When negative thoughts start popping up it’s like playing with a set of Matryoshka dolls. Each of them gives birth to new negativity and worries. Our mind is very creative when it comes to inventing things to fear or situations to worry about.
Once you are in the middle of a downward spiral you feel as if there is nothing you can do about it. You are in free fall and can see the black hole approaching.
If you don’t stop the vicious cycle of negative self-talk and limiting beliefs, your self-confidence will go up in smoke and, in the worst case, you might end up with fear discouraging you from living a happy life.
It Doesn’t Take Much to Start the Downward Spiral
The triggers that can send you into a tailspin are quite diverse. At times, you don’t know why you are feeling down, sad and worrisome or it can take as little as rainy weather. But it can also start because of somebody telling you about their latest trip to Bali; somebody making an inconsiderate remark; having an argument with someone close to you; not having any plans for the weekend; your boss criticising your work.
Any of this can be enough to get the spiral of negativity going like a perpetual motion machine. Once it begins, the negative emotions follow and you can’t help but feeling miserable.
How to Stop the Downward Spiral
The longer you play this mind game with yourself, the harder it gets to get out of it. Here are a few tips on how to break the pattern of negativity:
You need to get some distance in order to get a grip on your emotions. Try to observe what is happening exactly. Look at the situation you are in and ask yourself how it all started. Can you figure out the triggers? Which are the recurring thoughts? Do you feel any tension in your body? What’s your breathing like?
Behave like a journalist who is only interested in the facts. No judgement involved, just awareness of what is going on. Observing disrupts the spiral of negativity, as you are forced to sort your thoughts in a rational way instead of engaging in further worries.
Energy stays with where you direct your attention to, so try to keep it with the sheer facts and not with your negative mindset or the situation you are in.
Accept what’s happening right now as what it is: a moment in which you are feeling blue. Denial doesn’t work and is counterproductive. The more effort you put into pushing away negative thoughts, the harder they are going to haunt you later.
If you start telling yourself that you are all right, you’re betraying your feelings. You are not okay, but you will make it through. Anything can be changed for the better, as long as you are able to accept the status quo first.
The negative opinion you have of yourself and your life is not what others think of you. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Acknowledge the person you are, with strengths, weaknesses and life experience. If you try to measure up to an ideal or try to emulate someone else rather than to acknowledge who you are, then you don’t give yourself credit for what you have achieved so far and what’s there already.
You have the power to change how you think, and thus, how you feel, no matter what happened before.
Reveling in your thoughts is the worst you can do. The key is to get active no matter how small the effort. When you are miserable, you might not want to go anywhere or move at all. Still, it is the best you can do to put a stop to what is happening.
Get up and do something that leads to a result, no matter how small. Whether it is cleaning up the house, doing the groceries, walking the dog, going for a jog or calling a friend, the more resistance you encounter, the more this activity might be exactly what you should go about.
The moment you get moving, your mind is going to be occupied with the activity you’ve started in place of circling around what is making you miserable. More so, when you’re done it’s likely that you are going to feel a sense of accomplishment.
If nothing else works, try humor. Things usually never are as bad as they seem. Often, we get stuck in a depressing situation because we only see one side of the story. Maybe you can find an angle that sheds a new light onto the situation you are in, or, at best, you can make fun of the situation itself.
Being down in the dumps also has a physical effect; your muscles tend to get tensed, even the ones in your face. Relax your jaw and put on a smile, although that’s the last thing you could imagine doing. If you have a mirror at hand, smile at yourself, and, if you can, try to laugh, no matter how stupid it looks at first. Let your eyes crinkle up. Even an enforced smile can help you get out of a phase that is overwhelming you with negativity and frustration.
- When you’ve made it through, you might want to note down the recurring thoughts and gather evidence that their messages are not true. Find convincing and positive arguments that disprove negative assumptions about yourself, for instance, replace “I am a failure” by “I might have made a mistake, but next time I’m going to try harder.” or “This time was not so great, but I’ve succeeded before when I …”.
- Also, watch your choice of words. If you use “must”, “can’t”, “should”, “impossible”, “never” etc. on a regular basis, find other expressions that are less rigorous and which don’t imply seeing things in black or white only, e.g. “It would be good if”, “I can give it a try because”.
Next time you end up feeling blue try to use the verbal counter strategies you came up with in order to stop the downward spiral before it gets going.
What’s your strategy to handle times of depression? Please comment below if you want to share your experiences.