If you find that there are moments in your life when a low empty feeling descends upon you, you aren’t alone. This experience isn’t uncommon. If you are an introspective person, prone to overthinking and rumination, you may be more aware of these feelings than others.
Most people buzz along and only focus on the surface stuff like what they will have for dinner, what they might be doing on the weekend or why Person X made that remark to Person Y (as examples).
The fact that you are a deeper thinker will generate an assortment of emotions – it kind of goes with the territory. I have found that more intelligent people tend to be more pessimistic and therefore more prone to feeling low, empty or disconnected because they spend a lot of time up in their heads rather than focused on the world around them.
One way around overthinking is mindfulness. Making an effort to engage your sense wholly in your surroundings takes practise but it does stop our brains from inadvertently scanning for any danger that might not exist. Mindfulness involves withholding judgement, acceptance of the current situation and the ability to allow feelings to come and go.
If sadness is there, instead of trying to fix it or figure it out, acknowledge the feeling and let it be. See how this works for you. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have goals but it’s a comforting way of allowing the moment to pass, knowing you will soon feel different. Life is about ebb and flow – the natural waxing and waning, and it’s exactly the same with our emotions.
If self-judgements arise (e.g., I am weak, I am a loser, what am I doing with my life – I should be more organised and certain), acknowledge that they are associations from the past, let them be, and then gently bring ourselves back to whatever you were doing. In doing this, you’re stopping the ruminative cycle that might occur between our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and behaviours that can play off one another leading into another relapse.
Use your 5 senses as much as possible to see, touch, hear, taste and smell the world around you. It takes practise but you should find that your mood improves when you are more present and less distracted by the idea that something is missing.
IDEAS for mindfulness:
Settle in, close your eyes and gently begin to locate your breath. Where do you feel it the most? Rest your awareness on your breath, as if noticing the breath for the first time. You can place attention at the tip of the nose or the belly and as you breathe in, just acknowledge the breath coming in and as you breathe out just acknowledge the breath going out. As if you were greeting and saying goodbye to an old friend.
Practice noticing when your mind wanders. Then go back to the breath, practicing “see,” “touch,” “go”when the mind wanders—noticing when your mind is wandering, being able to touch it for a moment and gently going back to wherever your attention is. When the mind wanders, as it will always do, just say to yourself “wandering” and then gently bring your attention back to the breath just noticing it coming in and going out.
Restore self-confidence by labelling defeating thoughts
Catch your inner critic. When you’re not feeling well and the mind begins to ruminate, as you practiced with the breath, just label it as “ruminating” and then gently bring your attention back to whatever you were doing. Like learning an instrument, you can develop more skill as you practice.
Notice the “choice point.” Being more present may also give you the ability see the space between stimulus and response and see the “choice point” to be more flexible and call a friend or do something that then gives you pleasure or connection with others.
Recognize when you’re feeling low. Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we’ve experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for a relapse. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry: “Uh oh, that is how I felt when I was depressed, maybe I’m getting depressed.” Our minds begin to go in overdrive with negative self-judgments, “I am a failure” or “I am weak” or “I am worthless.” It then tries to solve the mystery as to why we are becoming depressed again and the more it tries to solve this puzzle, the deeper it sinks into depression.
Be kind to yourself. Think of your worried mind like a judgmental person coming at you trying to solve your problems when you’re already not feeling well. Probably not what you’re looking for. You see, it’s not the low mood that’s the problem here, it’s the way we get stuck in habitually relating to it, talking to ourselves about it, that pours kerosene on the fire.
Return to the breath again and again as the mind wanders, gently bring it back billions of times. You can do this for as little as 1 minute or as much as 30 minutes or more.
We often get stuck when there is a discrepancy between how life actually is and how we want it to be – that is very common too!
Self actualisation doesn’t involve perfection or life always going smoothly, you can become self actualised and still face difficulties.
No one feels happy all the time, thoughts niggle me too but CBT teaches you to dismiss unhelpful thoughts.
Remember: Observe the thoughts and emotions and accept their presence. Your brain is always on the lookout for possible problems and ruminating will increase the danger-scanning.
Mindfulness gives your mind a break and definitely increases happiness.