Sometimes when I am working with coaching clients, we talk about things that boil down, in essence, to “low mood.” Low mood is basically “I don’t feel like doing anything. I feel kind of sluggish and down.”
Low mood can be associated with depression, that’s for sure. Low mood can also have a chemical or hormonal component. It can also be, for some of us, our natural “setpoint.” If this is the case, it’s helpful to understand that, and to know that we may need to shift ourselves into action before we feel like doing anything. Wow! That’s a tough one, right?
I have written before about the importance of shifting our energy. I actually prefer this phrasing to “taking action.”
There tends to be a huge emphasis in U.S. culture, and, quite frankly, the coaching/personal-growth world, on “taking action.” Taking action is viewed as the “right thing” and stepping back, pondering, slowing down are often viewed as “not taking action” and therefore, the wrong thing.
Obviously, context is important here. It is definitely important to take action in support of injustice and in support of things we care about. We want to take actions that align with our values.
But many of my coaching clients have been addicted to “taking action,” and growth, for them, has been to slow down and learn that it’s okay to not do. It’s okay to stop. It’s okay to be.
All this said, when we are dealing with “low mood,” it can be important to take actions to shift that mood. Acceptance also comes into play here.
I know, for example, that my “default state” when I get up in the morning is low mood. It’s been this way since I was a kid. I can remember walking into the kitchen before I left for school for the day and my dad would be shaving in the little bathroom in the hall. “Good morning, Jillie!” he (a morning person) would say. I would grumble, barely audibly, good morning. His cheerfulness, at that time of day, was jarring to me.
Rather than “forcing myself” to be cheerful, I’ve found that it helps a lot to a) know that I am in a low mood place when I get up in the morning, and b) know that this will shift as I take gentle actions to start my day.
Sometimes we can get stuck in a kind of belief that is something like “I shouldn’t feel this way in the morning. What is wrong with me?”
Obviously, if we have severe low mood that is actually impairing our ability to function, this is something to check out with a doctor. But if, like me and some of my clients, you know you have a certain “low mood” default place, this self-knowledge is important.
And beyond that, self-acceptance — this is how I feel at X time of day and that’s okay, that’s part of being who I am so far in this lifetime — will allow you to move forward, rather than spinning your wheels in the land of “I shouldn’t be this way, it shouldn’t be this way.”
The thing about low mood is that when our minds get going in that space, we can spin out many very “negative” thoughts that increase the low mood.
In this low mood space, we may notice that we have many “negative” assumptions about things, life, and other people as well. (I put “negative” in quotes because I actually don’t like to view thoughts as “negative” or “positive”, or feelings, either. I think it’s more important to notice the feelings and behaviors that certain thoughts trigger than to label any of it “negative.”)
For example, in a low mood state I might read an email from someone and it comes across as snippy or rude to me. Later, in a more balanced mood state, it may come across as neutral.
In a low mood state, ideas or plans that previously felt important and good can seem trivial or exhausting.
It’s important to recognize that your mood can have a significant effect on what you’re experiencing, how you’re experiencing it, and the assumptions you make about other people.
Shifting out of a low mood space can be pretty simple. It’s why I take a walk every morning. It’s why I get my coffee out instead of making it at home — I get to exchange hello’s and how are you’s with the people who work in the coffee place, and I get to say hi to my neighbors (and their dogs!) on my way home. By the time I’m ready to go to work for the day, my mood has shifted to something more open, more grounded, more curious.
The steps to this shift can look like this:
- Notice. Simply be curious about how you’re feeling at the moment (it’s pretty hard to be judgmental and curious at the same time — they are opposite energies!).
- Move your body (in whatever way this is possible for you).
- Connect with another being (human or animal) in a tiny way. Don’t make it too big! If connecting feels like too much, try observing someone else’s good-feeling energy. This might mean just taking a minute to watch a couple of sparrows (as I did the other day).
What do you notice about your “default mood”? How do you work with it? I’d love to hear from you.
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