It can feel like walking through custard, and looking through a pea-soup fog when you’re down.
It may seem as though you’re living your life in slow motion.
Incredibly, however, even through all of this, it’s still sometimes possible to have moments of great clarity in the midst of despair, transient though they may be.
Tantalisingly you can see solutions to your problems — although like waking up from a dream, they soon vanish into thin air.
But it does make you wonder if perhaps there is a reason you end up at a low ebb.
Unpleasant though it is, maybe it forces you to confront the things in your life which contribute to your malaise, making you do something about them?
Of course, you probably don’t have the energy to make much-needed changes when you’re deep in gloom.
But if you find yourself in this situation, and the inspiration strikes, try to write down your ideas.
They’ll make more sense when you’re feeling better.
Because you will feel better.
I love this suggestion from my friend, Ali, building on some of the foundations of mindfulness.
The concept works like this.
Many of us, even the ‘confident’ ones, are occasionally plagued by negative voices telling us that we’re useless at something, or that we can’t do it.
Some methods advise you to do battle with thoughts like these, to try and replace them with positive ones.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s easier said than done.
So Ali suggests you follow these steps:
1. Acknowledge the negative self-thought without judging it (eg ‘Okay, there you are again. That’s interesting…’)
2. Apply humour to the thought, with a smile (‘You’re about as useful as a chocolate teapot aren’t you?!’)
3. Tell the thought where to go (‘I have no use for you now.’) As Ali says, this is the polite version, feel free to add your own…
4. Replace it with a positive self-thought. (‘I can do this. At the very least, I can start.’)
I like this, and am tucking it away for when I need it.
If something’s troubling you, write it on a piece of paper then seal it in an envelope.
This was the conclusion of research conducted at the University of Singapore Business School.
Participants were asked to write about a recent decision that they regretted, then half of them handed in their papers as they were, while the other half sealed their papers in envelopes first — then handed them in.
The envelope sealers reported feeling less negative about the event than the non-sealers did.
Whilst I can think of things that might have complicated the result (perhaps those who sealed their envelopes worried less that their regrets were going to be pored over by the experimenter?) the basic principle seems sound.
I reckon you could add to the effect by destroying or discarding the envelope too.
Maybe worth a try.
When I was very young (probably 4 or 5) I can definitely remember crying — literally — when I went to bed at the end of my birthday or Christmas Day.
Not because the day had been anything other than fantastic.
It was simply that the thing I’d been looking forward to more than anything in the world had come and gone.
Having talked to other people about it, I know I wasn’t alone in feeling like this.
Now, you’d think this kind of thing would leave you completely, wouldn’t you?
Fortunately the crying bit has.
But I can still feel a vestige of sadness after experiencing something particularly good, as I did by meeting up with great friends at the weekend.
After it was all over, I definitely felt at a bit of a loose end for a while.
Although it’s probably only natural, it does remind me of Dr. Seuss’s (Theodor Geisel) great line: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.’
A much better way of viewing things.
The Penfield Mood Organ doesn’t actually exist, but it would be great if it did.
It appeared in the opening pages of the Philip K. Dick science fiction book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner was based.
(I know. That’s rather a lot of cultural references for a Wednesday.)
Anyway, the idea of the mood organ was that you could choose your mood and quite simply dial it in.
So, on the basis that you almost certainly do have more control of your mood than you might think, what would you like to dial up on your Penfield this morning?
Practice what you preach, they say.
So I’m sorry in advance that this email is definitely not a perfect example of this.
But first, my excuse.
You and I don’t really have another way of keeping in touch other than by email.
I’m not sure you’d like it if I phoned you every morning to read you these messages.
And making several thousand phone calls every day would be time consuming in the extreme.
But the point I’d like to make, which you knew I’d get to sooner or later, is that emails, text messages, tweets and Facebook pasts aren’t always the best way to communicate with people.
When you actually talk to someone (ideally face to face, but over the phone can be almost as good) the interaction is immeasurably richer.
Emotions often don’t get conveyed at all in written messages, and when they do they can so often be misconstrued.
It’s all too easy for someone to get the wrong end of the stick.
So let’s make this a Mingling Monday.
Rather than bashing out soul-less keyboard messages to someone nearby, go over and talk to them.
If they’re further afield, pick up the phone.
You’ll feel all the better for it and so will the other person.
I guarantee it.
There’s a clip on YouTube of the Managing Director of an engineering firm who took part in the BBC’s Making Slough Happy series in which he declares ‘I don’t do happiness’.
I’m pretty sure he changed his mind after the happiness experts worked their magic on his business.
Anyway, as promised on Wednesday, here are three more nuggets from the book that supported the BBC series:
1. Several studies have shown that the presence of a pet can reduce blood pressure and stress, promoting health and happiness.
2. According to a new look at a 40-year-old study on child-rearing practices conducted at Harvard, those children who were hugged and cuddled the most grew up to be the happiest.
3. People with strong social support and intimate friendships visit the doctor less often.
It all makes so much sense doesn’t it?
And you wonder why, if it really is that easy, there’s still so much low mood around.
Twelve years ago, the BBC ran a short series called Making Slough Happy.
I think they probably chose Slough because it has a reputation for being a rather glum place (apologies to all who live there).
There was of course a book to go along with the TV show (How To Be Happy by Liz Hoggard, BBC Books), and browsing through it, I came across a few little nuggets about happiness.
Here are three for you:
1. If you do 20 minutes of exercise three times a week for six months, your general feeling of happiness will improve by 10-20 per cent.
2. People who rate in the upper reaches of happiness on psychological tests develop about 50 per cent more antibodies than average in response to flu vaccines.
3. Immigrants tend to acquire the happiness characteristics of the nation to which they move, not the nation in which they were born.
I’ll pop another three in Friday’s message.
Do you sometimes find it difficult to prioritise things?
I know I do.
There’s always so much more to do than there is time to do it in, and even making a very comprehensive list doesn’t always help.
It can seem even worse when you see the length of it, knowing that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
But I think that getting someone else’s perspective can help a lot, especially when they know you pretty well.
That’s what happened the other day, talking with a friend.
After I’d taken him through my ginormous To-Do list (not something to boast about really) his view was that it would be best to prioritise on the things that are ‘getting to me’ the most.
It gave me a much better sense of what should come first.
It’s probably pretty much the same for you.
You’ll know you can’t do everything.
But rather than ending up doing nothing (a common reaction to having too much on your plate) step back for a minute to ask yourself which of these demands are getting to you the most.
And preferably do so in conversation with someone else.
Tackle those things first.
The chances are that you’ll then feel strong enough to knock off some of the others too.
Depression is a pushy old condition.
Not content, itself, with blighting people’s lives, it also muscles in on other illnesses.
Unsurprisingly it’s common to find that cancer patients, for instance, have depression to deal with on top of everything else.
Doctors call this a ‘comorbidity’, a term I only came across as I began to learn more about mental health.
What a horrible word, which doesn’t even appear in my Encarta dictionary.
Despite sounding as though it might have something to do with death, it doesn’t.
It simply means having more than one illness or disease at the same time.
The concept came up when I talked to a friend who’d had breast cancer, fortunately subsequently in remission.
Although she couldn’t speak highly enough of the treatment she’d received from the oncology people, what was painfully clear was that nobody had paid any attention to her state of mind through all her illness.
We agreed that Moodnudges might have helped, even if only a little.
So if you know someone who’s battling with a serious physical illness, please think about mentioning Moodnudges to them.
You’ll be helping them, helping me and—thanks to that good old ‘helper’s high’—it might just leave you feeling slightly good too.