From time to time, many of us struggle with holding onto feelings arising from not-so-helpful thoughts. Maybe you did not get the promotion you believe that you deserve and can't seem to shake feelings of sadness and shame. Maybe you were blindsided by a co-worker in a meeting and are holding onto feelings of anger and frustration. Maybe you are fed up and feeling hopeless about the complexities of dating. Whatever the scenario, getting stuck in a funk can happen, but you may have more control over your mood than you think.
How do feelings become funks?
Let's look at the promotion that you deserve and didn't get. The act of not getting promoted may precipitates thoughts–This is so unfair. What is wrong with me? I am never going to make it. I try so hard and nothing ever goes my way. Why do I try? These thoughts stem from our unique interpretation(s) of the event (not getting promoted) which can quickly activate feelings like sadness, anger, and shame. Our feelings may then trigger behaviors/behavioral urges such as isolation, replaying the event(s) (a repeat track), and/or wanting to numb/bury the feelings (over/under eating, over/under sleeping, over drinking, over smoking, over working, over ____ (fill in the blank) ). Acting on unhealthy behavioral urges, by the way, activates more thoughts which become more feelings–think guilt, anger, sadness, and/or disgust. This ripple effect can seem immediate, so awareness of this cycle may be neglected, leaving the funk to thrive.
What to do?
"Opposite Action" is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) technique developed by Dr. Marcia Linehan. It can be helpful in getting unstuck from a mood or feeling(s) stemming from unproductive or maladaptive thoughts. (In the promotion example above, the maladaptive thoughts– I'm NEVER going to make it. Nothing ever goes my way. This Always happens to me.– are examples of "all or nothing thinking" and "jumping to conclusions.") The theory suggests that if you want to change your emotional experience, doing an action that is the opposite of your behavioral urge (not to be confused with ignoring/avoiding/invalidating your feelings) may be helpful. Instead of isolating in the bedroom when feeling sadness and shame, getting active by connecting with others might change your feelings which ripple into more productive behaviors and thoughts.
Let's look at the blindsiding co-worker scenario. I thought we were friends. I can't trust this person. How could s/he do that to me?–are a few thought examples stemming from one's interpretation of the event (being blindsided by co-worker). These thoughts may activate feelings like anger and frustration which stimulate the behavioral urge to yell at and tell that co-worker where to go. Acting on these urges may not be very effective (especially in a work meeting), so an opposite action might be to implement a more productive behavioral response–centering through mindfulness (e.g. using the concept of acceptance vs. approval). This opposite action may change your mood and may even impact the disposition of your colleague(s). After the meeting, while in a calm and grounded state of mind, scheduling a private conversation with the blindsiding co-worker might be in order.
Lastly, being fed up with the complexities of dating in San Francisco (deserves a post of its own) may precipitate thoughts–I'm never going to find someone. Why do I put myself through this?–which may lead to feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness. The behavioral urge to delete all of your dating apps, smash your phone/devices, and cancel your trip with friends may seem the way to go when stuck on these thoughts, but it is probably not the wisest route. Instead, centering the self (more mindfulness activities) and heading on that trip with friends may just pull you out of the funk, as well as provide you with a bit of a breather from "the scene."
Up for a challenge?
Next time you find yourself getting stuck in a self-sabotaging thought pattern (I always mess up. I not good enough.) try the opposite approach by injecting a dose of self-compassion–I might have messed this up, but I am still valuable. I am doing my best. I am enough.
If you have been back burner-ing something(s) in your life which is/are preventing you from getting back on your path, get active (opposite action of back burner-ing) in addressing them. Talking with a professional(s) like your MD, a therapist, coach, etc. (person-specific depending on your needs) may provide you with additional support and resources to help you meet your goals. You might notice that helping yourself will have a positive ripple in many areas of your life.