Have you ever been in a mental rut or felt down? Of course you have because you are part of an exclusive club called being human. We all experience sadness or get in mental ruts. In this article, we will discuss what gets us down mentally and how we can get ourselves out of a mental rut using physiology. The ability to get yourself out of a rut and manage your emotions is critical when it comes to emotional intelligence.
1. What gets us down?
During the day, people or things stress us out or put us in a bad mood. It can be your boss, direct reports, clients, client deadlines, children, financial burden, or ghosting. Ghosting is the worst! Please don't ghost people! Have the courage to respond because it hurts!
These catalysts usually trigger our brains to run with anxiety, and it can feel like we are facing a tsunami of stressful thoughts. For example, we have to complete an essential deliverable for someone, and we are not sure if we will complete it on time. If you are like me, your mind will start running. I think, "what if I don't finish it in time? I don't have the time. I will get in trouble at work. My client will be upset, and I might lose my job." The thoughts go on and on. Unfortunately, when my brain starts running, it can put me in a pretty bad state.
What else can get us into a mental rut? Often time it is our brain from running all day long. The irony is that we often try to use the same brain to get us out of the mess it created. This is like using quicksand to get out of quicksand. It doesn't make sense! We need to use something different than our minds.
2. Utilizing Physiology: Using Your Body to Manage Your Emotional State
We should consider using physiology. Physiology is where we use our physical body to change our state and emotions. Tony Robbins is responsible for popularizing this concept. For example, we can use breathing, facial expressions, or movement to change our state and feel better.
A. Breathing. One of the best things you can do when anxious is to breathe and count.
One technique is to breathe in, hold, and breathe out for the same number of seconds. For example, breathe in and count to four, hold and count to four and breathe out and count to four.
A second technique is to force yourself to slow down and breathe out over a more extended period, such as 8, 10, or 15 seconds. For example, breathe in and count to 8 seconds. Breathe out and count to 8 seconds.
Why do these techniques change your state? You are doing two things. First, you are slowing down your breathing, which will calm you and relax any nervous energy. Secondly, you are counting. Thomas Jefferson said, "When angry count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to 100." Counting is essential because it activates the rational part of our brain and calms us down. Make sure to count when you breathe!
B. Facial expression. One of the best things you can do is smile. I encourage you to force yourself to smile, but not a fake smile. Instead, dig deep and find a real smile. A genuine smile is where your eyes crinkle.
You may feel funny at first, but if you force yourself to smile for at least 10 seconds, you will start to feel better. A study conducted in the UK found that a smile can have a more significant impact than chocolate. Smiling can also make you healthier by reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. A famous Chinese proverb says, "a person without a smiling face must not open a shop." It makes sense because a smile can help you as well as those you interact with. Please note there are some cultures where smiling is less frequent and acceptable than the United States. However, I encourage you to consider smiling in the privacy of your own home because it may make you feel better.
C. Movement. Get moving, walk up and down stairs, go exercise, or skip. It is impossible to skip and be miserable. When you skip, you feel like a kid who can't stop giggling. Look at the gif of Homer Simpson below and try not to smile, it's impossible.
If you hate skipping, then consider getting your dance on. Turn on your favorite song and get moving. If you work from home where no one can see you, then dancing should definitely be in your repertoire when it comes to getting out of a rut. Dancing gets the blood flowing, and research after research study shows the power of movement and exercise on people's well being. Whenever we move, we often feel better.
Physiology is pretty simple. When people are down, feeling blue, or lacking confidence, their body language shows it. They slouch their shoulders; they take shallow breaths, and they may have a scowl on their face. Now think of someone who looks like they can tackle anything. They are breathing comfortably, they exude confidence, their shoulders are back, and they move freely.
There are a ton of things you can do to change your emotional state such as:
- Standing with a confident posture
- Going for a walk
- Playing your power song
- Thumb wrestling
- Jumping jacks
- Giving someone a high five
I encourage you to write down 2 or 3 new things you will try that you do not typically do. The best performers are always looking to add new tools to their toolkits rather than using the same set of tricks. I also challenge you to try these more than once because the first time it might be uncomfortable, but the third or fourth time, it might be fun! Remember, one of the greatest tools we have to change our emotions is physiology. Therefore, next time you are blue, feeling down, or upset, consider changing your physiology. You might find it works a lot better than using your brain. Please note that if you are experiencing depression or anxiety symptoms, you should reach out to a licensed professional.