Tuesday, 9 November 2010

How to pull yourself out of a dark pit!

Years ago, I used to get dark moods that would pull me into this inescapable vortex of despair. I'd stay there for hours, then days, then weeks, then months. It all started from a bad habit I had: when life got too hard i used to crawl back under the duvet. After doing this for a few days, I was too drained to do anything but lie in bed and hate everything. Soon i'd be on the downward spiral.

Since this time, i have have found many ways to break my negative, self-sabotaging patterns of behavior. I can now do a U-turn when i find myself walking down the comfortable, well-beaten path to misery. I want to share these tricks with you, because this week, i've had one of the worst days in a long time, yet i managed to end the day laughing and joking. It made me realize how far i had come. Here are the steps:

1. Rename your feelings - If you say you're 'depressed, miserable, stressed, suicidal' - you've given a label to how you're feeling and your body starts doing what it has been told. When things are going horribly wrong and i could collapse into a ball on the floor, instead of submitting to my emotional response, i say to myself: 'today's plans have been mildly impeded' or 'my calmness has been temporarily thwarted'. As soon as you say to a friend 'i am depressed' your friend will start treating you like a depressed person and you'll start acting like it. The reinforcing behavior turns into a vicious circle. (This tip shamelessly stolen from: Tony Robbins, Unleash the Giant Within)

2. Tap into your inner militant - Summon your inner dictator! When you sneak back into bed or have trouble getting up in the morning, say to yourself 'Get your fat, lazy ass out of bed and do one of the million things on your list. Quit hiding from your life and get the out there. Don't you have things you want to achieve?' Or if you're feeling sorry for yourself say 'Grow up - stop being a petty child, go do something useful. Sulking doesn't change the world - action changes the world! DO SOMETHING!' Do it in the same way a stern mother or scary teacher would - i even imagine my fiercest teacher at school shouting it at me.

3. Remember the worst day in your life - We have all experienced some defining days that linger in the back of our consciousness.

One day i remember extremely vividly was mothers' day 10ish years ago. I was rushed to hospital in the early hours of the morning in immense physical pain. When I got to the ER I witnessed a teenage boy die in front of his parents and sister - the family just crumpled with grief. His father screamed and punched a concrete post, the mother fell to the floor and his teenage sister went a grey pallor. She was in total shock and couldn't catch her breath - she sat alone in the waiting room crying her eyes out. I was in so much physical pain myself, i couldn't properly comprehend anything i saw at the time. The experience was the epitome of human pain.

My day last week was very bad - but not this bad... by a long shot!

4. Quantify your day - If your worst day is a zero out of 10. Then where are you today? (I decided that i was a 2). Then say to yourself - i'm going to try and get up to 5 today - and if i do, i'll be really proud of myself and congratulate yourself. When you're having an awful day - aim to turn this day around to an 'average' day. If you do this, chances are you'll get some momentum and be able to get even higher (i managed to end the day on a 7!)

5. Switch your view - Imagine you are in a traffic jam - you can only see 10 cars in front of you... You're moving very slowly - but still moving, you're a little annoyed but content just chilling to your music.

What if you could float up from your car and view the traffic jam from high in the air? You then see that the traffic jam is 10 miles long. You freak out... you were okay when you could only see 10 cars. But now AAGGGH! What are you going to do? You're doomed!

When things are going badly - we can often see them because we're looking at unhelpful view. From a bird's eye view, we can see all the problems in the distance, we get anxious and find it difficult to cope. When things get tough - come down from the high view and turn all your focus on the thing in front of you. Conversely, when the task in front of you seems insurmountable and you can't see anything else, float up to the bird's eye and see how small this task is on the big schema of things. Look at all the other paths that would take you where you need to go. Research shows that being able to switch from abstract to detail thinking is a trait of great business leaders. Don't get caught up in either view of thinking - change perspective when you hit a road block!

6. Set yourself a low target for the day - If you're feeling 2 out of 10, then you're operating with only 20% of your capacity. Your emotional and intellectual abilities will be failing, your competence will be appalling and you could snowball into a worse place if you set your goals too high. Set yourself a low target that if you achieve - you'll congratulate yourself. When i'm having a very bad day - I leave my office spotless and my files are obsessively in order.

7. Deep breathing - Slllloooow dooown and take some deep breaths. I use a Tony Robbin's breathing technique that i learned years ago. Breath in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 12 and breath out over a count of 8. Do ten of these breaths and i'm pretty sure you'll be in a better place rapidly. Use this if you're really freaking out about something - it will center you in a few minutes.

8. Valerian Tea - A cup of this relieves my anxiety pretty quickly. I can get to a much better place in 10 minutes. Give a teabag to a cat and see the affect on the kitty! This stuff works!

9. Draw pictures of 10 things you love - When you're in a foul mood, this is quite hard to do because you're so wrapped up in yourself. You have to switch your brain from you/your ego/ what you want/ how you're feeling/your bad day/ poor you to other stuff. Just draw some dumb pictures. It takes you to some creative part of your brain where you feel love and gratitude for the great things in your life and helps you get a grip on your surroundings.

10. The four agreements - A book by Don Miguel, that I have never actually read! Someone else told me about it and it made so much sense. Particularly, agreement no 2. 'Don't take anything personally - nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.' I love this, because on a deep level it's so very true - humans have their own inner reality that only they can make sense of and shape.

I still get dark moods - but i now have some great exit strategies that help me snap out of my negative state very quickly. I told a friend about my bad day and that i was proud of how quickly i'd turned it around. He said 'I didn't know you had bad moods - you're always so balanced.'

I find that a combination of things work for me. I've never found a single silver bullet that takes me from despair to euphoria. But i've worked very hard to find multiple ways to bring rapid change - ultimately you need to find what works for you.

But that's the whole definition of success right?! Finding multiple ways to get from A to B and not giving up until you get there! When i'm down i no longer think 'bed' - i think 'action'.