Urgh. This week I've not been my happiest. And I am ok with that. I recognise that it's impossible to be happy 100% of the time. What I don't need is people urging false and toxic positivity on me...'other people have it worse' etc. But what does help - for me - is taking positive action to re-find my happy. If that sounds like something that may interest you....read on!
Sometimes it just is hard to find your positive mindset. I’m not talking about diagnosable mental health issues, but the days where you feel pissed off at the world, a bit miserable and uncharacteristically unhappy and/or days when truly shit stuff does happen. The days where every small negative thing seems huge and you find it hard to regain your even keel.
It’s totally normal to have these days and much more common when things are so strange right now.
I thought it might help to talk through some of the steps I take to get myself out of a funk.
Accept it. I accept it is ok to have days where I feel negative. It’s natural and understandable. I don’t give myself a hard time about feeling negative, but I do ask myself if I want to start actions to make myself happier. This may be hard for others to really get sometimes, but I know I can change the way that I feel. It’s not instantaneous and sometimes it’s hard work. And sometimes, I’m just not ready to yet. Because I’m still processing what has caused me to feel down, or because I feel I want to honour my feelings. Generally, I don’t let myself stay down without taking action longer than a day. That’s not to say that I don’t continue to feel down, but after a day, I usually want to start to make positive steps to lift my mood and re-find my positive outlook. If I find myself not wanting to do that, if I’m not ready to feel happier or more positive, that tells me that I need to drill further into why I’m feeling this way, rather than getting ready to move past it or just brushing it off. (When I was in my 20s, I went for about 5 months of not being ready and/or not being able to take action. In retrospect, I should have sought help as it is likely that I was suffering from anxiety and depression. At the time though, particularly given the job I was in, this wasn’t a ‘normal’ step to take and it literally never occurred to me. If that sounds familiar, now is a good time to speak to your doctor about your feelings. Help is there if you need it.)
When I’m ready to take positive steps to enhance my mood, this is what I do.
Get outside, active and alone. This is always my number one thing. Even if it’s raining or cold. I like to take a walk or a run, by myself. I don’t actually know which bit of it works best, being outside, being active or space to myself, but the combination usually helps me calm down, regain some perspective and feel a bit better. Often I listen to an audiobook, but sometimes music, sometimes silence. Sometimes I have a bit of a rant to myself, sometimes I record a voice note with my future plans.
Get busy. I’m don’t like using busy as a catch-all phrase to questions like, how have you been? I hate the trend of parading being permanently busy and exhausted as a badge of honour. But being selectively busy is a good thing. And I guess by busy here, I really mean productive. That could be work oriented, or it could be house chores. I love the feeling of having done something that makes things a bit better. I really enjoy my work (most days) and I also enjoy the end result of simple chores like filing, emptying my office bin or changing the bedding in the house. I often find that by getting on with larger tasks at work which require my attention, I end up feeling more positive. This may not work for you, you may need much more specific actions, but the key here is changing the focus of your attention onto something that you know makes you feel positive about yourself.
Plan rewards. The more specific your rewards for getting through a tough day, the better. For instance, I often reward myself for going for a winter run with a bath. I don’t use that reward for tough days because to be honest it feels like a right pain in the arse to go and run the bath when I’d much, much, much rather go to bed early with a book. Other rewards might be things like a specific take-away meal, some good/bad tv, buying something I’ve had my eye on lately or buying a craft magazine.
Be social - within limits. I’m an introvert. This is often a big surprise to people that have only met me socially because I like to talk and I like people (mostly!). What it means is that I don’t draw energy from other people when I am tired. It’s very easy to confuse being tired with being down and therefore limiting interactions. I have to really work out do I need more energy from isolation, or do I need energy from interaction. I’m not saying I always get that right, but noticing what you’re going to benefit from, means you can actively plan it. Being social doesn’t have to mean physically going and being with someone. It could be a call, an email. Even in lockdown you can be social, if you want to be.
Do a physical health check. By this, I mean a bit of an inventory of things like am I eating right, what’s my sleeping like, etc. You’ll notice that when I talked about rewards earlier, I did not mention alcohol. That’s not because I’m not a drinker. I like to drink on occasion (often more than I should!) and I’ve nothing against people that drink. But I firmly advocate not using alcohol to try to deal with feeling negative. Apart from the basic fact that alcohol is a depressant, actively associating alcohol with feeling better is not a great recipe. I know it’s become very fashionable to discuss alcohol in a jokey, oh my god how would we parent without it, mine’s a large one, is now too early to drink, kind of way, but I am not onboard with that. There are plenty of other things that can make you feel better (exercise, fresh air, healthy food, just for starters) that also have positive health outcomes. Sorry to be a killjoy here! I do include in my quick health check a reflection on what and how much I’ve been drinking. (We had a party on the 2nd January and I think I’ve had one glass of wine since then.) If it’s been a lot and regularly, then I do consider if that has had an impact on my mood, in much the same way that too much junk food (by which I mean low nutritional quality food) can make me feel sluggish and unhealthy. Sleep and caffeine are my big ones that I have to keep a handle on for my best health. I even went a couple of days earlier this week with no coffee at all (and I only drink de-caff tea) just to check if too much caffeine was having an impact. Too little sleep obviously has a huge impact on physical and mental health. Sleep is far too long a subject to go into here, but things like a regular routine, wind-down before bed and no blue light for an hour before bed are really helpful for better sleep hygiene. Associated with sleep is the idea of rest. You can still be getting an adequate number of hours of sleep but not feel rested if you are always on the go, so taking some time out in the day is something I find beneficial too.
Now, notice I’m not saying that these things will work for you when you’re trying to be happier, but I hope they give you some ideas for how to move towards your happy.
If you feel like the very idea of trying to be happier is too much for you, please consider if you need some professional help. What I’m talking about here is low mood and feeling a bit down. Depression and other related mental health illnesses are so much more, but there is help available if you need it. https://www.mind.org.uk/need-urgent-help/using-this-tool