As humans we are mood-driven creatures by nature but those moods need to be actively managed. Learning to control rather than simply react to negative thoughts or emotions is one of the most important life-skills you can master.
How often have you seen a colleague or boss get a crucial decision wrong because they were trapped in some sort of personal downward spiral? How often have you fallen short of your own standards at work or at home due to inner emotional turbulence?
It’s a rare person who’s never fallen prey to the vagaries of human emotion. To experience a wide range of emotions, many of them negative, is only natural. What counts though is your reaction to them.
One of the main risks of a sustained period of low mood – or its more serious counterpart depression – is that your ability to manage your interior mental landscape becomes severely compromised and it’s all too easy to fall into a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of negativity.
For those who may currently be struggling with this, help is at hand! We’ve identified 4 steps to beat a bad mood so you can flip the switch, stop digging and start climbing out of the hole you may be in.
Step 1: Concentrate on the breath
Many will deride this step as hand-wavey, hippy nonsense but there are real physiological factors at play here. Ignore it at your peril.
Short, stressed, upper-chest breathing is both a reaction to stressful situations and a causal factor in their continuation. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart-rate and boost endorphins.
When you find negative or panicked thoughts overwhelming you, concentrate first on your breath.
Force yourself to breathe slowly and deliberately in through your nose and out through your mouth for two or three minutes. It’s a key first step in regaining control over your emotions and reactions.
Step 2: Pick one positive thing.
“When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.” – William Shakespeare.
As Shakespeare so astutely observed, negative thoughts rarely arrive alone. They tend to come in numbers with each one merrily calling for reinforcements as it arrives.
When you find yourself struggling through this swamp, it’s crucial to take a moment to concentrate on one positive thing in your life.
Pick a person, thing or situation that you are genuinely grateful for and spend a couple of minutes focusing exclusively on that while re-affirming your gratitude.
This exercise acts as a temporary firewall against otherwise negative emotions. You have established at least one positive space, however temporary, from which you can build. It might not sound like much but it’s a lot better than the alternative!
On the physiological level, you’ve also triggered the release of positive neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, giving you natural fuel for further positive action.
Step 3: Draw your own map.
When you’re overwhelmed by negative thoughts or emotions, you’re essentially being led along a path that only goes in one direction – down.
Rather than blindly following the direction of your thoughts, start creating your own destination by interrogating those thoughts with sensible, solution-orientated questions. Here are a few to get you started:
- Should I be talking or listening right now?
- What is the simplest positive thing I could do right now?
- Is there a lesson to be learnt here?
- Is there an opportunity hidden in this seemingly bad situation?
What you’re looking to do is reframe the situation so that you deal with its basic reality while re-orientating yourself towards positive action and simple next steps.
Step 4: Get going.
The preceding steps have been about interrupting your own worst impulses, resetting your reactions and identifying positive options. You’ve basically freed yourself from the paralysis of negativity at this stage so the next step is action.
The key point here is repeated, small-scale, positive action. Identify simple, obvious steps to take and keep taking them.
The risk for those coming out of a down period is that they set enormous, wildly optimistic goals in a desperate attempt to “catch up” with where they think they should be. This is almost always a mistake and just leads to inevitable disappointment and further self-criticism.
Make sure you’re taking action, keep the world in motion and concentrate on short-term, achievable goals. The rest will take care of itself!
Breaking free of a bad mood is not the easiest thing in the world to do but it’s a key skill to learn. It’s all too easy for a brief low period to morph into something much more serious if you ignore the warning signs.
By following our steps above, you’re taking the matter into your own hands and leveraging the power of a repeatable process to lift you out of your rut and get you back on the track to success. It’s a simple, powerful sequence you’ll be able to benefit from for many years to come.