4 Ways to Get Past a Down DayBy Homaira Kabir
I grew up believing that being happy all the time was the way to live. Yet I struggled with negative emotions every so often. Perhaps I struggled with them even more because I believed they "shouldn't" happen. I resisted them, suppressed them, kept them hidden like dark secrets of the soul. And we all know what happens when we put the lid on a boiling pot: It boils over, leaving a mess everywhere.
It was only much later that I learned that all emotions are part of life because they're protective. Fear and anxiety are often signals to be on guard and prepare well. Sadness may point to deeper needs that are unaddressed, or simply a reminder to step back from happiness for a while. After all, trying to be happy all the time is tiring; although it does us good to feel good, Aristotle did remind us of the "golden mean," the ideal middle between any two extremes.
I'm now learning to accept down days as part of life. Just like my body needs a break when I've pushed it beyond its limits, my mind sometimes wants to be left alone for a while. I need to give it the space to do so, while remembering not to feed the misery, so that it leaves when it's ready.
If you resist your inner world because you've subconsciously bought into societal expectations of constant happiness as the only way to live, here's what you can do to be with yourself in compassion when you need yourself the most.
Many mindfulness and self-compassion exercises encourage getting familiar with our feelings. This is not easy, given that we're wired to run away from pain—one reason why phrases like “Don’t worry, be happy” are so overused. What helps is getting curious about your feelings. Where in your body do you feel them? If you could visualize them, how would they look? Describe the color, the size, the smell. How do they feel to the touch—coarse, tense, hard? Instead of trying to get rid of them, imagine them becoming a little softer around the edges, a little less weighty inside you.
Watch the Clouds
Thoughts and feelings are tightly coupled inside of us. When we think sad thoughts, we feel low. This can turn into feedback loops because ruminative tendencies (for example, replaying the same gloomy thought over and over in your mind) are strongest when we're feeling negative. One technique that works particularly well in distancing yourself from your thoughts is watching them like clouds on a bright and sunny day. I think this is so effecti