I’m pretty open about my journey with depression. But I don’t think you have to struggle with “DEPRESSION” to know the battle of the emotional downward spiral.
Ah, The Downward Spiral.
The truth is, even on anti-depressants, I still battle that downward spiral. For many of us, being swept into that emotional landslide can be triggered by a variety of things. Perhaps you know your triggers. Or maybe it blindsides you.
Regardless of the cause, most of us know the spiral when we’re in it.
Although I can’t always avoid the emotional spiral completely, I HAVE learned some reliable ways to STOP IT. Here are five tried-and-true ways to stop the downward spiral:
1. Get perspective.
Put things in perspective and rate your situation on a scale of 1 to 10. I know it sounds too simple to work, but it can be very effective. Here’s what I sounded like just this morning:
Today FEELS LIKE a Level 9 crisis. Molly woke up with a nightmare at 1:30 AM, Owen got up for the day at 5:45 AM, and there is not enough coffee ON THE PLANET for this day… I’m tired. Just being awake feels overwhelming. I FEEL LIKE Level 9.
But what is the ACTUAL crisis level? I set aside the feelings. I look at the facts. And I realize there is no actual crisis. At least not a Level 9. Really, this morning just feels harder than my PREFERRED way to start the day. So we’ll be generous and give it a 2.
Now, I can start dialing my Level 9 emotions down to Level 2 reality.
2. Get grateful.
It’s so easy to focus on the negative. And when I FOCUS on what I find disappointing, I FEED my disappointment. And it GROWS.
Here’s the good news. I can starve my disappointment. If I focus on why (or for what) I can be GRATEFUL, I feed my GRATITUDE instead. And IT will grow.
For example: today I have a bunch of laundry to fold. I find this less than inspiring, to say the least. But I know if I’m wiling to see it, there’s something to be grateful for.
We have CLOTHES, for one thing. And healthy, active children to get them dirty. And CLEAN WATER to wash them (the kids AND the clothes). And a MACHINE that washes them FOR ME (the clothes, not the kids). AND ANOTHER ONE THAT DRIES THEM. Not to mention electricity to run both machines.
Suddenly, complaining about folding the clothes seems kind of silly. And if I let it, folding those very clothes becomes an act of gratitude in itself.
3. Get outside.
Fresh air does something good for me. It doesn’t even have to be sunny. (But if it is, even better.) Don’t tell yourself you have to go somewhere particularly pretty or serene. Just get out of your house, go for a simple walk around the block, and see if a weight lifts from your shoulders.
Even if it’s raining (or snowing!) – get your umbrella and go for a stroll. Stomp in the puddles.
Get out in the open air and let your spirit exhale. Get out in an open space. Get out from under your ceiling, lift your face to the sky. And breathe.
4. Get sweaty.
Sometimes the thing that feels most difficult is the thing that will help me most. This is often the case with working up a sweat. But I’ve learned that even twenty minutes of sweat-inducing exercise (the aforementioned walk around the block does not fulfill this for me) can stop my spiral in its tracks.
I emphasize the sweat on purpose. I’ve found a reliable connection between the sweat and the effectiveness of the exercise. If it’s not intense enough to really get my heart pumping and my body sweating, then it doesn’t tend to help me mentally.
I can half-a** it for an hour in a group exercise class and walk out feeling even further into my spiral. But just twenty minutes of cranking out a high-intensity workout with a DVD, and the fog clears as quickly as the sweat pours.
5. Get beyond myself.
Unless it’s fairly mild to begin with, I’m rarely able to stop a spiral in solitude. I don’t mean I need to go socialize – although sometimes that’s the answer.
What I mean is I must position myself to see beyond “me” – and to see beyond this moment.
The best way I can do this is to serve others. (Do NOT just go read about the tragedies and needs in the world, thinking this will help you feel better about your own life. That’s actually about the #1 way to send me INTO a spiral.) Find a need you can do something about right now.
Get out of your own head. Get your hands dirty. Look people in the eye. And do something. It doesn’t matter where you live – there are countless ministries and missions desperate for volunteers EVERYWHERE. Go through your church or just Google service opportunities in your city. Invite a friend along and go serve together.
What would you add to this list? Have you found ways to stop the emotional downward spiral? Join the conversation and share in the comments!