burdened.
2. Have you been here before?
When you are feeling the strain in some aspect of your life, there can often be a sense of familiarity. You have been here before. Maybe it is the same old row you are having with loved ones, or you’re back in the cycle of debt. Perhaps there is a conflict at work that keeps repeating.
If you have been here before, then that may also mean that you were able to get beyond it. There may have been better times after the bad times. If you know you can come out of it again, that is an important reminder that may be a consolation. ‘This too will pass’ is a phrase that comes to mind. At least you may know that you can be in a better state than you are right now. Even a few hours from now things may feel a little better. Knowing that can take the edge off and help you realise that this feeling will not last forever.
Of course you could beat yourself up, and ask ‘Why do I keep repeating the same patterns’. But we all have ways of thinking, or beliefs about the world that cause us to repeat the same old routines. Isn’t it better to be curious and just ask ‘What can I learn from this that will allow me to let it go’? Don’t expect an epiphany, but there may be some useful information that you can take forward in the future.
3. Break your state
How you feel now, is not how you will feel forever, every day. Even when we suffer from depression, or grief, we will have some ups and downs. Try to do something different to just break the mood. Go for a walk or a run if you can. Visit a park or a place in nature. Even just moving to a different room in the house or rearranging your work-space can help to shift your state. Believe it or not, just looking upward can help. It is harder to feel sad if you look upwards. You can even intentionally crack a fake smile and find that the world looks and feels a little different. There is a direct link between our physical state and our mental state that goes both ways. When you are low, you naturally take a particular stance – lowered shoulders, looking down, frowning, or looking sad, your breathing shallow. When you feel happy, these physical aspects are reversed, but many people don’t realise that you can actually change your mood by changing your posture. Stand or sit up straight, look ahead or slightly upward, smile a little if you can and breathe more deeply.
4. Take an action
Whatever the problem is, so long as you are just thinking about it, it will be harder to feel better and move on. If there is an action you can take, no matter how small, you will usually start to feel better. Often when we feel this way we have decisions to make that we are afraid of choosing. ‘Do I stay, or do I go?’, ‘Shall I tell him how I feel, or should I keep it secret?’, ‘Who do I pay and who do I inform that I can’t pay?’. Making a choice comes with some risk, but once you make it, it becomes a path. Following a path is usually better than standing at the junction. The more trouble you have choosing, the more likely it is that neither choice is ‘wrong’. Both may come with trials and sacrifices, and lead to places that you can’t yet know.
5. Write it down
Sitting down and writing everything you think and feel takes the things you are struggling with out of your head and lets it sit on the page. It could be a diary or journal entry, a poem, a story. It could be that you want to write it as a letter to the important person to whom the issue relates. Writing a letter isn’t the same as sending it, so write it without a plan to share it. In fact, I would recommend that you don’t send a letter that you write in this way. The benefit of such a letter is more for you than for the person it written to.
There are other ways of expression that may work better for some people too. Could you paint something? Sculpture, creating music, any creative activity where you can express yourself may help.
When all those around you are telling you to think positive, be grateful, believe in yourself and think happy thoughts, it can be overwhelming and have the opposite effect from their intention. So try some of these steps above first and get yourself into a better place.
Robert Sanders is a Therapist and Coach in West Sussex