The other night, I rendered all my efforts to smile big and self-soothe my way out of a particularly sour mood fruitless. After a nearly 36-hour low-mood marathon, I was frustrated, exhausted—and still in a bad mood. Clearly, I was going about it wrong.
The natural reaction to feeling off is to try your hardest to gas yourself up and out of it because these things happen, life isn’t fair, and you’re not the first person to have a bad mood. And sometimes, injecting your understanding of the situation at hand with some context can be a super-effective secret ingredient for restoring your mood to a state of happiness. Yet, even though this does sometimes work, it’s essentially an act of emotional suppression that, for me, usually leads to a resurfacing of those pushed-down feelings that’s only more severe on the second go-around.
But what about just leaning in? Accepting that it’s going to be a grayer day in my universe, and that I might feel grumpier, sadder, or more peeved than normal. Could this work? Might it even expedite the timeline for excavating myself out of the bad mood abyss, the same way sweating out of fever is also sometimes the way to go. As it turns out, I’m onto something (with regards to moods and not so much fevers).
“One’s gray day may be lighter and more likely to pass with ease by respecting that it has its own purpose, which is often to ask us to slow down and be gently reflective.” —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
“I think it’s very important to recognize a sad or blue mood—even as it’s coming on,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. For me, the culprit is sometimes PMS, sometimes a symptom of my depression, and sometimes it’s genuinely nothing. Yep, because as human beings, we’re all entitled to off days, and it’s okay to be in a bad mood for no good reason. Still, being able to acknowledge this is helpful, Dr. Manly says.
“Then, whether or not the cause is determined, it’s lovely to just allow space for the sadness. This can be done by making more quiet time, having an extra cup of comforting tea, journaling, or simply honoring that you might need more down time that day,” Dr. Manly says. “Thus, one’s gray day may be lighter and more likely to pass with ease by respecting that it has its own purpose, which is often to ask us to slow down and be gently reflective.”
That said, leaning into the off days isn’t an excuse to be awful to everyone in your line of fire. It’s possible to be introspective while also being authentic about your feelings—no matter how negative they may be—without scapegoating others.
So next time you’re feeling off, for a specific reason or not, consider leaning into it and sweating it out, fever-style.
If you’re trying to get in touch with your feelings, it helps to know the difference between soft and hard emotions. And if you wake up tangry (yes, that’s tired-angry) in the morning, here’s what you should do.
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