Everybody feels down sometimes. Life doesn't go the way we'd hoped, our goals seem unreachable, and discouragement sets in. Life seems barren and hopeless.
But one of the great things about becoming . . . (ahem) “a woman of a certain age” is the ability to remember that even the worst situations don't last forever, and that how I feel right now isn't necessarily my permanent truth. Feelings change. Even more important, we can change our feelings.
Here (in no particular order) are some steps I try to take when I'm feeling down and discouraged.
- Acknowledge the feelings. It's not about pretending you don't feel what you feel. It's not even about telling yourself to “knock it off” or “get over it.” Feelings are what they are, and mental health experts generally agree that it's pretty unhealthy to try to ignore or hide your feelings. So go ahead and feel them. But you don't necessarily want to dump them on the people in your life. One really helpful exercise is to journal about them. Get a pretty notebook (that nobody else will ever see!) or open up a Word file and write for ten or thirty or sixty minutes, dumping your thoughts and feelings onto the page. Be blunt and honest. Nobody ever has to see it, but sometimes just putting your feelings into words helps you get a handle on them. My favorite place to express my feelings privately is a free journaling website called Penzu. It's private and secure (they use military-grade encryption to protect your online journal) and it has free apps for your mobile devices, too, so you can journal anywhere using your iPhone or iPad or other mobile device.
- Get some sleep. Maybe it's just me, but discouragement often gets the better of me when I'm tired. It's amazing what a good night's sleep–or a nap–can do for your perspective.
- Get outside and go for a walk. Research has shown that exercise can lift your mood. When I'm feeling discouraged, my inclination is to sit like a lump and feel sorry for myself, but if I can get my shoes on and get outside in the fresh air–especially if there are trees and sunshine and birds singing–well, that can change everything.
- Talk to a friend. Sometimes all we need is a sympathetic friend who'll hear our pain and then encourage us.
- Find someone you can help. Maybe it seems simplistic, but for me, the quickest way to drag myself out of the dumps is to get my focus off myself and turn my attention to someone else's needs. It's pretty likely that someone else around you is discouraged too. Offer her a word of support and encouragement. Hearing yourself say those encouraging words will lift your own spirit.
- Give thanks. This is the big challenge I've set for myself this year: look for something to be thankful for in every situation, no matter how crummy. For me, this probably is the single most important key to my mood, and the one I have the most control over. We can't always choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we look at them. So in every situation, ask yourself this important question: What can I be thankful about in this? Go back to that journal and make a list of everything you can think of to be thankful for. If you're a person of faith, pray–out loud so your ears can hear what your mouth is saying–and verbalize your gratitude, even if it's just for the fact that you don't have to go through this lousy thing alone.
Are these steps cure-alls? Will they change your circumstances? Nope. But they can change the way you see your circumstances. And honestly, that change in perception can change everything.
What about you? Do any of these things help you when you're discouraged? Do you have other suggestions for improving your outlook? Please share them in the comments.
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