It is all too common to feel some degree of helplessness when struggling with persistent low mood. This is because our mood fighting efforts typically fall flat, and we end up concluding that nothing will work! While this conclusion is completely understandable, it is fair to consider whether learning a bit about how persistent low mood works (i.e. exactly what we are up against) would be helpful.
Imagine being rear-ended while sitting at a traffic light –your hip and right knee are injured, and now you can barely walk! The activities you enjoy –cycling, playing tennis, going for a run with your dog, etc. are no longer a current option. To address this problem, you wisely go to a physician who specializes in injuries such as yours. Your doctor tells you that you can regain your pre-injury level of functioning by following a strict regimen of physical rehabilitation exercises.
Well, that is certainly good news!
No doubt! That said, in describing your rehab regimen, your doctor assures you that your rehab process will take several months, will require a serious time commitment, and will most definitely involve repeatedly doing things that you won’t feel like doing. Now, if you are like most people, you will take this deal in a heartbeat! You are extremely willing to do the things you need to do (even though they will be tedious) to achieve your goal –regaining your pre-injury functioning.
Now there are several aspects to this scenario that merit mention. First, the notion that physical rehab is the way to go likely makes perfect sense to you. Put another way, physical rehab may well be a pain in the rear (literally), but it doesn’t require you to do things that are counter intuitive. Second, you have no preconceived notions that rehab should be pleasant or otherwise enjoyable –so you are fairly open minded when it comes to all that. Third, you would view your injuries as alien –my injuries are not “me” -they are an uninvited intrusion that disrupted my status quo.
Put it all together, and you have a very healthy mindset as you approach your goal of overcoming your injuries! Of course, you might well have some negative thoughts about the unfairness of it all -I have to go through all of this because some jerk rear ended me while texting! Even so, such thoughts would likely not derail your recovery goals or your commitment to physical rehab.
Well, recovering from serious injuries can definitely be a tall order, but it is basically straightforward. Unfortunately, fighting our way out of persistent low mood comes with a number of challenges (and we’re just talking about one of them here) that are anything but straightforward!
When we are afflicted with persistent low mood, recovery is the obvious goal –but what to do?
As with all challenging goals, an excellent first step involves clearly understanding what we are up against. So, what does persistent low mood bring to the table –what changes? When we are physically injured -the change in pre-injury functioning is all too obvious –as in, I used to be able to go for runs and play tennis –now I can barely walk!… Unfortunately, the changes brought about by persistent low mood are far more insidious than a physical injury!
So, what does persistent low mood actually do that is “sneaky”?
In the most general sense, persistent low mood changes the relationship between our feelings and our behavior. It also impacts our thinking, but that is a separate topic…
So what changes in this “behavior-mood “relationship?
To get at all that, let’s consider a hypothetical –our cousin Carl… Prior to his persistent low mood, Carl enjoyed playing golf, chatting with family on the phone, and dining out with his friends. Carl regularly engaged in these healthy leisure activities because they were almost always enjoyable (i.e. rewarding) in the moment.
Prior to his persistent low mood, Carl also engaged in a number of productive activities that (while not necessarily fun in the moment) were ultimately rewarding. Like most of us, Carl didn’t particularly enjoy cleaning his house, mowing his yard, or paying his bills. That said, completing these tasks were ultimately rewarding -because doing so almost always left Carl feeling good about himself –giving himself a “thumbs up” and feeling in charge of his life.
So, prior to his persistent low mood, Carl’s healthy leisure and productive activities were consistently rewarded –do the behavior and subsequently feel good! But what happens to this behavior-feel good relationship now that Carl is struggling with persistent low mood?
Unfortunately, persistent low mood completely changes this relationship! Thanks to his low mood, Carl intuitively knows that hitting the links, calling his brother, or socializing with his friends is not going to be enjoyable in the moment (i.e. is not going to lift his mood). And when it comes to giving himself a pat on the back after productive behaviors? Forget about it!
Now that Carl’s healthy leisure and productive activities are no longer rewarding, he is very disinclined to engage in any of them. On top of all that, persistent low mood is frequently accompanied by some degree of fatigue. So, now the stage is really set for Carl to avoid engaging in healthy behaviors!
So, how does all that relate to mindset?
When it comes to mindset, the notion of engaging in healthy behaviors is going to be very counter intuitive! As in, how can pursuing activities that I no longer enjoy and no longer leave me feeling good about myself possibly be in service of lifting my mood?
At this point, Carl might well be telling himself that he will get back to his pre-low mood behaviors once his mood has lifted. Unfortunately, this is cart before the horse. Persistent low mood is best considered in the same light as our physical injury example. We don’t wait until our knee and hip are back to normal before starting our rehab regimen –we undergo the rigors of rehab in order to regain our pre-injury functioning!
Well, this is but one of multiple issues we face when meeting the challenge of overcoming low mood. At Thrive Psychology Consultants, we specialize in helping our clients put low mood in the rear view mirror! To learn more about us and our approach to working with clients, just link to our site http://https//galleriapsychologist.com
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