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Tips for Managing Your Emotional Ups and Downs

Suggestions to help you feel better.

Key points

  • The most likely causes of feeling low are physical; not enough sleep, low blood sugar, or the need for exercise.
  • Intentionally making more eye contact with others can foster connection, which raises one's spirits.
  • Taking steps to lift one's mood may reveal that there is either no problem, or that there is a problem but it will resolve itself.

Please note: This post does not address clinical depression or anxiety, disorders which may create more extreme changes in mood and negatively affect feelings of well-being. Managing a mood disorder is not as simple as managing the usual ups and downs most people experience and may require medical intervention. However, some of the suggestions in this post would be helpful for those with mild depression and/or anxiety.

Some days, we wake up feeling great and don’t know why. Other days, we wake up in a low mood with or without consciousness of the reason. What most of us didn’t learn in childhood is that ups and downs are not always related to problems or something you did to cause them. It’s okay to let a slump run its course, especially when we need a break from our own striving or when too many real problems pile on at the same time. Attempts to suppress and analyze bad feelings can sometimes make us feel worse.

The need to be proactive arises in times when we just want to feel good and don’t know how to get there. I confess that am just as confused by my high energy, optimistic days as I am by my slumps. We are not always aware of how we feel or why we feel happy or sad, frustrated, lonely, guilty, or just overly sensitive. I often hear clients say “I’m having a bad day” followed by a list of the terrible things (which individually are really not that terrible) that happened, in an effort to try to explain away their low mood. It doesn’t help to pile them up and vent.

The fact is, every day has its good moments and unfortunate glitches, but sometimes we only see the negative and start to collect it throughout a day or week or month. The question of why we feel this way is not as important as how we can change our emotional state when we cannot simply fix a problem of which we are aware. If you want to feel better, there are many things that can help.

How to manage a "slump"

Through work with clients and my own life experiences, I have learned that I do have some power over my moods beyond the “snap out of it” and “don’t feel that way” approach often heard from well-meaning parents and friends. It takes a little time and effort, but with practice, we can get better at identifying, accepting, and yes—managing our own feelings.

The most likely causes of feeling low are physical; not enough sleep, low blood sugar, or the need for exercise. It could also be stress, lack of fun, need for human contact, lack of choices, or worries about other people. It is also important to recognize that when you focus for too long on what you don’t like about someone or something, you are guaranteed to end up with a low mood and find yourself attracting bad feelings like a magnet.

First of all, remember there is probably nothing wrong with you except that you are human and this is what human beings experience. No one is happy and energetic all of the time. It is ok to allow yourself to feel down, but if you want to feel better, these things may help:

  1. Unless it is something obvious, stop trying to figure it out.
  2. Breathe deeply and drink more water.
  3. Open up your posture. Body stance can change your mood, according to social psychologist Amy Cuddy as seen on You Tube.
  4. Don’t push and drag yourself through the day. Allow your feelings and thoughts to come and go on their own without judging.
  5. If you usually race through your day, slow down; drive slower, walk slower, talk slower.
  6. If you tend to be immobile when you are down, move more and be sure to continue to open up your posture throughout the day.
  7. Use all of your senses to notice good things around you—nature, laughter, love, kindness, music. Comment on those things or write them down.
  8. Skip the morning and evening news. Avoid reading or listening to anything negative.
  9. Eat healthy at least for today—make it something delicious.
  10. Make eye contact with people. Emotional connections with people raise our spirits.
  11. Gather your “tools” and use them—pray, read positive things, be around people you like, smile, and allow loving energy to flow from you.
  12. When a better mood returns, notice what you are doing that makes you feel good.

With some effort, it is very likely that you will begin to feel better and several outcomes are possible:

  • You realize that there was no problem and your mood has lifted.
  • There may be a real problem, but it will resolve by itself.
  • There is a problem, but it feels smaller and less important.
  • There is a problem and I know I need to address it but it’s not essential that I do it today.
  • I’m OK as I am.
About the Author
Ann Smith

Ann Smith is the author of the books Grandchildren of Alcoholics and Overcoming Perfectionism.

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