National Blue Monday
In 2005 a guy from Cardiff university claimed to have worked out the most depressing day of the year. It was the third Monday in January. It turns out that his formula was farcical but having depression is no joke. The NHS have said that 1 in 4 people in the UK will struggle with their mental health this year.
If you are a reader of my blog you will know that I am one of those statistics. I struggle with anxiety. I have been greatly helped by therapists and councillors who have given me strategies to handle unwanted emotions.
I have compiled the 5 most helpful pieces of advice I have been given here. Please share with anyone you know who battles with unwanted emotions.
Select the situation: Knowing the triggers for unwanted emotions such as irritation or low moods gives us the options to minimise and avoid these triggers in our lives. For example, if you know that being late for an appointment causes anxiety then you could plan more time for getting ready. If you know that drinking too much red wine can trigger depressive thoughts then you can have a friend be your accountability partner for sticking to one glass a night. Creating boundaries with toxic people can be a way of selecting the situation. It is OK to make other plans when Jane from the offices announces her birthday drinks if you know her manipulative behaviour is a red flag for you. Of course, there are times when unwanted emotions can take over with no apparent trigger. If you experience a sudden negative change in your emotions it could be time to see a therapist to explore why.
Modify the situation: If the cause of your unwanted emotion is disappointment that things were not as you imagined, for example, then you might take steps to modify the situation. Suppose you had friends coming over for dinner and you wanted to make a brilliant meal but anticipated the disappointment of an average one. You could share your feelings with one of your friends and have them express their reduced expectations of just hanging out together. You could order takeaway food or stick to a recipe you can pull off no problem. Even if it isn’t souffle! You could find another way to have a ‘delighter’ in your evening that doesn’t risk those feeling of disappointment.
Shift attention: even if you have stress hormones surging through your body it is possible to train your mind to pick another focus. William James said “The greatest weapon we have against stress is our ability to chose one thought over another”. The best place to bring your attention to is the present moment. Notice your body, breathing, where you are standing. Notice what you can see, hear or feel. Resist judging thoughts and stay with what is in the present. You should feel unwanted emotions begin to subside as you do this.
Change your thoughts: Our emotions spring from our thoughts. The most powerful emotions come from our deepest held beliefs and values. By changing your thoughts you may not be able to change the situation but you can at least change the way you believe the situation is affecting you. In CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), you replace the thoughts that lead to unhappiness with thoughts that lead instead to joy or at least contentment. People with social anxiety disorder may believe that they’ll make fools of themselves in front of others for their social gaffes. They can be helped to relax by interventions that help them recognise that people don’t judge them as harshly as they believe. Any repeated thought will form a new neural pathway in your brain. Changing your thoughts is easier than you think. As you repeat a specific thought daily for a minimum of 21 days you will have adapted your brain to think along new lines.
Change your response: If all else fails and you haven't been able to change the situation, or modify your thoughts then concentrate on regulating your response. If you have strong emotion then you will be feeling the effects of it in your body. Usually increased heart rate and blood pressure. Breathe deeply and use your mind to control your response. Find a way to remove yourself from the situation to allow to strong emotions to simmer.
My 4-point instant calm tool download is a go-to for situations of heightened unwanted emotion. I coach people through sometimes very difficult or personal experiences that produce unwanted emotions in their bodies. Creating a safe space to process is one of the best gifts someone can give themselves. Talking to a professional about your emotions could be a great next step for you.