These past few months, I’ve been going through some tough times. I’m certain it’s almost entirely situational- a broken heart, a few too many cloudy days, a difficult city. I think a few difficult thoughts have just gotten out of control and started to feed on themselves. It’s nothing terrible, but I’ve been pretty gloomy. Whatever the cause, it’s gone on too long, and it’s time to do something about it.
For my own personal reasons, I’d prefer to tackle this on my own if I can. I believe that if I can work through these negative thoughts, they’ll go away and I’ll come out stronger. I firmly believe that if things are not working out for you, it’s probably because you have something you have to learn before you can make use of whatever it is that you are looking for. I am committed to figuring out what that is.
Amazingly, it seems to be working. Maybe it’s just the novelty of it, but I’ve been pretty damn happy all week. Happier than I’ve been in a long, long, time.
So here is my plan:
Stop drinking for a while. I have trouble dealing with my emotions, and I think I drink because it brings those emotions out. While the emotions do come out- sometimes in troublesome and embarrassing ways- I think that I never actually work through them. It’s been working out well. I think I’m developing more real friendships, not just drinking buddy friendships. And it is nice not to be hung over in the morning. Hopefully in the future I can introduce a beer now and then, but while my head isn’t straight, I should stay away.
Stop negative thoughts dead. Whenever my thoughts turn to that painful inner dialog, I just stop it. Tell it to go away. Turn it off. To me, sorrow is like an alcoholic to drink. It’s something I can’t have. Something I can’t indulge in, because I don’t know when to stop. If I let a little bit in, next thing you know I’ll be crying on the floor. So I have to refuse it whenever I see it. I’ll work through the thoughts rationally later.
Keep a journal. This is important. In it, I write down three things that worked well each day, and why. Apparently, this is scientifically proven to be useful. I also use this to work through negative thoughts CBT style- identify distortions and refuting them. This actually does seem to work. I can keep thoughts from coming back to me over and over again. Finally, I use the journal throughout the day to write down how I’m doing. One thing that has been depressing me is that I feel like I have nobody to share my thoughts with. Amazingly, the journal does seem like a friend. I no longer address my inner dialog to people that I’m angry at- I address it to my journal instead. Keeps the tone of my inner dialog more civil and rational. I’ve also come to recognize patterns. Mornings are hard for me. Evenings are usually good. Helps me recognize that when I feel shitty in the morning- well I always feel shitty in the morning but it always clears up by noon, no reason to freak out.
Meditation and hypnosis. The hypnosis is a surprise- I downloaded some hypnosis iphone apps without knowing what they are. They put me right out! Twenty minutes feels like a few hours of sleep! A session at lunch is better than a long nap. The programs I am using include positive suggestions in- the odd thing is, when negative thoughts pop up, these positive suggestions pop up, too! I have no idea if hypnosis works or not, but it seems to be working for me. I’ve also been doing some guided meditations. It seems like ones based on love and gratitude have a really good effect on me. If I can make my heart feel open and warm before the day gears up, I can often keep that feeling with me for a while.
General health and sociability. I try to do something social every day, even if I don’t want to. It does give me something to look forward to and keeps me busy, and from my journal I know that these times often work out to actually be pretty fun. I try to email an old friend every day, so I that hopefully I’ll have fun stuff in my inbox in the morning. I haven’t been great at exercise, but I do try to keep active. I’m also focusing on eating regular balanced meals- a problem of mine when I am sad. Finally, I’m diligent with my vitamins and my light therapy lamp (I live in an exceedingly dark place, and I have no doubts that sunlight affects me deeply.)
It’s been about a week so far. Results- really surprising! I’ve been really happy all week. I still have negative thoughts and bad moments, but they mostly pass by without bothering me too much. I’m finding I’m able to handle subjects and people that used to reduce me to tears. And I’m doing a lot better at my work.
That’s all good stuff. Another thing that helps is to act happier. Stand up straighter, smile, get a twinkle in your eye. I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how emotions are not only stored in your body, but can be generated by your body. I don’t know if that’s a bunch of new age hooey, but it seems to really work.
