Unless you are dealing with a major grief issue, you just might be surprised at how malleable your mood is. You don’t have to let a bad mood ruin your day. It doesn’t matter why you are in a bad mood, only that you can take steps to change it. Are you ready? If so, try one of these techniques to get off that downward spiral and onto an upward one!
The next time you are feeling blue, try looking at yourself in the mirror and asking, “Am I committed to remaining in this mood?” I know this is a silly question, because who would be committed to staying in a bad mood. But this is just the thing to wake up your brain and let in a few rays of light. Now you are ready to consider feeling something different.
When you catch yourself filled with self-doubt, or just in a grumpy mood, say to yourself firmly, “Stop.” Now think of how you would like to feel: calm, energetic happy. Next, recall a memory of a time that you felt that emotion strongly. Indulge yourself in that memory until you feel a small shift in mood. Now you have turned yourself around from a downward direction. Your natural tendency to want to bounce back can take over and propel you upward.
If these two strategies fail to turn your mood around, it may be that you need to let it all out. Find a friend or family member who can be neutral. Set a time limit, say, five minutes. Now, rant about everything that is making you mad. Stick to the time limit. Are you now ready to let this mood go? If so, move on to discussing practical things you can do to improve the situation. Or, now that you’ve cleared out the negative stuff, simply focusing on something positive can do the trick. No trusted friend available? Why not rant to an empty chair.
Don’t let a bad mood stick around longer than it has to. You are in charge of your moods, not the other way around. Take action and have a great day!
Source: Psychologies Magazine, October 2012, p. 46.
Your mind can be very deceitful. It has a way of distorting reality and making you believe that something is rational and accurate, when it is in fact a distortion. Here’s what I mean. After a job interview you do not receive the expected callback. You jump to the conclusion, “I’ll never get the job I want.” Or perhaps you just received a compliment from your boss for a job well done. You tell yourself “This appreciation doesn’t count because anyone could have done as well.”
These examples are called “cognitive distortions,” which are simply ways that your mind convinces you of something that isn’t really true. The result of this kind of inaccurate thinking is a downward spiral. The first step in challenging a cognitive distortion is recognizing when it shows up. Thirty years ago, Dr. David Burns popularized this concept in his best selling book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by presenting 10 forms of twisted thinking. As you read through this list, think of times when this kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ has shown up in your life.
- All or nothing thinking. You look at things in absolute, black-or-white categories. For example, if a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure.
- Overgeneralization. You see a single negative event as an ongoing pattern of defeat by using words such as always or never when thinking about it.
- Mental Filter. You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives. For example, you ignore the many positive comments you receive on a presentation but obsess about the one criticism.
- Discounting the positive. You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.
- Jumping to conclusions. You interpret things negatively when there is no evidence to support this conclusion. This can take two forms: mind-reading, when you conclude with no factual basis that someone is reacting negatively to you; or fortune-telling, when you arbitrarily predict things will turn out badly.
- Magnification or Minimization. You exaggerate the importance of problems or shortcomings or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities.
- Emotional Reasoning. You assume your negative emotions reflect the way things really are. For example, “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.”
- Should Statements. You criticize yourself or other people with judgmental statements such as should, shouldn’t, must, ought, have to. These types of statements lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, and anger.
- Labeling. You label yourself based on your shortcomings. Instead of saying to yourself, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk” or “a fool” or “a loser.”
- Personalization and Blame. You blame yourself for something
you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook your own contributions to the situation.
Want to untwist your thinking and set the record straight? Try one of these three strategies. Write down your negative thoughts and use the list above to see which of the 10 cognitive distortions are at play. Recognize that this is your stinkin’ thinkin’ and find a more positive way to think about the situation. Another technique is to examine the evidence. For example, if you feel like you are a failure at work, list several things you have accomplished. Or, instead of putting yourself down, try talking to yourself in the same way you would talk to a friend who has in a similar situation.
The next time you feel depressed, anxious, guilty or angry, take the time to uncover any distortions in your thinking. Just because you’re on a downward spiral, it doesn’t mean you deserve to be there. Use these strategies to untwist your thinking and set yourself free. Life is meant to be lived on an upward spiral!
If you want to understand more about cognitive distortions and learn more ways to untwist your thinking, check out the resources available from Dr. Burns.
Did you know that 50 percent of your happiness is determined by genetics and 10 percent by major life circumstances? Where does the other 40% come from? Answer: your daily thoughts and actions. This gives you an impressive amount of control when it comes to influencing your own moods. When you’re in need of a shift in perspective, try one or more of these 7 proven techniques based on psychological research.
- Be curious. When you are inquisitive, you are more likely to derive pleasure and meaning from your day. The key, however, is to be actively engaged. (Watching television won’t do the trick.) Another component is to step out of your comfort zone, because when you become completely absorbed in the moment, you create positive energy.
- Think fast. Depression is characterized by slow thinking, so making your brain race gives you a mood boost. Try this. Read something very quickly. Keep at it until you find a shift in your mood. In one study, subjects who read even depressing statements quickly said they felt happier, more energetic and more creative afterward.
- Talk to strangers. Surprisingly, interacting with a stranger is a safe way to improve your mood. Because it’s a strong social norm to want to make a good impression with someone you don’t know, you tend to act more cheerful. And the more cheerful you act, the more cheerful you feel. In one study, participants were told that in three minutes they would be talking with a stranger. The anticipation alone boosted the subjects’ moods.
- Do a good thing. While it may be easier said than done, practicing compassion and kindness brings positive returns to the giver as well as the receiver. Experts found that gestures as small as doing a household chore for someone or buying a friend flowers can enhance your mood. In one study, participants who carried out five “acts of kindness” in one day showed significant increases in happiness.
- Exercise outdoors. Get out of the gym. No matter whether it’s sunny or cloudy, you get the best effect from outdoor exercise. All that’s required to get a mood benefit is a brisk five-to-ten minute walk. No sweat is necessary. And another benefit of getting out of the gym is it prevents social comparison, a downward spiral trigger.
- Create a flower show. If you anticipate a stressful period, buy yourself flowers. Perhaps it’s our innate attraction to vegetation as a signal of food and water, but whatever the reason, researchers found that women who were sent fresh flowers reported feeling less anxious, less depressed, more compassionate at home and more enthusiastic at work.
- Add music and take a whiff. Music affects the pleasure center of the brain. And here’s an extra bonus. When you’ve been listening to music you like, the positive effect lasts even after the music is over. Similarly, smelling any scent that appeals to you can improve your mood. After you’ve been exposed to a scent for about 20 minutes, even if you no longer smell it, the good mood will stick around.
The notion that you can affect your own moods isn’t new. Over 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We are disturbed not by events, but by the views we take of them.” But what is new is the immense amount of research that proves just how right Epictetus was. The next time you’re on a downward spiral, why not put these techniques to the test. Are the experts right? Were you able to shift your mood?