Recently I was speaking with a client who was frightened of her ability to shift into a mood of despair that was so dark she disdained any possibility of the idea that she has control over this. She pursued research into depression (on the Internet) and drew even more attention to her low mood.
When I suggested that she was simply experiencing a mood or a feeling, and that it would pass, she was nearly aghast at the simplicity of this idea. She was in the habit of examining the mood to death. We spoke of external circumstances that may cause these shifts, and how deciding the story she was telling herself was the absolute truth often gets her into “mood trouble.” What became apparent to her was that changing how she related to her moods and feelings was more effective than swallowing them whole without any sense of what they might be telling her.
Understand that feelings and moods are like barometers, and if we pay attention and look at our lives, it is possible to figure out (the often multiple) factors that play a role in sustaining feelings of depression and anxiety, helping them to take root. Once they take root, moods can become your “go to” state of being, and it can be difficult to challenge them.
Here are a few truths about feelings:
1. Feelings, unlike thoughts, involve a physical reaction which often “takes over” the body. It’s that anxious feeling in your gut or the tension you are holding between your shoulder blades.
2. Feelings do not just appear out of the blue. Feelings are a direct result of your thoughts and perceptions about an event or person.
3. Feelings may be simple or complex. Simple emotions are things like anger, sadness, grief, fear, love, or excitement. Complex feelings are a combination of more than one simple emotion. Often we say we have ‘mixed emotions’ about something.
4. Feelings give you energy. If you withhold or suppress feelings, you go through life experiencing a certain numbness or emptiness, or anger builds and gets expressed inappropriately.
5. Feelings may be contagious. Your mood is likely to be pulled downward when in the company of someone who is sad or crying. Conversely, if you surround yourself with positive, enthusiastic company, their vibes rub off on you.
6. Feelings are not “right” or “wrong.” Feelings exist as reactions. They just are.
7. Unexpressed feelings can be as damaging as secrets. When you feel something, find your words and speak on it. That is not a license to cuss your boss or your partner out; it means learning how to express what you need, not what you don’t need.
8. Feelings and moods always change. They come and they go, sometimes as fast as we flit from one thought to another. Don’t make the mistake of deciding your mood is here to stay.
9. Lastly, just because you think it does not make it so.
So now you can think of your feelings as a barometer that is trying to tell you something. Then step back and figure out what that something is. This is a great technique to fight off the black dog of depression!