When The Going Gets Tough: Do You Know How To Look After Yourself?

Low mood and depression are difficulties encountered by most people over their lifetime, either directly or through a close friend or family member. The World Health Organisation states that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health difficulty over the course of a year. Most prevalent of these is anxiety and depression. When people think of depression, they might conjure up images in their mind; perhaps someone who is simply not functioning day to day, someone who is unkempt or perhaps someone who is coping by harming themselves. While of course these are associated with depression, what is perhaps less appreciated is the full spectrum of signs and symptoms of depression. Furthermore, it is easy to miss how many people might be managing low level symptoms day to day while continuing to work and do what they need to do. So, what are the signs of low mood; what are ‘normal’ fluctuations in mood and what can be done to ward off spirals into more entrenched difficulties?

We all experience variations in our mood day to day. We also all experience periods of feeling fed up, low, or more emotional. These spells in themselves are difficult to tolerate and manage without some understanding and support from those around us. If you struggle to spot these feelings or know how to respond to them in a helpful way, it can be easy for these to escalate. If these feelings persist for several weeks or more, or begin to impact on your ability to function day to day, it could be you are experiencing depression. If you have several of the symptoms below for an extended period, life can start to feel quite tough. It may not be immediately noticeable to those around you but day to day functioning can become much more effortful. Coping with the physical symptoms of depression is exhausting in itself. Managing the stream of negative or hopeless thinking can be even more so.

  • Preoccupying feelings of sadness, worthlessness or flatness/emptiness
  • Tearfulness, agitation
  • Feelings of hopelessness for things being different, difficulty picturing the future or a sense of dread about the future
  • An extended feeling of lethargy, poor motivation and concentration
  • A lack of excitement or pleasure in day to day life
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively
  • Changes in appetite
  • A tendency to think more negatively about things e.g. perceiving things from a negative slant, heightened self-criticism, expecting the worst, underestimating ability to cope.
  • Reduced tolerance or patience with others, a quicker fuse or difficulty containing emotions
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

If you spot any of these symptoms creeping in, or notice that spell of feeling low is persisting longer than usual, it might be worth taking some active steps to try and support your mood.

  • Keep an eye on your thinking process and the impact it is having on your mood. Writing things down or keeping a journal can help with this.
  • Mobile apps such as MindShift can offer useful tips and ways of monitoring things
  • Look after yourself: this is generally easier said than done for most of us. Often the basics such as trying to eat well, drinking more water and getting to bed on time can go a long way in giving us an energy boost. Trying to ensure you have a good work-life balance again is easier said than done, but is even more important if you are in a more fragile headspace.
  • Doing more of what makes you feel good. Whether this is spending time with friends, doing a hobby or having some chill-out time, it is important to create space for this in these times.
  • Exercise can be an incredible help in more difficult patches. Check out my previous blog on the power of exercise in supporting mood and anxiety difficulties.
  • As ever, talking to people you can trust can be incredibly supportive. Having someone listen and help you make sense of things can help you clear your head, or keep things in perspective. Connecting with others is shown to be stress relieving and can often remind us things are not as bad as they feel.
  • Showing yourself some compassion sounds simple but is generally quite a task for people particularly once they are being quite down on themselves. Again, this can help to relieve the pressure, high expectations and criticism we place upon ourselves. Beating yourself up for feeling low or anxious is particularly common, and unsurprisingly is not all that helpful!
  • Unfortunately, sometimes what helps is some time. While this is difficult to tolerate and can be exceptionally frustrating, we do naturally shift in our mindsets and our moods over time. That is not to say that we should ignore our emotional state and simply do nothing. Do reach out and let those around you know. However, hold onto the hope that things will feel different day to day; tomorrow might be a better day.
  • Perhaps key to avoid spiralling in mood, is to ensure you don’t fall into any traps which might inadvertently make things worse. For example, if night after night you’re feeling lethargic and lacking in motivation to go out, staying at home alone will often appeal more. In the short term, this might feel easier. However, over time, it is likely to fuel a vicious cycle: you might get more lost in ruminative thought, life might appear more negative and you will most likely feel more lethargic and isolated.
  • Developing some insight into the patterns that your mind and body go through can be helpful. Spot the changes in your thinking patterns early on; know the likely triggers that can make you feel worse, and learn what works for you.

If you are someone who struggles with this, it might be worth talking to someone and considering a short course of therapy. For some, these ups and downs in mood reflect underlying difficulties and vulnerabilities which could be tackled head on. Addressing these could support your resilience going forwards, leaving you less liable to dips when life stressors inevitably occur. For more information, check out www.peterkinpsychology.com or contact jo@peterkinpsychology.com to talk more.