This month I’m focusing on Living the Life You Want to Live. It’s no surprise that I want to live a happy life. We all do, don’t we?
In that pursuit, I’ve committed to healing from chronic health issues, paying off debt, and writing a whole freaking dissertation—things that have huge effects on my life. While these goals may sometimes freak me out, I’ve been culling a toolbox over the last eight-plus months that helps me to plan and achieve projects with more ease.
But what about in-the-moment upsets? Those times when things get out of whack and you find yourself in a dreaded bad mood when you’d really rather not be? I want to bring the same presence and grace I give to my self development practices to pulling myself out of the unwelcome experiences of feeling grumpy, pissed off, and in a bad mood. In this week’s post, I’ll share a few practical tips for dealing with bad moods in the moment and setting up a life where you’re less likely to run into them in the first place, all without encouraging you to just get over it.
This week’s post includes three practical tools you can apply to shifting your perspective, determining if something is a worth your bad mood, and replacing bummer feelings with more positive ones. Because each section is instructive and models how to apply the particular tool, I’ll forgo the traditional Takeaways section this week and instead weave tips throughout the post.
Shift Your Perspective: The Ludicrous Paradox Door
I was inspired to do a blog post on handling bad moods after I got caught in a rain storm last Monday. It was pouring on my drive to work, and by the time I finished my 10 minute walk from my parking lot to my office, my cute new pair of hipster-lady cotton overalls were soaked up to my thighs, my Doc Martens were leather swimming pools, and I was cold and grumpy AF.
But, I didn’t want to be angry.
My weekend had been amazing, I had just left the cutest little muffin of a dog at home sleeping on my bed and two sweet cupcakes of cats preening at the windows, and generally everything else was copacetic. I scoured my brain for grateful thoughts to override my bad mood: tender memories of dancing in the rain with a friend years ago…I love the sound of rain falling outside on a summer afternoon…Hot tea on a rainy evening…Rain makes the flowers grow…
It didn’t work. I was still wet and cold and grumpy, standing in my socks in the bathroom drying my romper under the Xtra strong hand drier, wondering if I would catch a cold.
Then, something shifted. I hit what I call my “ludicrous paradox door”: I realized how ludicrous it was that I was walking around a fancy campus building at 8am in gym socks, a tank top, and a pair of cut off, high-waisted leggings I stole from an ex-girlfriend more than a decade ago and which have a hole in the outside of the thigh (all items of clothing I had no intention of showing anyone that day), when a middle aged man in a dry (how!?) three piece business suit walked past me.
Like the way that I can’t keep a stern face when admonishing a bumbling puppy or toddler, I walked right through a “this is so absolutely ridiculous that I can’t help but laugh” door from grumpy to realizing that my problem was temporary and actually quite small in the scheme of things. Was I grumpy? Sure. But would it pass? Oh yeah. I hung up my romper on a desk chair and went to work in my socks and “leggings.” A few hours later, I stepped back into my 75% dry overalls, picked up my Docs stuffed full of paper towels, and walked across the building to go to my office hours.
Although I can’t always predict or force the Ludicrous Paradox Door, it does get better with practice, as it’s basically an exercise in shifting your perspective. Next, though, I’d like to give you a proactive tool that you can pull out as soon as the bad mood starts to rear its head.
Is It Worth a Bad Mood?: The Not Sorry Method
I recently finished the audiobook for Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck (she also wrote Get Your Shit Together, which I cite in my Must-Do Method post). Knight’s books are really funny, but they’re also smart how-tos, and I appreciated the simplicity of her “Not Sorry” method: “Step 1: Decide what you don’t give a fuck about. Step 2: Don’t give a fuck about those things.” The whole concept might sound a little rude at first, but Knight assures us that we can decide not to give fucks about things while not being an asshole. If we reserve giving a fuck (in the form of energy, time, or money) for the things that bring us joy, then we can decide not to give our fucks (also in the form of energy, time, or money) to the things that annoy us.
Here’s a great example of how I put this to work in my last week. I live in Western Massachusetts, and my Sweetie lives in Eastern Massachusetts. If you’re a New Englander, you’ve likely heard the term masshole before, and maybe even seen it in bumper sticker form (apparently massholes are so proud of their massholeness that there’s a whole online store for masshole products). According to Urban Dictionary, a masshole is
Any Massachusetts driver who abides by the driving rules of Massachusetts highways… These rules are:
1) Never use your blinker.
