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Focused Attention

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

We all have down days. You wake up in a low mood with nothing much on the horizon to look forward to and the day stretches out before you, as one long, unappealing slog. Maybe you burn your toast, feel fat or unattractive in all your clothes; perhaps you get stuck in traffic and are late for work; you might feel misunderstood or unfairly treated by a loved one or colleague. As the day progresses, your low mood builds, and everything in the world looks like it’s specifically designed to be against you.

When we experience days like this, it’s easy to get hooked by our negative thoughts, and, what started out as a couple of minor incidences, can quickly blow up into an entire day of catastrophising and feelings of hopelessness. For lots of us, when we do encounter the blues, we turn to drinking alcohol or other unhelpful behaviours as a way of blocking feelings or distracting ourselves from challenging situations or events. And, in doing so, we exacerbate our original low mood by throwing self-loathing and regret into the mix.

Because of this tendency to make everything worse by engaging in unhelpful ‘coping strategies’ and unhealthy behaviours, it’s really useful to have a few positive techniques up your sleeve that you can pull out of the bag when the going gets tough. In doing this, you can actively challenge your negative thoughts and turn things around in your favour, without resorting to alcohol or any other self-destructive behaviour.

Here are a few ideas that work very well for me in turning my bad mood around. With a bit of practice, such tools become second nature, so that you never again have to add insult to injury by deepening your woes through indulging in bad habits…

1. Meditate Just find ten minutes to sit down, focus on your breathing, work through your body in locating areas of stress and tension, and regain your sense of being present. This simple practice is highly effective in pulling you out of your spiralling thoughts, and helping you, physiologically, to reduce anxiety.

2. Drink water

Our brains require water, just as the rest of the body does, in order to not become dehydrated. When our brains are dehydrated, serotonin levels are depleted (the critical neurotransmitter that affects mood), and we are more likely to experience increased stress levels and subsequently, anxiety and depression.

3. Go for a walk

When you sit inside with just your own negative thoughts for company, you are far more likely to get drawn into a sad spiral of gloom. Being outdoors means you benefit from the positive impact of nature, vitamin D from the sun, and, as the saying goes, a change is as good as a holiday! Simply switching your environment results in a refreshed state of mind, a different perspective, and stimulation that can help us reframe our troubles.

4. Practice self-compassion and emotional awareness.

Sit quietly, and visualise the ocean - that big expanse of water in your mind’s eye represents the extent of your emotional capacity, so don’t worry that these uncomfortable or even scary feelings will overwhelm you… you are perfectly able to sit with them, and soon they will pass by like a storm moving overhead.

5. Watch an uplifting film or TV programme, listen to a happy song, or read a book that distracts and/or soothes you

Culture is a brilliant tool for changing our emotional state - just think how often you have left the cinema with a renewed sense of purpose or completely novel outlook, simply by watching a movie.

6. Connect with a supportive friend

When we’re alone, it can be challenging to think objectively, and we are far more likely to feel powerless and overwhelmed by negative thoughts. A good friend will help you see the positive side of things and encourage you to regain a sense of perspective.

7. Avoid caffeine

Caffeine increases anxiety, and so, because often anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand, you should watch your coffee and tea intake (and any other source of caffeine!) if you are feeling down.

8. Write your gratitude journal or a gratitude list

Gratitude helps us to see what we have going for us in life, as opposed to focusing on what’s wrong or lacking. I write a few things down that I’m grateful for (I do this every day but find it’s especially effective when I am feeling in a low mood), and try to be really creative with the list; the smallest of things can make a big difference, like noticing how grateful I am for a cup of tea, or a cuddle with my dog. When we pay focused attention to something we are grateful for, we experience a rush of happiness and a sense of inner peace and warmth. My gratitude practice is a truly significant tool in my emotional health toolbox!

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