We all have our down days. I think it’s important to acknowledge them when they happen. Don’t deny the feelings. Give them their names, give them space, and deal with them. It’s difficult. But it’s necessary.
This day was one of those days for me, so my ideas for the day were centered on ways to give long-term benefits to my overall mood.
Nothing on this list is special or unique or particularly insightful. But sometimes it’s good to remind yourself of the steps you need to follow. Because happiness is not a destination, but a path, and sometimes you must be mindful of your steps.
I am not a medical professional and none of this is intended to serve as medical advice. These are my personal thoughts focused on what helps for me.
Stop instantly thinking of the worst outcome.
When you deal with anxiety, this is a very common problem. Presented with a new / unfamiliar situation, it’s easy for your mind to instantly jump to the worst possible thing that could happen. They could say no. It won’t work. Or the more outlandish. Right as I’m going through this intersection, someone is going to T-bone me. I know it.
Sometimes these are intrusive thoughts, or sometimes they’re the result of a gradual (and logical) decline. It’s important not to fight them, but to reason them out. I have to remind myself how illogical that thought was, how unlikely it is to occur, and force myself to think of other, more positive outcomes instead.
Go for walks. Do push-ups. Join the gym, use a rowing machine, try out powerlifting. Get up and stretch.
Physical health is a key factor in mental health.
The Catch-22 here is that when you aren’t feeling your best emotionally, it becomes nearly impossible to try and improve yourself physically. Just the thought of getting up and doing anything feels alien, impossible.
The trick is to not attempt to exercise. Don’t look for or think of any regimen. Don’t think of getting up and going for a run. Instead, do the smallest thing possible that could still be considered “physical activity.” Stand up. Walk around the living room. Bend over and touch your toes.
Slowly, slowly. Take small and resolute steps. Let the activity snowball. Nobody ever jumps into doing something big — all our lives, hobbies, and skills are the accumulation of small steps over long periods of time.
Bonus: Physical activity is good for you and it can help you sleep better.
Sleep, and take sleep seriously
Historically, I’ve never been good at this. I suffered from insomnia for a year when I was sixteen, and then briefly again just a few months ago. It’s one of the worst experiences a person can have and I don’t wish it on anyone. I’ve developed some rules for myself over the years that, generally, help.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Stick to it.
- Stay away from screens an hour before bed time (this can be very hard sometimes).
- Read a book.
- Stop drinking caffeine after noon, or 2pm on weekends.
- Your bed is not a general-purpose hangout spot. Stay out of it unless you are going to sleep. Or that other thing.
- Don’t eat in bed (gross).
- Don’t read in bed (no matter how comfy it is).
- Don’t watch TV in bed (same).
Following all of the above makes it possible to actually be able to lay my head down at bed time and have a decent chance at going to sleep on time.
Spend less time with screens
When have you ever put your phone down, sighed, and decided you were content with the world? What Great Content have you ever consumed and truly felt uplifted afterward?
Social media is toxic. Either you spend too much time curating your own experience, or you’re inundated with awful people’s awful opinions and thoughts. I’ve never felt good about the time I spent on Twitter, or Facebook, or Reddit. It’s like drowning in the sea: you can keep drinking, and you continue to thirst.
So shut the damn screen off. Take a break from social media. Leave your smart phone at home sometimes. Who really needs to contact you while you’re getting shit done? How did people manage before cell phones? They waited.
Similarly, ditch the TV. Ditch the video games. Too often media consumption is used as a crutch to avoid dealing with your problems. (It’s used as a crutch for quite a lot, really.)
As above, stand up and move around. Call a friend, get someone to come spend face time with you, go for a walk outside. Find a hobby that involves something physical and external.
Be honest with yourself about your feelings
Emotions can be difficult, and intense emotions can be overwhelming. Sometimes it feels impossible to figure out what to do with any of them at all, and it’s easier to shut down or to tune out.
Learning to recognize and stay with your feelings can be the first step to taking control back from them. Rather than letting your anger, or anxiety, or sadness dictate your actions, you can still feel them and decide for yourself.
Your feelings are valid and you are not “crazy” or “stupid” for feeling them. You don’t have to know where they come from. You don’t have to do anything with them.
When a strong feeling does come on: acknowledge the feeling, name it (even if the name is something like “Jared” [sorry, Jareds]), and breathe. Don’t fight it away.
Sometimes you don’t even know how you feel. That’s okay, too. Your emotions are not a puzzle to be solved anyway.
Acceptance of your feelings is akin to accepting yourself.
Honesty with yourself about your feelings is an important step to working through the problems that may be the root of them.
And it’s equally important to acknowledge when you’re feeling good.
