Unhappy thoughts, happy life?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for seeing cheerful pictures of sunshine and “good vibes” but sometimes I just feel bad, and a “just be happy” quote isn’t necessarily going to change that.

“The negative is as much part of life as the positive. They balance each other.” – Osho

Trying to force ourselves to only see the positive might do us less good than social media would like us to believe if being positive means denying reality and being dishonest with yourself.

Things can and will suck.

That’s part of life. In fact, part of the human condition. To deny ourselves half of the broad spectrum of human emotion denies ourself the ability to fully live the human experience. This can be as unbalanced and destabilizing as only being negative all the time. By choosing not to see the negative or ignoring the dark side doesn’t mean it no longer exists. We cannot change reality, night will always be there. But we can try not to let one half of reality run the show. Suppressing (our problems, the negative, our struggles, half of life as it exists) just doesn’t seem to be constructive.

The nature of many of my personal mental health struggles have been rooted in perfectionism, the fear of failure, the need for control, the feeling of never being good enough etc etc. All of which have resulted in dangerous attempts to “do well”, or “be perfect” and make no mistakes. Which is contrary to how life is supposed to be (and will be) lived. Denying the negative (and trying to avoid any and all failure) does not and will not make me happy.

“You ask me: Am I against positive philosophy? Yes, because I am also against negative philosophy.” – Osho

Getting frustrated at the “just be positive” quotes doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and do things to put me in a better mood but I also think it’s important to accept the feelings that we have. No one is going to be happy all the time. Not being happy isn’t a bad thing. There’s nothing less legitimate about being sad or angry or bored. Feelings are feelings. We can do what we can to accept what emotions come our way and try to understand them (where did they come from? What caused them? Are there trends?). Responding to these emotions shouldn’t involve invalidating them or making yourself feel guilty because they’re not “happy” feelings.

For myself, suffering from a mood disorder, these “just be positive” posts can wear me down. For some people it’s just damn hard to think of the positives sometimes! That’s not our fault either.

We can try to talk to others – “hey I’m having trouble seeing the good in this situation, can you remind me?”. I know it might sounds weird, and thinking about doing it can seem uncomfortable but in many situations, when depression or anxiety has a hold of your thoughts, it can seem nearly impossible to approach things from a different point of view alone. Mental illness has a tendency to blind you to information contradictory to the feelings that come with the disorder. Seeking help, talking to others, even reading can help us learn to recognize alternatives to our detrimental cognitive patterns.

Your feelings influence your thoughts and in turn your thoughts influence your feelings. It is known that when you’re experiencing a certain emotion, you are more likely to seek out thoughts that align with how you’re feeling. (From studies done with mood induction using sad music they show that it is literally more difficult, and requires more energy, to attend to thoughts that are happy and therefore not consistent with your mood). So, this goes to show that for those who suffer from anxiety, or depression or other mood disorders, if our mood falls, it becomes increasingly difficult to pull ourselves out because our thoughts reinforce our feelings. That being said, we need to put in some work to try and change things. There are many ways that people go about doing this. One I am currently working on with is a cognitive behavioural approach using thought records.

1. Recognize the feeling.

2. What are the “automatic thoughts” that accompany the feeling? What’s the situation?

3. Switch gears. If you were in a different mood (ie happy) what might your thought have been? How might someone else think of this situation? Keep it real. Don’t try and fake yourself out. Maybe think of someone you know who demonstrates a positive outlook on life (even a tv character for example). Use realistic and genuine examples to approach your situation as if you had started in a different mood.

4. Attend to that new thought. Balancing from a different perspective can shift your mood away from what you originally felt and therefore make it easier to attend to a more constructive, possibly even more logical thought.

For example:

• Situation – Walking down the hall at work and your coworker doesn’t reply good morning back to you.

• Anxious thoughts – “I did something to upset them”, “they might be angry with me”.

• Depression thoughts – “they dislike me”, “I’m not worth acknowledging”,

• How are you feeling? Maybe worried? A little hurt. Defeated?

• How would Miss/Mr Friendly Self-Confident view this situation? Maybe they didn’t hear you. Maybe they were distracted in their thoughts. Maybe they are exhausted and could only manage a smile. Maybe they did reply but you didn’t hear.

• What would cause you (if you were your coworker) to fail to respond in that situation? Maybe you thought they were talking to someone else.

• Is there evidence that you did anything wrong? Likely not.

• Statistically – it is much more likely that it was one of the many (somewhat more logical) reasons above that explain the behaviour rather than what your depression or anxiety might tell you.

Paving new paths in your mind will be difficult. It requires work. By definition it requires energy and focus to engage in these different thoughts. BUT by paving the way for the alternative perspectives in these situations we are more able and likely to approach the circumstance from a more balanced perspective in the future when it reoccurs (as most things in our lives are things we experience often).

So don’t give up, say things that you believe in. Really dissect the situation.

> Writing it down helps a lot (at least in The beginning

> Talk it through with others.

When it seems hard to adjust our perspectives we can also look to our inventory of self-care techniques for healthy coping mechanisms when the positives seem hard to find. Some days you just might not be able to turn things around. Sometimes you just have to try and “go through the motions”. Learning what healthy habit might make us feel better is essential for self care. You’re not always going to feel like you deserve to take care of yourself, or that you want (or have the time) to give yourself compassion, but this is especially when you need to try. Even if you don’t believe in it, give it a shot anyways – it might help.

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