How to Escape the Dark Mood Spiral In Five Steps

Post written by Warren. Follow him on Twitter.

Don't let a bad mood get a grip on you.

Don't let a bad mood get a grip on you.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Ali Hale. Ali writes about “getting more from life” on her blog Aliventures, offering an honest take on the realities of personal development. Readers describe posts as “so true”, “exactly what I need” and “exactly at the right time for me”. If that sounds like something you could do with, click here to grab the RSS feed.

Do you ever find yourself in the grips of a really bad mood?

Perhaps it starts off with a small stressful event, or a negative comment – and it spirals from there. You end up arguing with your loved ones, slamming doors, even crying. It’s a horrible place to be, but when that mood begins to take hold, it can be very hard to break out.

Letting these moods take over can harm your self-growth.

You might be good at repeating your positive affirmations or focusing on your major goals or thinking abundantly when you’re feeling bright and sunny … but when this sort of mood strikes, all that negative self-talk (I’m useless, there’s something wrong with me, I can never get things right, everyone hates me…) comes crowding back in.  Plus, you’re not going to get anything productive or creative done when you’re in a mood like that.

Here are five steps to pull yourself out of the downwards spiral. It’s easy to read these steps and agree with them – it’s much harder to put them into practice when that mood does strike.  Persist, though: once they become a habit, it’s a lot easier to self-regulate your moods.

Step 1: Recognize That Negative Thoughts Breed Negative Thoughts

It’s a long-held tenet of personal development literature that we get what we focus on. You might already be in the habit of repeating positive affirmations, writing a gratitude list, telling your partner about what’s been good in your day, or sending thank you notes. All of these habits help focus our thoughts – and thus our actions and growth – on the things in our life which are good.

What we don’t always remember is that this works just as well (if not even better) for negative thoughts. I’m sure you’ve experience this. It starts with one little comment that you take the wrong way, develops into paranoia that everyone thinks exactly the same about you, and then spirals out to encompass your entire life.

The only way to stop the spiral is to break right through those thoughts, before they can grow Medusa-like heads. Dwelling on negative thoughts and trying to work out the root or the cause of them can actually make things worse.

Step 2: Don’t Talk About It

This might sound like strange advice: after all, aren’t we always being told to “talk things through” when we have a problem? Although we think that talking will help, it can often make things worse. Just think about the times when you’ve had a bad day at work and moaned about it to your partner for twenty minutes – and you’ve both ended up snapping at one another.

If you feel the need to vent, try writing instead of talking. I’ve always found that journaling helps me to work through difficult moods or thoughts, and was interested by this post from Glen Allsopp which describes how, in one study, participants who talked about a traumatic event didn’t feel any happier as a result. Those who wrote about a traumatic event “were clearly happier, more enthusiastic, and more energetic.”

Step 3: Take a Break-Out Action

This is the hardest step for me; once a dark mood hits, all my motivation to do anything seems to drain away. But if you can simply get yourself moving, you’ll often find that the mood quickly passes. If possible, do something which helps you concentrate on your physical body rather than your mental state – and make it a pleasant activity, rather than something like cleaning the kitchen. I find that showering, walking or a gym session never fail to pick up my mood.

You might also like to try getting a soothing drink (I’m British, so “a nice cup of tea” is a popular bad-mood fix!) or having a snack: sometimes, an irritable or tearful mood is simply due to low blood sugar levels. If you’re feeling over-wrought and exhausted, take a nap if possible. And once you start calming down, give meditation a try – it’ll get you grounded and happy again!

Step 4: Really Take That Break-Out Action

If you find yourself stuck on step 3, get a partner or friend to help. Ask them to prompt you to take a particular action (choose one which invariably gets you out of a bad mood: a solitary walk, or reading fiction, for instance). Encourage them to suggest this if you’re sounding very stressed, or if you’re clearly upset or in a bad mood about something. It’s often easier to listen to an external voice of reason when our own internal voice is being drowned out by our mood.

Sometimes, you won’t have someone around who can easily play this role. Try writing out a sentence like “When I start to feel stressed (angry/tearful/overwhelmed/etc), I will go out for a ten minute walk …. whether I want to or not!” Pin it on your noticeboard, stick it to your fridge, or write it on a post-it note attached to your computer monitor. It’s a little reminder from the rational, conscious “you” to the “you” caught up in a dark mood.

Step 5: Learn Your Trigger Conditions

Bad moods never arise out of nowhere. Once you’re feeling calm again, after some time has passed, give yourself a chance to examine how it happened. Maybe the immediate trigger was something as trivial as a printer jam … but it was the last straw for you because you were on the productivity treadmill and anxious about getting through everything. On a better day, the printer jam would have been just a temporary annoyance.

I tend to react badly when I’m tired or hungry. On the flip side, if I exercise regularly and take time for my creative endeavors, my mood tends to remain positive even when little irritations and worries come up.

What are your trigger conditions?

What helps you sail straight past the choppy waters of a bad mood spiral?


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Posted on October 14, 2009

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