It’s easy to slip into the dumps. How does one get out?
Most people get discouraged at one time or another. Anything can be a trigger: dissatisfying work; marital conflict; disappointing, frustrating, or frightening behavior in a child. Whatever starts it going, the downhill slide soon takes on a life of its own. It’s bad mood time.
In this constricted state, things start to look black and bleak. The doors and windows of the mind are shut; there is no way out. Nothing will ever get better. Nothing makes a difference. Nobody cares. Nobody can help. Even Hashem appears to have turned away. Exhaustion. Despair. Emptiness. Boredom. Why bother?
Sometimes the feelings whisper in the background while life seems to go on as normal. At other times, their deafening roar brings a halt to all constructive activity. Often, they linger somewhere in between, slowly and quietly draining the life force, the “joie de vivre” (joy of living) as the French would say. One feels like a helpless victim. It seems there’s nothing to be done but wait it out.
Private Battles, Public Consequences
Perhaps one could justify the decision to wait until the dark cloud lifts if one lived alone in an unresponsive universe. However, as the Nefesh HaChaim explains, a person’s thoughts, words, and deeds impact all the worlds. Our private joy brings blessing everywhere. Our private despair is equally potent. Our moods translate into spiritual consequences for good or for bad. We each have a social responsibility to lift ourselves out of the pit we fell into.
On a more obvious level, one’s less-than-joyful demeanor has immediate effects upon one’s loved ones. Whether one’s sadness is expressed behaviorally as withdrawal, or increased irritability, or observable unhappiness, one’s family members are sure to be negatively affected. Not only is it unpleasant to spend time around moody or miserable people, but it is also unhealthy; moods of all kinds are “catchy.” We bring others along on whatever ride we’re on. Moreover, loved ones are worried and stressed by the unhappy campers in their midst. Those who live in families have a responsibility to help themselves reach their best emotional states — if only for the sake of those they love.
The Slippery Slope
Even though a specific external event or internal thought or internal physiological process might trigger a drop in mood, it is the subsequent events that determine how far and how fast this drop will be. Let’s say, for example, that a person received some disappointing news. Upon hearing or reading the news, the person starts thinking negatively. (“Oh, no. This isn’t good….”) The negative thoughts release a cascade of negative emotions, which in turn release a cascade of stress chemistry into every cell of the body (see Dr. Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion). The stress chemistry leads to more negative thinking, which leads to more negative emotions, which leads to more stress chemistry — causing a deep and rapid descent of mood. It is up to us to take specific action in order to prevent this natural decline from occurring.
Action begins with identifying the thoughts, feelings, and actions that signal “bad mood about to take hold.” These differ in each person. One person might notice that her mind is filled with negative thoughts. Another, that she is feeling tense, mad, or sad. Another might notice that she doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Another may find herself snapping. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your own unique warning signals so that you can take early action.
Once you realize that your mood is dropping, you can take any or all of the following steps in order to reverse the chemistry of low moods:
Taking action to restore a positive mood is something that we can and should do for ourselves, our family members, and the world. Even if we find it hard or unpleasant — even if it doesn’t work right away — our positive efforts have huge positive ramifications. May they hasten the day when none of us will ever suffer from low moods again!