Sometimes the reason for your low spirits is clear, other times a low mood is a hostile takeover.
This post offers some less visible reasons we can feel bad, and what to do about them.
1. Unexamined thoughts
Sometimes low moods happen when we have been the victim of an unexamined thought attack.
For example, you may have had the thought that a particular person does not like you. Perhaps you withdraw or start to experience sensations of rejection, and whatever behavior accompanies that.
The solution is practicing mindfulness. With mindfulness, you observe the cascading waterfall of your thoughts, without being engulfed by unpleasant emotions the thoughts cause.
For ‘one off’ thought attacks, you could also use Byron Katie’s the Work – a four question paradigm for turning reality on its head for when it does happen. Here’s the reflection process:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
To learn more about how to use the Work, visit Byron Katie’s site.
2. Being ruled by our basic fears
We all have a dominant, core underlying fear and learning the Enneagram helps you to know what yours is. The Enneagram is a personality model system giving 9 types of personality. Here are their basic fears:
1 – Being evil or corrupt.
2 – Being unloved or unwanted by others.
3 – Being unaccomplished and worthless.
4 – Lacking a unique, significant identity.
5 – Being helpless and inadequate.
6 – Being without support or guidance.
7 – Deprivation and pain.
8 – Being harmed or controlled by others.
9 – Loss and separation from others.
There isn’t really a fix for our underlying fears. However, they can have less of a hold over us the more we make them conscious.
For some personal growth recommendations for your type, visit the Enneagram Institute website.
3. Trying to control the uncontrollable
In Stoic philosophy and across various Spiritual traditions, attempting to control the uncontrollable is what robs us of our peace of mind.
And in getting angry about aspects of life we can’t control – the behaviour of other human beings, the political or economic environment – is such a waste of time and energy.
You simply stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead, you seek only to control your perspectives instead, as well as your own actions and behaviors. For an idea on how to do that, read this guide to practicing responsbility.
4. Resistance to feeling shitty (and low threshold for it)
Perhaps we might simply need to become more realistic about how often we can expect to feel good.
I watched a video recently of Simon Sinek explaining how millennials in particular struggle with this, due to self entitled thinking, unrealistic standards we get from social media and what he called ‘failed parenting strategies’.
Occasionally, we are all going to feel the effects of a low mood or boredom, monotony, impatience and gloom. Instead of seeking to make ourselves feel better by external, short term means, we can practice accepting whatever we find.
5. We haven’t learned how to say no
Low moods can also happen when we have been saying yes to other people at our own expense. It happens when firstly we aren’t aware of our needs, and secondly when we aren’t expressing them.
Practice saying no more. To do that, you need to be clear on what you value. (For an in-depth guide on how to know your values, read this).
6. The company we keep
Although it is true that we don’t want to rely on other people to puff up our egos and make us feel good – they shouldn’t be making us feel bad either!
If you feel bad because you are poor at setting boundaries, than that is one thing. However, if you are not having your own needs met in your friendships and relationships, that is another.
If you feel like you haven’t got enough real friends that you can be yourself around, then it is probably time to get some new friends. I wrote more about some approaches to doing that here.
Also, if you feel like you hate being along, try liking it more. I wrote about that more here.
7. We are out of a routine (or we need to change it)
Routine seems so boring. But we all need it to thrive. Creative people in particular often report on relying heavily on a routine in order to be productive. But I think it’s the same for everyone really (we are all creative in the broadest sense of the word).
Not having a routine can also result in too many decisions to make, which is draining and can leave us feeling lost and without purpose.
Reconsider how you structure your day. Mornings are very important, and often set the tone for the day. I try to structure my mornings according to what I value the most. That could be writing, learning, or reading. Some movement is always good too, and some form of meditation or mindfulness practice.
To recap, here are 7 explanations for a low mood, that you could be missing, along with their solutions.
- Unexamined thoughts – deal with using mindfulness.
- Basic fears got activated – bring in awareness (learn the Enneagram).
- Seeking to control the uncontrollable – govern your perceptions and anything else you know is you. The rest of it is not your problem.
- We’re expecting not to feel bad ever – practice acceptance (and realism).
- Poor boundaries – say no more.
- Bad company – be by ourselves more, and seek more suitable friends.
- Lack of good routine – develop one, or restructure your existing.