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5 Positive Thoughts for When Everything Feels Awful

3. We can feel better even without solving our problems.

Key points

  • When it feels like the weight of something is crushing us, a small change can make a surprisingly big difference.
  • It's OK to permit yourself to feel your difficult feelings without seeking to change them through "tricking yourself" into more positivity.
  • There's no one-size-fits-all approach to managing your mental health.
Anthony Tran/Unsplash
Anthony Tran/Unsplash

Sometimes life gets on top of people. When you're stuck in this malaise, it can be hard to see past it. When you're in this mindset, here are some reassuring or motivating thoughts to consider:

1. A small change can make a big difference.

When it feels like the weight of something is crushing us, a small change can make a surprisingly big difference. This could include the following:

  • Doing something you want to do for yourself.
  • A small amount of support, even if it doesn't solve your problem.
  • A change in your routine, like a few days away.
  • Doing a task you've put off due to it feeling emotionally difficult.

It often feels like big feelings require big corrections, but a small change can result in a big difference in how you feel. This may or may not only be a temporary boost but, even so, it can still provide very significant relief.

If you have any instinct about what might help you feel better, run toward that. Try it. Use your instincts—for example, restarting a gym membership where you like the steam room/sauna.

2. Our predictions are often wrong.

When we feel low, we often have thoughts like "Nothing will make a difference," "This problem has no solution, and, therefore, I'll feel this way forever," or "The solutions I can try probably won't work."

For example, my family doesn't have pets because we travel a lot, sometimes internationally for months at a time due to my spouse's work. However, during COVID, we ended up looking after an animal that literally showed up on our doorstep. As travel has reopened, we've struggled with how to let go of our pet. This problem has been the source of severe angst for over a year as we tried to find a way to keep them.

When we finally sought a new home for this much-loved animal, we found a great one and the people are happy for us to visit. When we finally acted rather than marinating in stuckness, we found a solution that felt much more comfortable than we imagined, although it was still very sad.

Even if a situation feels difficult to solve, you never know until you try.

3. We can often feel better without solving our worst problem.

Sometimes we think we won't feel better until a particular problem is solved. However, even if you can't find a solution to the problem you most want to fix (such as ill health or a behavioral issue with your child), you can often find ways to pick up your mood in the meantime.

4. It's OK to not look on the bright side or identify a silver lining.

This point is quite different from the others here. One form of toxic positivity is the idea that we can improve any experience by having a better attitude. For example:

  • "This might be awful, but it could be worse."
  • "This might be awful, but other people have it worse, and I have a lot to be grateful for."
  • "I'm getting mentally stronger due to this difficult experience. There are silver linings."
  • "There are upsides to the predicament I'm in. It wasn't what I wanted, but there are advantages to it."

You don't need to make any of these mindset shifts. If they help you, great—go for it. However, if these mental shifts don't help, it's OK not to make them. There isn't a right or wrong approach. It's OK to be unhappy with a situation you're in and not look for the silver linings.

Culturally, there can be a lot of pressure to adopt a positive attitude, but you shouldn't if that feels invalidating and unhelpful. It's OK to permit yourself to feel your difficult feelings without seeking to change them through "tricking yourself" into more positivity. People often imply that, outside of extremes, there aren't miserable situations, only people with poor attitudes. That's not true.

5. It's OK to have peaks and valleys in your mental health.

How you cope with feeling blue doesn't need to be the same at all times. Sometimes you might want to make room for your difficult feelings and allow those to land. You feel them without attempting to brush them off. Other times you might want to prod yourself to improve your mood through behavioral changes or attitude shifts. Sometimes you may feel like you can cope, other times not.

You're not how you feel at your lowest or most vulnerable moments. If you sometimes don't feel OK, this doesn't invalidate the times you do feel OK. If you sometimes don't pick yourself up, this doesn't invalidate the times you do.

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