When you’re feeling low it can seep into every part of your life. Your mood effects not just how you feel emotionally, but physically too. You feel worn out and exhausted and can’t find the motivation to do the things you need to do or that you’d normally want to do, be it seeing friends or family, dragging yourself to work or to the shops.
It also affects how you interpret the things that happen to you, making you much more likely to see things in a negative light – like looking at the world through dark glasses. Everything has a negative bias and to make things even worse, on top of what’s currently going on you’re even more likely to recall negative memories. Sigh.
It’s a vicious circle – just when you need your mind on-side to get you through a tough patch it can start to work against you, leaving you dwelling and ruminating on all the things you reckon you could have done better or differently. You replay things over and over again like a CD that’s stuck repeating the same lyrics: that night when you had one too many and fell over in front of all your colleagues; the time at work when you called your boss the wrong name; the argument you had with your partner when you said the one thing you vowed you wouldn’t. Before long you’re wallowing in the embarrassment, fear, anxiety and anguish you felt then and now feel again.
It only takes one tiny negative thought to trip you up, sending you flying down a slope to self-recrimination.
The ridiculous thing about dwelling is that despite thinking things over for hours, days, weeks or months, you’re not actually getting anywhere – you’re not achieving anything. You’re just torturing yourself both emotionally and physically as you’ll feel everything you did at the time all over again – sick, tense, panicky, sweaty, shaky etc. You’re not solving the problem and unless you build yourself a time machine there’s no going back and doing it again. All you’re doing is wasting time!
This sort of thinking isn’t just a quick route to feeling bad, new research has found that brooding too much on negative events can play a big role in how likely you are to go on to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress.
Don’t panic though! There is a way out of this hideous dwelling spiral. While you can’t change the past, you can control how you think about things. The next time you find yourself dwelling on something tell yourself, “This is pointless” and then shift your attention to something else – make a conscious effort to stop dwelling. Choose to stop. Go and do something else and distract yourself: play a game, make a phone call, go for a walk or read a chapter of your book.
If the thoughts won’t go away then confront them. Ask yourself: “What would I tell a friend if the same thing had happened to them?” Chances are you’ll be much more kind and compassionate to a pal then you are being to yourself.
What happened has happened and that’s that. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. Instead of ruminating, start reflecting: “Okay, it was bad, but what can I take from it?” Now cut yourself some slack and move on!