We all experience times in life where we feel things are not going well. No one is happy with those small moments when traffic is not moving and we’re running late, or when our kids won’t listen, or when things feel out of control at work. We are further affected by those larger-scale moments when we get earth-shattering bad news or experience a painful loss.
As a psychotherapist who regularly offers herself as a shoulder to cry on and a resource for people in need, I spend many hours each day hearing about people’s struggles, sadness, fears, anger and pain. I am frequently asked how it is that I can take in so many emotionally heavy experiences and still manage to embrace happiness and positivity in a meaningful way. The truth is that sometimes it’s not easy to transition from deep, emotional conversations or experiences into an upbeat and positive mood.
However, because I believe our emotions are like our eyes—that they affect how we see the world—I have learned that the ability to transform your emotions into a more positive space is an important skill to learn.
An emotional makeover involves taking a situation, feeling or mood and altering it from a negative into a positive. You can take negative experiences for what they are—upsetting moments in time—and decide to makeover your mood. While you have no power over the day-to-day irritations, let alone life’s huge traumas, you do have control over how you respond and react. Here are some tools to help you do just that:
1. Evaluate Your Perspective. Ask yourself if you’re reading into things, jumping to conclusions or exaggerating the situation. For example, you run into a friend and she seems short with you and distracted. If you decide she is mad at you or doesn’t like you as much as she once did, and you don’t have facts to back that up, you may be causing your own emotional downer. Instead, reach out to that friend. Call or send a text saying, “It was great seeing you,” or “I miss you, let’s make plans,” or “I meant to tell you I loved your hair today.” Send a message of positivity as a way to connect and see if some positivity comes back your way.
2. Stay in the Present. Did something happen to you before that is multiplying the intensity of this situation? You ask your partner to do something around the house, and your partner didn’t do it…again. If you start to think about all of the times that he or she has neglected to do what you requested, you’re experiencing this emotional drag. Instead, take a breath and treat this incident as an isolated one, as if it has happened just this one time, and let your emotions reflect that one experience. Next, remind yourself of what you like about your partner. Once you have done both of these, you can calmly approach your partner to discuss the issue.
3. Move Your Body to Change Your Mood. Did your child act up, leaving you in a frustrated state? Did you have a bad day at work and get home feeling like it is still affecting your mood? If you continue to dwell on that negative experience, you’ll be spending the next several hours or days in an emotional pull-down. Do something physical that you enjoy to help pull yourself out of that mood. Put on headphones and take a walk, chop a bunch of vegetables or fruits to prepare a meal, lift weights, garden, unload the dishwasher.
4. Make the Most of Your Downtime. Do you find yourself thinking about all of the things that you have to do while you are supposed to be relaxing, resting and recharging over the weekend or in bed? This kind of badly timed emotional distress and rumination not only affects your mood, it also deprives your body and mind of the downtime it needs. Find a place to lie down, promise yourself you’ll think about these stressful things at a more appropriate time, close your eyes, and listen to your breathing. Picture the most beautiful or peaceful place that you can and start to think about what you love about it in as much detail as possible. This will shift your focus onto something positive and calming.
5. Seek Warmth. Initiate a hug, cuddle up in a blanket, soak in a hot bath, walk outside and stand in the sun if you feel cold, tense or wound up. These warming acts will serve to calm your negative emotions and lift a bad mood.
6. Practice the Positive. Is your first response “no,” and do you feel like anyone in the vicinity is at risk of getting a piece of your bad mood? Shift into positivity—place a smile on your face, and do something kind and positive for either yourself or someone else. Bring your neighbor cookies, help out a charitable organization or tell your mate all of the things that you like about him or her.
7. Initiate Connections. Do you feel isolated, withdrawn and alone in your emotional state? Call a friend, ask someone you live with or work with to take a walk with you or sit down and have a chat. Spending time with someone else is a great distraction from the negativity.