“The emotions aren’t always immediately subject to reason, but they are always immediately subject to action.” ~William James
You wake up ready to seize the day.
Knowing what constitutes a life of happiness, you are ready to get started with the work you love.
You are ready to spend time with loving and supportive family and friends.
You are ready to take action on something that brings you peace, purpose, or joy.
But then you notice something. You aren’t feeling quite right. The usual enthusiasm and eagerness to start your day is muffled by some not-too-pleasant emotions. The sparkle of your mood is dulled or even snuffed out by feelings you can’t quite put your finger on.
- You might feel tired or drained of energy.
- Perhaps you feel a little blue or lonely, maybe on the verge of tears for reasons you can’t explain.
- There might be a sense of anxiety or even anger hovering around you with no clear explanation.
You want to feel happy. You’ve spent a lot of time learning about yourself and what makes you happy. You try to focus on the positive in life and have learned to let things go and move past failure or difficulties.
But sometimes, in spite of your best plans for happiness, a negative emotion waltzes in like an uninvited guest and takes up residence in your psyche. This is really irritating — like getting a computer virus or your car not starting on a day you planned your vacation. You’ve done everything right. There are no obvious reasons for feeling this way, but darned if those feelings aren’t sticking to you like a bad rash.
When this happens to me, my first reaction is to fight it like crazy. Damn if I’m going to let these emotions mess up my happy day! So I start telling myself I have no reason to feel this way. I start trying to identify the source of my feelings so I can give it the old whacka whacka with my psychological saber. I put on my happy face, say some affirmations, remind myself of all that I have to be grateful for and happy about.
Sometimes these things help. But other times a general emotional malaise still hovers around, immune to my most valiant efforts to refresh my happiness settings.
Why do we get these surprise attacks of undesirable feelings? Who knows exactly. It could be one of a myriad of reasons that aren’t necessarily self-evident or measurable. These might include . . .
- hormonal imbalances or changes
- brain chemistry fluctuations
- food allergies
- lack of sleep
- too much sleep
- a reaction to eating or drinking too much
- unacknowledged stress
- unmet expectations or needs
- a subtle reminder of something sad or frustrating
- the weather or the season
- the mood of the people around you
- the onset of a cold or other illness
- an environmental factor
- an emotional trigger to old wounds or anger
- lingering feelings from a bad dream or from reading or watching something negative
Sometimes knowing the cause of your emotional turmoil can help you turn things around. If you recognize an obvious source of stress or physical distress, you can certainly do something about those issues to make yourself feel better. Other times it’s not so clear cut. Sometime you just have to try a few things to see what works for you.
Here are a some ways to avoid self-sabotage and to get back on the happiness track:
Exercise. When I’m feeling puny, I rarely want to exercise, but I try to make myself get out and take a walk. In fact, I almost always feel better when I take a walk with a good friend. I get exercise and can vent at the same time! Moving around sends those feel-good endorphins to your brain. Even if your mood and energy are low, make yourself move for 10-15 minutes at least.
Eat something. I’m not suggesting a snacking binge, but sometimes eating something healthy to increase your blood sugar will give you an immediate mood boost. Try some apple slices with peanut butter, yogurt with fruit, or some trail mix.
Breathe. If you are feeling anxious, stressed, or agitated, take 5 minutes every hour or so to practice mindful breathing. This will calm you and slow your heart rate. And it forces you to take the focus off of your bad feelings and on to your breathing pattern. It gives you an escape from your emotions.
Mindless tasks. If your emotions are preventing you from focusing on what you want to be doing or should be doing, then pick a task that doesn’t require much concentration. Straighten out your desk. Wash dishes. Fold laundry. Clean out your inbox. You will still feel productive even though you aren’t producing what you intended to.
Take some Advil. Sometimes we feel out-of-sorts because we have some mild physical ailment or muscle tension. Take a pain reliever to help reduce inflammation and/or pain.
Phone a friend. Just talking to a close friend always makes me feel better. Having someone really hear you and acknowledge how you are feeling often can lift a bad mood.
Step outside of yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we feel that we begin to believe we are our feelings. I try to separate myself from my feelings and remind myself that this mood is only amorphous emotions. They come and they go, but they don’t define me. That ability to separate from your emotions goes a long way in maintaining a healthy general attitude.
A change of scenery. If you are cooped up in your house or office, take a walk outside or get in the car and go somewhere. Distract yourself with an entirely different environment or activity.
Be realistic, not fatalistic. I used to let a bad mood really pull me down. I thought that I was going to be unhappy forever since I was unhappy today. But now I know that moods come and go. Sometimes you can identify the cause, and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can do something to dissipate the mood, and sometimes nothing helps except time. I know now that, sooner or later, I will feel better. I always do.
It is frustrating when you plan your life for happiness and a mood drifts in to throw you off track. For those of us focused on personal growth and self-improvement, we know how much inner work and soul-searching is involved in the personal evolution that results in a happy life. To have that work undermined by a silly little mood seems like the ultimate self-betrayal.
But like any other life disruption, our emotions can teach us things about ourselves. About patience, resilience, coping, and self-love.
When your emotions cause self-sabotage your happiness plans, take a deep breath and remember that this too shall pass.