2) If you want to change lanes, wait until there is someone to cut off
3) The speed limit is a guideline; it is the bare minimum you should go. Ideally, you should be going about 25-30 mph above it
4) No U-Turn signs are just a suggestion, you can bang a U-ie wherever you damn well please
5) Tailgating is mandatory if there is any traffic at all
6) One hand on the wheel, one hand on the horn
7) If you see someone with a Yankees sticker, ride up even closer on their tail
8) Change lanes frequently
Now, in Western Mass, I usually get SUPER annoyed when people do any of the above, especially the no blinker and cutting me off parts. I realized last weekend, though, that my annoyance for massholes lessens as I get closer to Boston. To get to my Sweetheart’s home, I have to complete the following in a quarter mile stretch: get off an exit and merge onto a curved road, immediately move to the left two lanes, go around another curve, then move to the right three lanes. When I do this, I don’t care if people stop in front of me or quickly switch lanes, because I myself have to pull those massholey moves, quickly changing lanes along with the other quick lane changers. When someone veered into my lane without a blinker last weekend, effectively forcing me to let them in front of me, I waved them on kindly, because that will very likely be me next weekend. As they say, when in Rome (or Boston).
If I could not give a fuck about the massholes in Eastern Mass cutting me off, why couldn’t I bring that same “no fucks given” attitude to shitty drivers in Western Mass?
The answer was I totally can, so when someone cut me off yesterday morning in my small Western Mass town, I preemptively squashed my annoyance by asking myself, “Is this worth giving a fuck about?” It really wasn’t, so I immediately let it go and put my energy elsewhere.
Want to know more about the Not Sorry method? Check our Knight’s book, and her accompanying flowchart:
(Image: “Should I Give a Fuck Flowchart”)
Make a Plan Ahead of Time: Know What You Need
In order to make sure your don’t self sabotage when you’re in a bad mood, it’s smart to make a go to plan when you’re in a good mood that will help you cheer up when you’re in a bad one at a later date. In addition to walking through my Ludicrous Paradox Door and Not Giving a Fuck, Here’s my list of things that help me feel better when I’m crabby.
1. Vent and Be Witnessed.
(Image: “Parrot Stomping GIF”)
My Sweetie and I call his grumpy little steps “clip clopping,” and in our true Libra-Gemini air sign communication style, the statement “I’m clip clopping” has become code phrase for “I’m in a grumpy mood, I know it’ll pass, but YUCK I’m annoyed right now and would love if you would witness me in that.” There’s something really amazing about feeling witnessed in my bad mood that helps it to pass more quickly, so even hearing her say “Ugh babe, I am so sorry. That sounds horrible!” will boost my mood.
2. Take a Break.
I tend to get reeeeaallly grumpy if I push myself to complete a task when I’m feeling discomfort due to back pain, having to go to the bathroom, being thirsty, hungry, or tired. If I can catch myself at the beginning stages of pushing myself through discomfort and stop to take a breather, I can save myself the inevitable distraction and bad mood that would have come from trying to write or read through said bad mood. Simple things like taking a walk around the block, making a cup of tea, or doing some quick stretches work well to reset my mood.
3. Make a Do Not Do List.
Things I should absolutely NOT do when I’m in a bad mood: send angry emails or texts, try to suffocate my bad mood with excessive eating or shopping (I don’t drink or smoke anymore, but those used to be on that list, too), try to do some complicated manual task that will make me even grumpier when I inevitably can’t complete it, and basically anything I will regret having done when I’m in a better mood later. I try to catch myself before I do things like this and take a break or vent instead.
Sometimes You Can’t Kick It: Don’t Gaslight Yourself
My goal with this week’s post was to give you practical tools that can help you get off the bad mood highway quickly, which means that I do think it’s possible to take control of your perspective and turn that frown upside down…or at least walk through a ludicrous paradox door into some sarcastic laughter about the ridiculousness of your situation. That being said, I also know that shifting out of a bad mood is not always possible in the short term. I know that sometimes things really just suck, and sometimes a bad mood cannot be easily replaced.
You know when you’re legitimately upset and venting to someone and they tell you to just get over it, or it’s not a big deal, or worse—you’re imagining things? I’m not telling you to do that. That borders on gaslighting, which is:
a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.
If you are in a bad or sad or grumpy or disappointed mood, you may be able to kick it with the tools above. But if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression, or recovering from trauma, or working through grief, or any other similarly difficult situation, know that it is also okay and totally normal if you can’t simply throw on a smile. When my chronic pain was at its highest, I struggled to find joy, and I found the most support in an online group called the Spoonie Sisterhood, where no one expected me to just “feel better” or “cheer up.” If you’re struggling or working through a similar challenge, I encourage you to also seek out support from people who will hold space for you just as you are.
PS: Kat Chow has a great article at NPR about how she gaslighted herself: “Gaslighting: How A Flicker Of Self-Doubt Warps Our Response To Sexual Harassment.”
*Please note that the original version of this blog post was published here.
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