Why your mood is low right now and what can help

Mental Health and Our Environment

Our mental health is easily affected by our environment. That may seem like a very obvious thing to say, however, it is something I have grossly underestimated until lockdown. It feels as though this whole period has been an unintended social experiment, measuring our patience and coping skills.

Our environment is not just the home that we inhabit. It’s also the exposure we have to the outside world which these days takes more precedence than ever before. And yes, I am referring here primarily to social media, news apps, Zoom, WhatsApp etc. That which comes from the outside in.

Our worlds have suddenly become smaller. We adapted well to that in the beginning through all the connecting opportunities that technology brings us. While I, like everyone else, have benefited from this, it seems that now it has become problematic; we have become excessively accessible. There’s no escaping the constant news updates, the WhatsApp messages, the Zoom calls. We have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Over the last week, this has capitulated for people.I have noticed this not just with clients but with friends and family also. I’ve had some tough conversations with people who find their mood has suddenly become low, they’re tearful, fretful and sad.

Adapting to the ‘new normal’

Our world and our lives have yet to go back to normal, so too to our emotional states. This is something I remind my clients of regularly. It is not that there is an ‘ideal’ or ‘normal’ way to feel, but, we tend to feel more balanced when our lives are relatively calm and stress free. However, our lives have not been this way for months.

As a species, we have suffered emotional deficits. Our need to connect with and see our loved ones has not been met. Our need for physical contact with friends and family has not been met. Our need to hug those we love has not been available to us.

We have had to change our working environment. We have had to adapt to our space becoming multi-purposeful and granted, that is not the worst thing in the world (by any means), it does mean it’s harder to switch off. We’ve had to draw invisible parameters to create a divide between home and work.

Our sense of safety and security has been threatened by the virus. Our sense of hope has been delineated by the injustices and brutality of what is happening in the USA and replaced with anger.

We are simply human. We are going to feel a myriad of emotions in response to this context. So, if you’re feeling irritable, sad, angry, worried, fearful or anxious that makes sense. In fact, it is an appropriate response to the context you find yourself in.

The most important thing is you don’t remain stuck in this. So, here are some thoughts on what might help.

How to not get stuck in low mood

1. Take the pressure off yourself to be present: This pertains mainly to social media presence. You don’t have to have a six pack at the end of lock-down, you don’t have to become a zen master or a chef. Cope in the way that works for you and stick to that! Forget what everyone else is doing.

2. Limit your time on social media: Global solidarity has been amazing lately, but it’s also felt depressing for some. It’s okay to step back and take a break.

3. Limit your time reading & listening to the news: The news is depressing. Hearing about how our world leaders are failing us is despairing. While it’s important to keep yourself informed, it’s also important to take a break.

4. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t: It’s important to not get stuck in a cycle of helplessness. Ask yourself three simple questions:

   • What do I need more of right now? 

   • What do I need to do less of right now?

   • What’s not helping or serving me right now?

5. Practice self-compassion and self-kindness wherever and whenever you can: Loving kindness meditation really helps with this. I suggest you try and do this every day, for just ten minutes. Insight Timer, YouTube and Calm, all have these types of meditations. They really do help!

Next Steps….

Thankfully, we are nearly at the end of lock-down here in Ireland. But it hasn’t been easy. While I’ve really valued a slower pace of life, I’ve also really missed my friends and family. It has affected us all in different ways. Trauma specialists would describe this as a collective trauma. Solidarity and community are the key to recovery with trauma based experiences and this is something we’ve done well.

A useful next step would be to make a list of what you’re looking forward to after this. The people you are looking forward to seeing. The simple things you’ve taken for granted. What you’ve learned from this experience.

Lastly, please remember to let go of expectations of how you ‘should’ and ‘ought’ to feel right now. You might be surprised that you don’t feel more excited to see family or go hang out with your friends. That’s okay.  Remember, we have gone through a bizarre, discombobulating, scary, anxiety-inducing time. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself and those around you.

The importance of knowing your limits

These days, popular culture encourages us to “reach our full potential” and “rise beyond our limits” in an attempt to be the best version of ourselves. While this is a most admirable message to give, it is not always grounded in reality. While some may find this helpful, this can create a sense of ‘never being good enough’, always needing to achieve more and become better. Most of us have fallen victim to this at some point.

Recognising our limits

It is important that while we recognise our strengths and capacities; we also recognise the limits of such capacities. This means finding the balance between being productive and simply being. This is subjective and varies from person to person. What might be my limit could be very different to someone else’s. Finding your own limit is key! 

Getting things done requires energy and when we do it excessively, this energy becomes frenetic. Before we know it we’re stressed, cranky, emotionally heightened and hypersensitive to our environment and the people in it. Sound familiar? 

What helps?

Knowing when to take a step back, press the pause button and breathe is imperative to help counteract this. When we don’t do this, we fail to meet our emotional needs. While being busy is an inevitability of life, it’s good to know that you CAN do something to help yourself out of this way of being. Not taking a break leads to prolonged stress and anxiety so it’s vital to find your own window of tolerance.

My experience 

Recently, I fell victim to my own habitual behaviour patterns by doing this very thing. I was attempting to do far too many things at once and found myself in ‘doing mode’ most of the time. This resulted in my feeling tired, overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. As soon as I checked in with myself, I realised I needed to step back, pause & take a deep breath. I also realised I was neglecting my emotional needs; I just needed to chill out for an evening! 

I reminded myself that I am only human and I can only do so much. Developing this mantra as well as practising daily calm and some yoga helped me to slow down and relax. 

Concluding thoughts

Life is life and some levels of stress are inevitable at times. The important thing to recognise is that we are only human and we can only do so much. Perhaps after reading this you’ll decide to take a break or begin to think about your own limits as a starting point.

Please note for a more detailed account on stress and anxiety management, see this previous post.  And as always, if you feel you need more help in this area, then check out my list of affordable therapy services here. Good luck!