Ever get into a bad mood for no reason? Yeah, me too.
I used to beat myself up about it. My life is great! I don't have much to complain about, so what’s the problem? Anyone who knows what bad moods are like knows how this story ends: instead of psyching myself out of the bad mood, I’d just end up feeling guilty for not being able to power through it.
Then something happened. I first noticed it because I realized that after some time going through a low mood I'd feel perfectly fine. This made me think that maybe it was normal to have these swings in moods. Maybe some subconscious stuff was going on behind the scenes, to help me snap out of it.
So, I started paying attention to the little details of what went on during my mood swings. Here's what I tracked, and here's what helped.
Since I could feel the events leading up to my low mood. I started tracking the main triggers that exacerbated them. A few basic categories emerged:
These are what I called my triggers. Everyone has to deal with these things to some extent, so getting rid of them isn’t really an option. Sometimes it's difficult to gauge when they get out of hand because you feel fine, then the next thing you know you're laying in bed in your panties all day- which is kind of fun though. Knowing that these are the things to look out for meant that I was able to emotionally intervene a little earlier with myself.
Identify Mood Triggers
Identifying triggers can be difficult because you might not be aware of what's going on in your body. This is where you need to take time to notice subtle things that cause a change for you. Each one of us is different. So how are you going to know your triggers?
You can identify mood triggers by paying attention to your body as well as your mental, emotional, and spiritual state.
Here's what it looks like for me.
See how this works? Although the first step was for me to identify situational triggers, the things I mention above are internal indicators that I am entering bad-mood territory. Triggers often have certain results even before you get into your full-blown depressed mood.
Identify Results of Mood Triggers
Some of us are programmed into certain behaviors that we don't realize are really coping mechanisms for us. These may show up in things like:
My drug of poison is usually always sugar. When I'm stressed, my best friend is a bag of M&M's and licorice (or chocolate-covered licorice-yum). Once, I was on a remote nursing assignment in Northern Manitoba, where I was on call virtually every night. It was a very stressful situation and a new experience for me. Although I tried to eat healthily, I caved and ate M&M's multiple nights before going to bed, lying there and waiting for the on-call phone to ring.
What's interesting is that the results of your triggers, or a form of addiction, are usually not singular. They come in pairs, triples, or even more. That's why people who drink and smoke actually find it easier to quit both than to quit just one: if they force themselves to find healthier coping mechanisms altogether, then they’re more likely to be successful than if they lighten up on one crutch and allow the other one to take over (quitting smoking, for example, but drinking more).
If you know how to identify your bad mood—or maybe even preemptively see it coming—based on behaviors you’ve learned are associated with bad moods, then that gives you that much more of an advantage when it comes to reacting to it.
Track The Amount of Time Spent In Your Low Mood
Is there an amount of time that you “typically” spend in a bad mood? Like I mentioned earlier, I often snap out of a bad mood without really realizing it, and for what seems to be no good reason at all. If you’re able to identify how long it typically takes you to feel better, you can “emotionally quarantine” until you feel better, just like staying home from work or school on a day when you feel sick.
Track The Things That Make You Feel Better
I admit: “munching on candy, in bed, in my underwear all day is not a sustainable way to deal with my problems.” But, if doing this has been your coping mechanism, then maybe don’t beat yourself up about it.
While these behaviours aren't sustainable or healthy in the long run, it's even worse to stress about it. Learning healthy ways to deal with stress is just as important to help us maintain good mental health, but that's a topic for another day. What you do on a timescale of weeks is more important than what you do on a timescale of hours or days.
Here's an example of what this looks like for me. You know those movies where you see the girl dealing with the bad breakup, surrounded by cheap snacks and binge-watching low-grade romances? YUP. The time in bed is my recharge. I just have to make sure I don't stay there, maybe replace the snack with healthier choices, but it works for me.
Add To The Things That Make You Feel Better
I’ve helped to run some workshops on managing depression and anxiety. In doing so, I’ve learned some pretty valuable techniques for taking care of myself when I’m feeling like crap.
This alternation between very hot and very cold water is also a miracle method for headaches. I have used this method to get instant relief. Take two basins, fill one with ice water, and the other with water as hot as you can stand. Submerge your feet into the basic, same thing 3 minutes hot, 30 seconds cold, alternate for three cycles and end on cold. Of course beware if you have PVD, or any other circulatory issues.
Adjust and Repeat
I've almost got my depression routine down to a science… almost.
Without using any of the steps listed above—identifying triggers, seeing signs, taking preventative measures, and giving myself some self-care therapy—I can go into a funk that lasts for a couple of weeks. If I’m on top of it, I can shorten those bouts to 2-3 days. Of course, the toughest part of any mental health challenge is that if you’re in a dip in mental health, that tends to mean you also have decreased resources to stave it off. But think about it. Isn’t some extra effort worth the payoff of getting those couple of weeks back? In my mind, the answer is clear.
Tracking your moods can help you identify, and decrease your triggers. This lessens the time you feel down and lets you know that it's normal to have ups and downs in life- the key is not staying there.