We all have them. Days when we are short on sleep, patience, time, and energy, and it goes swiftly downhill from there. Sometimes it starts with one thing going wrong, lowering our frustration tolerance and ability to handle subsequent challenges. Let’s face it, many of us are in challenging phases of our life, not just an occasional challenging day here and there. The consequences of not effectively managing our worst days means we are less motivated, less productive and more likely to fall short of others’ expectations. Our relationships at work and home suffer, bearing the brunt of our stressed out mood. Most of us do our best to prevent a bad mood from spiraling out of control, but wouldn’t it be great if you could do it more effectively; before too much damage is done? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you had a ‘Break Glass In Case of Emergency: Disrupt and Take Over Your Bad Mood’ plan of action? Read on. Because I have just the thing for you.
I learned some of the best strategies for mood management while treating chronic pain sufferers. If anyone has cause for a bad mood, it’s people with chronic pain- they’re already distressed, and then a pain ‘flare-up’ hits. More pain meds aren’t always an option, so mental health professionals developed behavioral medicine as a way to empower them and improve their coping. Having a well tailored ’emergency plan of action’ in place before stress take overs is key to disrupting a bad mood.
This is how you can develop your own plan of action:
First, figure out what you’re feeling. This seems like a no-brainer, right? ‘Yeah I feel like crap’ I hear you mutter. But actually ‘crap’ is not specific enough. You need to get more specific in order to target exactly what you need to feel better. We can get in the habit of using the same strategy to feel better, because it works really well in some situations. But when we keep applying that same tactic like a ‘one size fits all’ mood band-aid, we’re missing an opportunity to get it exactly right. Sometimes our favorite mood booster can even start to lose it’s efficacy or become harmful if we overuse it (runners, drinkers, cupcake eaters- you CAN have too much of a good, or even a ‘healthy’ thing.) So instead of rushing for a quick fix, take pause and figure out: How am I FEELING? Drained. Anxious. Lonely. Bored. Overwhelmed. Rejected. Furious. Lost.All potentially bad mood inducing feelings, but each may warrant a different response for feeling better.
Next, start sorting out which tactics best remedy different feelings/situations. This can look very different for different people. Some people may want to create a flow chart, excel spreadsheet, decision tree, or Ven diagram. Honestly my brain doesn’t really work like that, but Bay Area programmers and gamers I’ve worked with seem to enjoy confusing the hell out of me with their own complex versions that work for them. I commend them for it! I keep it on the simple side, and use what I call a virtual “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” tool box. Inside, I imagine neatly organized shelves of all the things that help me feel better, waiting to pulled out as needed. After describing this to one young woman, she stood up during our session and pretended to swing a glass-shattering sledgehammer, calling out “Break Glass In Case of Emergency Horniness!” We both had a laugh over that one. In order for it to work best, it has to reflect how you best organize things in your mind. When all else fails, make a list, or set of lists. As long as you’ve figured out which tactics best remedy your feelings during low moods, it doesn’t matter how it’s organized.
Make sure your range of mood lifting tactics appeal to all 5 of your senses, and allow for a full range of budget, social, time requirement, and environmental differences.
- Sensory indulgent- things that boost your mood because you’re choosing things that please your sense of taste, smell, touch, sound.
- Get out of your head, and into your body- (endorphin boosting exercise, relaxing stretches, feel-good grooming (massage, haircut, steam, mani/pedi) other resting/restorative behaviors
- Social- take a break from people who historically ramp UP your stress level, and reach out/immerse yourself in socially restorative settings. Maybe it’s not directly social, but reduces your sense of isolation. Try getting out of the house/office and into a semi-social setting (parks, bookstores, non-work related cafes)
- Sexual- break glass for #friendswithbenefits endeavors carefully. Take a moment to anticipate how you’re going to feel emotionally afterwards. If your hook up plans falls through, will you end up feeling even worse? If you have a situation that’s stable and safe, have at it!
- Playful- Reunite with a type of play that you favored as a kid, but got lost along the way to #adulthood
- Conversational– reach out to your most sympathetic family member, chat with a neighbor who’s good for cheering you up/making you smile, etc.
- Comical– plan a (funny,good spirited) practical joke
- Wardrobe selection– Choose clothes that can help you feel better: aka your#lookoftheday. What will help you feel better? Comfy, forgiving clothes, or dressed to kill. Have both ready and on hand for exactly those moments.
- Become one with nature- I just learned the Japanese phrase Shinrin-yoku (森林浴) which means ‘forest bathing’. I know, right?
- 5 minute mental resets: Try clearing the clutter in front of you- empty the trash. Clear off a good deal of your work space. Breathe. When all else fails, check your favorite time-suck websites. Take a ridiculous Buzz Feed Quiz. There’s a reason they’re so popular! I just took a break from writing this, and took “Which Foreign Actor Is Your Soulmate?” and “Can We Guess What Clique You Belonged To In High School?” Aim to not exceed 10 minutes for these sort of breaks, or risk contributing to feeling even more unproductive.
Now practice visualizing yourself “hitting your stride” and getting back to your most awesome self (this can include special effects in your mind). Draw a simple stick figure cartoon of what that would look like. Use captions. Now tape it where you and everyone else can see it. You’ve effectively disrupted your bad mood- onward and upward!