Excellent post, I’m trying to do this myself. The drinking? I sometimes NEED a shot in the evening, but I find that even one glass of wine drags me down physically and mentally in the morning. Not a hangover, but it’s like the alcohol turned up the “low energy” dial.
I think it’s important to make a distinction here. There are negative thoughts and negative emotions. Though not entirely unrelated, they are separate things. Negative thoughts are usually just the products of a bad habit, which is assuming the the worst of a situation or yourself automatically. Shutting it off and replacing it with something more positive is an excellent new habit get into.
But negative emotions are an entirely different thing. They usually stick around no matter what your thought process is. The trick here is to feel those emotions fully, bodily. If you try to just ignore or change them, they can manifest in other, more harmful ways.
I’ve posted this before, but here’s an exercise that I’ve found to be very effective: When you’re feeling a negative emotion, sit quietly with your eyes closed and just feel it. Don’t judge it or label it, but in your mind, describe it. Don’t say “I feel sad”, say “It’s a dark red thing shaped like a pear in the back of my head.” And just stay with it. You’ll probably notice it changing and evolving over a few minutes. Maybe it changes to a white column in your chest or a swirling colored ball in your stomach. After maybe 5 or 10 minutes, you might notice it dissapating altogether.
It’s called the facial feedback effect. People who were instructed to make “happy” and “angry” faces (not told the emotions themselves, but tricked into making those faces) reported feeling those emotions.
There’s something I heard recently that I thought was interesting. A lot of people will ask “Why are you so happy?” Do you really need a reason? Yet people don’t seem to need a reason to feel bad. Does that strike you as a little upside down?
Ah, but you only thought didn’t know what they were. How do you know that it wasn’t a hypnotic suggestion to cause you to download the hypnosis apps to begin with? How do you know that the apps themselves didn’t hypnotize you into downloading them? Hmmm?
A little, but at the same time, the field of positive psychology is addressing that very question of happiness. Historically, the research on emotional states was heavily favored toward that involving negative emotional states (so we can make them go away), and the positive psychology movement has tried to address that gap so we can make positive emotional states stick around longer.
But I do think you’re right in that people sometimes view happiness with some suspicion. I have a relative with major depressive disorder who feels that his disorder is a badge of honor showing how much smarter he is than everyone else - if everybody was as smart, they would see the crap in the world that he sees and be depressed too, so his depression is a visible sign of his superiority.
Ever since I was a kid I always find myself looking for something to look forward to…whether it’s a day off, some girl time, a date with my SO…and it has to be something within a week or so or it has no psychological effect on my mood. Like for instance, I work Friday Saturday and Sunday but I have Monday/Tuesday off to go hang out with my best friend; this fun girl time with her is what I will think of when I go to work the next three days.
I guess my philosophy is “the good times are never too far away.” I live for the good stuff in between all the bullshit. Which isn’t to say I don’t get in a bad mood…but it doesn’t last very long, because there’s always something to look forward to. I can always think to myself “Oh but X is happening in a couple days” and I get over it.
Maybe it’s a bit simplistic but, like I said, I’ve thought this way since I was a kid and it works for me. Even if it’s just being at work and thinking “In two days I have nothing to do but sit on my sofa and order take-out.”
Yeah, I get the difference there. I’m a great believer in first accept things the way they are, then look to improve them. (If they need improving at all.) What I can’t stand is the attitude that you described earlier, that life sucks because I’m realistic about it. The thing is, you create your own reality.
I didn’t have such a good day yesterday. It was very tempting to give in and accept the “reality” that things aren’t going that well for me lately. But I can’t do that anymore. Sometimes life pushes me around, so I’m just going to push right back. I think it builds emotional muscle. And I’m going to do it with a big smile on my face.
Well, sometimes the reality is that life does suck. The trick is, can you find ways (like in the OP) to be content/happy when the suckage exists? Recognizing the suckage as there, real, and manifest doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be unhappy or miserable.
I think that’s what people might get confused about - they might assume that happiness requires perfection in life, so if you’re a happy/content person they assume you’re either having a perfect day/life, or are a moron because you don’t recognize that you aren’t.
The more workable option for me is to try (not always successfully) to be happy and content as much as possible in everyday life, not just the perfect days.
Hope you have a better/happier/more content day today!