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Ph: 0404 093 865

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Managing feeling down


Many people think of transpersonal psychology as wholistic, which it is, yet fundamentally its basis is actually state change. By accessing states other than our ordinary waking state, we learn, and gain resources to help us live this life. This can be listening to music, taking a walk, or being affected by a moving stiry. Our mood and physiological state literally changes. Dreams are another example.


Going through a crisis, a ‘hero’s journey’ down into the depths, the places we would not consciously choose to go, we learn much more about ourselves, our capacities, our resilience … who and what our allies and supports (resources) are.


So state change is a key part of transpersonal approaches to managing the challenges of life. One of the most basic ways we change state is in our bodies, from quiet to active. 


When I think of what has most changed my life, I recall being advised by my Supervisorr, Dr Krish Trobe, to do 15 minutes of dancing in the morning when I got up. When I think of exercising I’m reminded of a guy I know who is very fit and obviously looks after his body. I was talking with him and made a comment that assumed he was ‘one of those people who enjoyed exercising’. He surprised me by saying that he hates exercising and that it’s a big challenge for him every time he does it. That was illuminating! I realised I’d been judging myself and feeling bad for not wanting to exercise, as if there was something wrong with me, and that I wasn’t built for it, so didn’t do it.


Once at a training there was a quiz on the board, asking what’s the best antidore to depression? The choices were:

  1. counselling
  2. medication
  3. counselling and medication combined
  4. exercise


In a room full of therapists, depending on their orientation, most answered one of a, b, or c. The answer was actually d) exercise! I’ll never forget it. And even then I shelved it away somewhere as being for ‘other people’, not for me. The idea of exercising to alter mood, or to feel better simple didn’t compute. It didn’t go in. And I know it’s the last thing I feel like doing when I feel flat or low.


So when Krish insisted that I try dancing in the mornings, at one point I did. And it was really a lightbulb moment. In somehow not giving in to the resistance I discovered I just felt so much better. I’m not pretending it’s easy. Many times I ‘should’ do it, I don’t. But when I do, it’s like a magic, or a remembering. I ended up getting a cross-trainer machine (you can rent them), and most mornings when I can let myself get on the machine and put on my headphones, it's a very different day to when I don’t do it. It’s even become something I look forward to (sometimes!)


I’ve found the secret is to do it when I can, as much as I can, but not to beat myself up when I really don’t feel like it. But I understand that the physiological effect of changing my state makes a huge difference to how I feel. Whether it’s going for a walk, or getting on the cross-trainer, or simply putting on headphones and listening to a playlist and moving my body, it’s the best way I know of dispelling a feeling of down-ness, or apathy, or worry, or just not feeling great. 


So I really encourage you to try it. 15 – 30 minutes of exercise every day you can manage, in the morning, or if you’re someone that feels the doldrums more at night, then do it at night. I've recently startyed doing this program, which I can recommend. It's a great balance of all-over body toning and strengthening and yoga-like stretches. It's very good value at only $50 AUD ($29 USD) for the whole programme, including a book plus indiviudual guided videos for each workout.


A friend started dancing, in her loungeroom, for 40 minutes most days .. just putting on the music and going for it. It's madea noticeable difference to her life, to her health and fitness, but also to see how much more joyfull and light she is. Also she made a big career change as a result of feeling better and clearer in herself. And she credits the dancing. There’s also something about listening to music that alters your state of mind, so music + exercise is the ideal way to shift mood and feeling.


This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t listen to your body. If you really really feel you don’t want to do it, even once you’ve started, then give yourself permission to stop! It’s the difference between doing something because you want to rather than being driven by guilt or shame or by the Superego / critic (sense that you should, or self-criticism if you don’t).


When we feel depressed or down, or flat, we can often push and drive ourselves, which can be counterproductive if it’s coming from a self-shaming place. It’s important to differentiate when we actually need to rest, or to surrender to feeling down versus consciously change state to feel better. (There are people that over-exercise in a compulsive way to avoid feeling down .. or feeling anything). Sometimes we need to just listen to our bodies, and to have a doona day (read a book, watch a movie, have a good cry). 


Also, it’s important to ask ourselves will it support us best to hunker down in our cave, or to reach out? As we get more practiced at tuning into our needs we get better at determining what we really need in these cases. If you’re avoiding contact with others because of feeling shame, or if you know you feel isolated, then it may be better to reach out. It’s ok, even good, to make ourselves feel better through sharing, exposing how we feel, and through connection. This is another type of positive state change.


And, sometimes we just need to collapse, and feel the sadness, or the helplessness, or ennui, or existential grief, and to be alone. In these cases it’s as if there is a small, lost and lonely child, that weneed to hold and reassure it’s ok. To assure that it’s normal and allowable to feel down sometimes. There is nothing wrong with feeling bad. It’s unrealistic to believe we always have to feel happy, and that there’s something wrong with us when we feel sad or flat. Of course if it goes on for what feels like too long, or if we don’t know how to be with it, it’s important to get help. From a friend or therapist. Often it’s just being able to ‘break down’ and to feel the feelings under the flatness or sadness, and if we can share them, so much the better. It’s common to not want to ‘burden’ others with our feelings or despair, but this is a mistaken belief, which is a product of our sense of helplessness. Think how you’d feel someone you care about shared their deepest feelings with you. It’s a great gift and sign of trust. And it deepens connection, asa it gets beneath the pretence that we are always ‘fine’.


The Learning Love work calls it a ‘shame trance’ or ‘shame spiral’ when we go into a hole. We all feel like this. Sometimes quite a bit of the time. Especially if we’re going through a transition or period of uncertainty. It’s normal. Just to recognise that we’re ‘in it’ is a shift. From this place everything can look bleak. We can feel paranoid or upset, and project onto others, and feel frustrated and unsafe and helpless. The main thing is to realise we’re in a funk …. that it will pass … and that it’s a good time not to make any decisions, examine options, plan the future etc. It’s as if the little, freaked-out child is running the show. What it needs is recognition, and kindness, and our love. Much as if a real child was feeling miserable. Imagine a wise adult simply sitting there, saying it’s ok to feel whatever they’re feeling. That it’s normal, and human. And will pass.


This is what most of us didn’t get when we were children (as out parents also didn’t get this, so didn’t learn what’s needed in these situations). So by giving ourselves this recognition and compassion the adult ‘watcher’ come back online, and the period of strong feeling can be allowed to be felt, and eventually, it will pass.


When we feel down it’s common to put a layer of guilt or shame or self-hatred over what we’re feeling. To judge it, and to judge ourselves and think there’s something wrong … with feeling bad … we can even mistakenly believe there’s something wrong with ourselves. When we feel bad and add a layer of Superego attack or self-criticism this isn’t helpful. Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing speaks of this as the second arrow of suffering. It’s un-necessary. Imagine if we could just feel low sometimes, without the guilt, and shame. And self-hatred. Everytime we allow ourselves the space to feel what we feel with compassion and permission we exercise this muscle of self-soothing. It’s a practice. And as we do it more and more, this way of being with ourselves (and others) becomes natural. And the periods of feeling low are like letting a fields lie fallow, part of natural existence. Nothing to be worried about or ashamed of.


So learning when to lie low and when to allow ourselves the salve of state change is a keep to managing this sometimes (often) challenging business of living. Once we introduce exercise as a resource, and practice it when we can, we can start to recognise that it’s a great tool we can use to manage, and change our state, with intention. It’s probably one of the best medicines there is!