It happens a lot. I wake up feeling disturbed, unsettled, and full of anxiety, which makes getting out of my own way difficult, especially if it’s time to get up and I’m psychically glued to my mattress. For some reason, if it’s not time to get up, that’s exactly what I do: I get up and wander around looking for a way to self-soothe.
Later in the day, I may feel too trapped to leave the house, too restless to move or hungry, but unmotivated to eat. The feeling is a word my son’s doctor once used to describe him as a 4-year-old: Oppositional. And that’s how my typical “bad day” begins---in the spirit of opposition (as opposed to agreeable).
Historically, such days can last 24 hours if I’m not otherwise distracted by a person, place or thing unrelated to my bad mood. For instance, if the cable guy shows up to do his job, I have to present like everything’s cool. If he has been directed to my little corner of the universe to assist in my cable-TV-watching shenanigans, my attitude has no bearing on the situation. Whether I’m feeling oppositional/miserable or agreeable/content, he cares only about my cable-TV.
My reaction to that reality is to hit the agreeable/content button on my attitude remote and act accordingly. Such a distraction is often enough to snap me out of oppositional/miserable mode the minute I see the cable-TV truck pull up. And generally speaking, once my attitude shifts to agreeable/content mode, I’m OK, even though the show I’ve just put on for the cable guy is over.
From a position of perspective, here’s a coping strategy for your next encounter with the start of a bad day. Mindfulness, or the sheer ability to live in the moment, is the answer to all of it.
First, before you do anything else (unless of course, the cable guy is at the door), ask yourself if this feeling is attached to a person, place or thing. Could it be that you feel paralyzed by your mile-long to-do list?
If you know the reason you’ve awakened with anxiety so strong you smell an entire bad day on the horizon as if you’d been transported to a garbage dump while you slept, there are different steps to take. In that case, managing your situation will depend on the details.
If your anxiety is free-floating, try these simple tactics for getting out of the problem and into the solution.
- Think about it. If there is no actual “problem” to solve, you’re in better shape than you think. You may have simply caught a negative vibe overnight, either from a dream or from perhaps being in a physically uncomfortable position. Shake it off and restart your day with any or all of the following suggestions.
- Head for the gym. Unless you’re physically incapacitated, this is less of a suggestion and more of an order. It almost always helps to bypass the cerebral gymnastics and let your body change your mind. The mind-body connection is no longer disputable. Women’s Health reports that researchers at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center devised clinical guidelines for doctors recommending exercise to patients suffering from depression. So, go increase your blood flow and see what happens.
- Stop the train of thought that leads you into the station of powerless thinking, like “what if” and “oh my.” Assuming you really can’t haul yourself to the gym, do something physical at home to interrupt the pattern. If you have stairs, become a stair master and run up and down them until you’re tired. Play music and dance around for 10 whole minutes. If you can sing while you’re dancing, or even shriek or yell, you’ll feel even better. The idea is to stop thinking. It’s sounds overly simple, but in this case, the thoughts only babble on for as long as you entertain them. Redirect your energy.
- Nourish yourself and hydrate. Whether it’s with food or information, nourish yourself. You may need protein. If you’re dehydrated, your body is in crisis mode. If you have a headache handbag to match your bad mood shoes, all you may need to do is drink a few glasses of water to change your mental outfit.
- Breathe deeply. In his book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised and Expanded): The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger, and Memory Problems, Dr. Daniel G. Amen offers "brain prescriptions" that can heal your brain of panic mode and depression. One of them includes breathing exercises. Without getting too fancy, just breathe deeply for 10 minutes---in through your nose, fill the lower portion of your lungs and the upper portion, and then exhale slowly through your nose. You’ll feel a sense of clarity almost immediately if you do this exercise slowly and mindfully.