There are some days where you just feel really… blah. Or maybe you’re more prone to anxiety and feel unusually on edge for some reason. Or, if you naturally gravitate towards more of a depressed state, you might feel considerably more apathetic. In today’s post, we’ll discuss simple yet effective strategies on how to cope with this kind of situation.
1. Avoid trying to answer “why” questions in this state.
We human beings are meaning-making machines. When we feel an emotion, go through hardship, or even experience success, most of us find it highly important to find reasons for why these things happened.
The trouble is, our brains aren’t always reliable. In fact, there are a plethora of cognitive distortions that we regularly engage in, which is when our brains use tactics to convince us of things that aren’t always true. For example, just because you “feel fat” doesn’t mean you are fat.
When you start feeling anxious, apathetic, or some other “negative" emotion, it’s likely that you engage in a cognitive distortion called emotional reasoning, which is when you assume that your emotions define reality. Someone engaging in emotional reasoning would say that their anxiety is a sign that there must be something in their present reality that is causing the anxiety. Similarly, someone who feels very depressed would conclude that there must be something in their life to be depressed about—otherwise, why would they feel unmotivated?
While it is certainly true that external circumstances can cause an emotion to arise, this is also a bit too simplistic. Sure, you might be feeling anxious about a work deadline, but maybe you also didn’t sleep particularly well last night. Or, maybe the sun setting at 5pm has been making you feel less motivated than usual rather than your life becoming more depressing in and of itself.
The point is, emotions are not facts. Rather, they are complex and don’t always directly correlate with what’s going on in our lives. When we start seeing our emotions as “proof” that something is happening in reality, we miss seeing many other pieces of the puzzle: have we been eating well? Exercising regularly? Sleeping decently? If not, there could be physiological or biological factors that are making us feel less able to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, etc. rather than our lives being inherently more depressing or anxiety-provoking.
2. Know that this, too, shall pass.
Many of us have a complete phobia of any emotion other than happiness. A difficult emotion like anxiety or shame will arise and we’ll want to get rid of it at all costs. Alternatively, we might over-think and over-analyze for hours on end until we’ve found a good enough reason for why we’re feeling the way that we are (see point #1). This is an exhausting and unproductive habit.
Rather than trying to get rid of the emotion or find its source, see your emotion as a wave. Emotions will come and it will go; all you have to do is ride it out. You don't have to get rid of it or “solve it” like a Rubik’s cube, you can just say, “Wow, this is really not fun right now, but I know it will pass and I just have to do my best until then.” This is what we therapists call being effective. The most effective thing to do in these moments is focus on what you can do in the here and now rather than wasting your energy suppressing your emotions or trying to solve them as if they’re a math equation.
3. Resist the temptation to time-travel.
Depression is usually about focusing on the past while anxiety is about focusing on the future, neither of which is particularly useful. If a difficult emotion arises, ask yourself, “What can I do in this present moment to feel just a bit better?" This might involve watching something on Netflix, having a bath, drawing, keeping your mind or hands busy, or changing your scenery by going grocery shopping. Focusing on answering this question will help you stay in the present moment rather than “time traveling” to the past or future.
4. Change your expectations for yourself today.
If you’re having a particularly anxious or “blah” day, change your expectations of yourself accordingly. This is not going to be the day where you do that insanely hard 2-hour spin class, nor will it be the day where you come up with some revolutionary idea to share with your co-workers. This is a day where you might just need to focus on doing the bare minimum like showering, getting out of bed, and eating a decent meal. This is your barometer of “success” today and that is totally okay.
5. Practice radical acceptance.
This is a very difficult concept to understand and practice. Radical acceptance describes the process of completely and totally accepting something with your entire being rather than fighting reality. This is not the same as liking, agreeing with, or enabling. It is about having the mindset of "it is what it is” rather than using all of your energy to fight reality.
When you’re having a really “blah” day, radical acceptance would be saying, “Wow, I really don’t like that I'm feeling this way, but I can accept where I'm at and focus on just getting through today one step at a time.” The opposite of radical acceptance would be saying, “Wow, I’m feeling like crap today… this is awful, I’ve gotta get rid of this feeling. Maybe I’ll go to the bar on my way home and get a drink to help me cope with this.” Well, deep down you probably know that this will only make you feel worse as it will catalyze you to question why you need alcohol to feel better in the first place and send you further down a rabbit hole. Simply meet yourself where you’re at and take things one step at a time.
6. Practice mindfulness.
I define mindfulness as the practice of staying in the present moment and being able to look at your thoughts and emotions from afar rather than completely fusing them. For example, someone with anxiety might think, “I’m so anxious today because I'm not going to meet my work deadline,” whereas someone practicing mindfulness might think, “I am having the thought that I’m not going to make my deadline, which is causing me to feel a bit anxious.” In this way, they are able to differentiate between thoughts, feelings, and reality rather than fusing them all together and believing them wholeheartedly.
The Bottom Line
Being a human being means you're going to have days where you feel kind of crappy. First and foremost, avoid seeing these days as some sort of “sign" that something is inherently wrong with your life, your personhood, your partner, your job, etc. Secondly, know that many factors could be contributing to your not-so-great mood, like the weather, sleeping poorly, being deficient in certain nutrients, and more. These are not the days to evaluate your life as you will likely start focusing on the negative rather than being able to get an accurate, balanced picture of what's going on. Finally, your main focus on days like these is to just get through it. Change your expectations of yourself, focus on what you can do in the present moment to feel better, avoid “time traveling” to the past and future, and know that if you can just ride the wave of this negative emotion, you will get to the other side and eventually feel better.
If you have been experiencing not-so-great days more often than not, it might be time to get some professional support. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a psychotherapy appointment in Markham or Vaughan.