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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Balancing acceptance of low moods with efforts to feel better

I had an experience in the weekend that gave me insight into how I balance simply accepting my low moods with actively attempts to feel better. Saturday brought with it a few disappointments and frustrations, like my dog arriving home from the dog sitter when I was still in the bath with conditioner in my hair, then jumping the fence immediately while I stood there helplessly in my dressing gown shouting at him. Next I locked myself out of the bathroom so I couldn’t rinse my hair, then once that was sorted found that despite double checking all my measurements for the new fence I’d got them the wrong way round so the fence didn’t fit the posts, then just missed a friend for coffee then …you get the picture!

As the day progressed I focused on experiencing and accepting my feelings of irritation, panic, anxiety, anger, disappointment and sadness. At first this stopped them getting any worse. But after negative event # 5 or 6, I found that sadness was starting to morph into depression. All I could remember from the day was the long list of things that hadn’t gone right. That alerted me to the fact that my thinking had become distorted. ‘What good things also happened?’ I asked myself. I remembered that we had finished nailing the fence together. I also realised my mistake was not a catastrophe because the fence could be put up the opposite way round. This new perspective lifted my spirits.

Next I looked for on one thing I could control. I decided to head off to a lovely reserve and give the dog a good run. We had a wonderful time there and I went home feeling a lot better, looking forward to having a nice dinner and watching a funny video.

When I analysed what had happened (as I so love to do!) I realised that the steps had been:

• Accepting my moods and feeling them, just letting them flow rather than trying to feel ‘up’ all the time
• Becoming aware that this was not enough and my feelings where moving beyond a fleeting sadness to become mild depression
• Examining my thinking for my most common errors and correcting them – shifting my focus from the negative to positive events and de-catastrophising,
• Looking for one thing I could control
• Doing something pleasurable, and
• Planning some small enjoyable things to look forward to.

That’s how I manage when a good mood starts to slip into a low one. In a future post I’ll talk about how I balance accepting my feelings with taking action when I’m feeling low already.


  1. Thanks, Kaye. Really interesting to read about. Your years of experience in managing depression and happiness are so valuable for those that want some insight to help themselves or others. I like how you surrendered to your feelings but then also knew when they were overwhelming you, and then employing techniques to correct this and set you back to a more balanced state. You're book is going to be a winner!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. I found it quite fascinating watching my mind pretty much operate on automatic as I drove the car, walked the dog etc. That's down to years of doing it, I guess, but the basic techniques still work even if you have to think about them more consciously. I think the key is becoming aware that your mood is slipping before it's completely gone. Knowing what works best for you is also useful, and that comes from trying lots of different things.

  3. I agree that this balance is tricky and critical.

    Like Kirsten, I think the keyword is indeed 'when'. WHEN's the right time for acceptance, and WHEN's the right time for action?

    When it comes to the acceptance phase, I think it helps to observe your brain, as if it were something exterior to your mind. I think it helps to observe one's insecurities and anger, as if they were unwanted luggage on a coveyor belt: you watch them move but you don't grab hold of them!

    I also think it would help to know the mechanism that frustration and anxiety involve in the brain. I would help to just acknowledge that 'my amydgala is overactivated, consuming a lot of glucose, it will remain so for the next 20 minutes. This is my reptilian brain that's overreacting, not me, there's nothing else I can do. It's bound to subside.'

    If it's my reptilian brain playing tricks, then it's no longer my fault: there is less room for guilt. If it's my reptilian brain that's overheating, then there's nothing else I can do. So, let's just let go!

    I just threw two biological words that I don't even understand. I just wished someone explained to me in lay terms, what the conveyor belt biologically looks like...

    Could you do that Kaye?

    Sorry for too long a comment!

    Thanks for this good topic.


  4. Yes, Mr F, watching or observing your thoughts instead of getting mixed up in them is a great technique. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a good one for learning more about this.

  5. OK! The biological stuff is a bit beyond me although it's interesting. I guess it could be the old, reptilian brain overheating when you can't stop feeling a certain way. However I don't tend to worry about that too much. I don't care that much about why it happens, just about what works to stop it. The big issue for me is that if one spends all one's time trying to control how one thinks and feels it can make one feel worse - much worse! I'll do a post on that next week.

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