Sometimes, the reasons for our low spirits are clear.
Our sleep has been off; we aren’t getting enough sunshine or movement; or we have been focusing on the negative. Maybe we are just feeling a bit lonely, or have had our hearts broken by a loss or some bad news.
Other times, a low mood submerges us from seemingly nowhere. It is a hostile takeover!
This post is about some less visible reasons we can feel bad, and what to do about them.
Sometimes low moods happen when we have been the victim of an unexamined thought attack.
An unexamined thought is simply one that you have not questioned the validity of.
For example, you may have had the thought that a particular person does not like you, or that they wish you harm in some way. The effects of that thought going unquestioned might mean you change the way you behave towards them. Perhaps you withdraw or start to experience sensations of rejection, and whatever behavior accompanies that.
The solution is quite simple: it is mindfulness. With mindfulness, you observe the cascading waterfall of your thoughts, without being engulfed by unpleasant emotions the thoughts cause.
If negative lines of thought are frequent and pervasive for you, then practice replacing negative thoughts with more constructive thoughts (for e.g. ‘I cannot know what others think of me; and I love and choose myself’).
(My friends will tell you that I am the queen of positive self talk. I literally can reframe anything. It is a useful skill, give it a try).
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.
being ruled by our basic fears
We all have a dominant, core underlying fear. I only really got a clue about this when I started using the Enneagram. Since then, my behaviour has made a lot more sense! I suggest you also learn your type if you want to become more aware of fears guiding your decisions.
What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a self awareness system: a growth-oriented assessment that aims to pinpoint your basic fears and motivations, in order to facilitate growth through a set trajectory.
When figuring out our type, we can’t go solely on our behaviour. The only reliable method of identifying your type is to discover which of the nine basic fears guide the majority of your behaviour.
For all of the types, here are their basic fears:
type 1 – being evil or corrupt.
type 2 – being unloved or unwanted by others.
type 3 – being unaccomplished and worthless.
type 4 – lacking a unique, significant identity.
type 5 – being helpless and inadequate.
type 6 – being without support or guidance.
type 7 – deprivation and pain.
type 8 – being harmed or controlled by others.
type 9 – loss and separation from others.
Identify the fear that stands out as the most intense or horrifying to you. This will be a fear that you have experienced pervasively in your life, across a wide range of situations.
(If you are still confused about your Enneagram type, read this).
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.
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.
We simple stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead, we seek only to control our perspectives instead, as well as our own actions and behaviors.
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.
Radical acceptance. What we resist persists and what we deny, multiplies – etc. Here are some practices you can use to try self acceptance.
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.
To the extent that it is on our terms (or selfish), being of service to others is beneficial. This is in fact a major source of connection and fulfillment, which is overall good for wellbeing.
But when saying yes to others means saying no to ourselves, we can feel shitty.
Chances are, you already know whether you are a person that struggles to say no, and whether you need to give yourself the permission to begin to say no more often.
Practice saying no more. Err on the side of no until you are more competent at drawing the boundary. I wrote more about boundaries here.
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.
Also, if you feel like you hate being along, try liking it more. I wrote about that more here.
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.
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.
Summary – recap
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.
- 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 to align yourself with your tribe by being authentic.
- lack of good routine – develop one, or restructure your existing.