Tell more jokes
There’s some evidence that the physical act of smiling can trick your brain into feeling happiness. While the epistemic status of this statement is “under review,” I think the pros outweigh the cons.
So you smile more. What’s the worst that could happen? Others join in your mirth and you spread good cheer? Oh, no!
Jokes are wonderful. They’re one of the most pristine, beautiful art forms known to man. Nothing else is designed so purely, so singularly to simply make others feel raw, unfettered joy. At its most banal, a good joke told is a selfless act just to see happiness in the face of your friend.
I challenge you to tell a joke to someone and then not feel that little tingle of joy when they laugh at it.
Find and use a creative outlet
Hobbies are great and also, sometimes, terrible things. Fall down deep enough into any rabbit hole and you’ll find splintered sub-cultures arguing about the best clicking mechanism for mechanical pencils (trick question, pencils are garbage, use a pen).
This section is personal. For years I’ve found and used various creative outlets. I write. I take pictures. I used to make digital art. I was very big into a very specific sub-culture of forum signatures and their design (300×100 best size). I make video games (sometimes).
Without these outlets over the years I don’t know what would have happened to me. I’ve been writing since before I turned ten. Taking photos for a decade. I’ll often alternative between outlets and sink into one for a month or three before going back to something else. I have countless unfinished novels, games, etc.
This is just a reminder to myself to keep it up, keep going. It’s not about finishing that novel. It’s about the act of writing itself.
Having a creative outlet has helped me get to know myself better. I can look back on my work and not only appreciate the progress I’ve made aesthetically, but personally. I’m a stronger, healthier, better person now than I was ten years ago. And I hope to say the same ten years from now.
This kind of ties into some points above, and could also be its own post. The basic — very basic — idea is to pay attention to the present moment without judgment.
Your mind will wander, and that’s okay. When you notice it wandering, just guide it back to the present moment.
Your mind will try to make judgments, and that’s okay, too. Recognize them, mark them, and tuck them away. If you want to, you can return to them later to figure out why they got there.
Just keep bringing your attention back to the present.
Above the entrance to the royal library of King Ramses II of Egypt, a phrase was written: “the house of healing for the soul.”
A book can be an escape, or a reminder that you’re not alone. You can stumble across a passage that so aptly describes exactly how you feel that you can only stare at the page in wonder. A book can validate, assuage, calm.
Books sharpen your mind and teach you new things. Not just new facts, but new points of view, new states of mind. You stretch your brain, increase your cognitive load-bearing capabilities.
The brightest minds who ever lived exhorted us to read. Not only that — they wrote. They shared their minds with us. It’s criminal that we live in such a literate society yet we have people who are, somehow, proud of not reading books as an adult.
Reading equips you with more tools in your cognitive belt. The more tools you have, the more capable you are of staving off the bad feelings.
Sometimes, though, it just isn’t enough. You read, you exercise, you fix your sleep hygiene, and you still feel like a human pile of trash. (Not you you. Me.) What then?
You’ve gone through all the motions. You’ve fixed the mechanics of your life. From an outside perspective, things are going really well for you! You appear healthy, and happy, and successful.
But every day you struggle to get up out of bed. Your stomach is a pit of writhing snakes, each a different fear. You’re afraid of lashing out and hurting someone who did nothing wrong — and the thought of this brings on feelings of guilt, that you’d ever do such a thing — which triggers more tangled, writhing feelings. An endless spiral. You’re afraid of being afraid, anxious about being anxious. Any moment now, you’re certain, everyone will finally discover you’re a fraud.
But you’re not a fraud. And, with work, you can untangle those snakes and fill that pit. Sometimes you don’t have all the tools you need to do this work. Sometimes you need someone else to guide you along the path.
There is no shame is asking for help. You’re not weak, you’re not a failure. When you’ve exhausted your own capabilities, you need to know that you can reach out to someone.
Therapy can save your life. Your friends and your family can save your life.
Admitting you need help is not surrendering to your problems.
Finally… remember that happiness is not a constant state
This wasn’t on the notepad, but I feel like it’s important to add.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “happy person.” I doubt anyone sails through life in a constant state of… well, anything.
Society tells you it’s bad when you’re not happy, and the strife caused by the mismatch between reality and expectation causes nothing but grief.
Your emotions are like the tide. Ebb and flow. In a well-functioning system, the good — and the bad — comes in waves. If I had to pick a single line from the pad and stick with it, it would be the one about emotional honesty. Accept your feelings, and be honest about them.
There’s no shortcut to just feeling happy all the time always. And why would you want to? Flowers don’t bloom with only sunshine; they need some rain, too.