In A Crappy Mood? Using Cookies, Chips, or Fake Smiles? … I’ve Got A Better Idea
Bless us, oh God.
When our joints don’t work like they should,
when we grow sick or turn gray too soon,
when our bodies betray us…
or perhaps they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do.
—- Kate Bowler, The Lives We Actually Have
Normally I’ve hit my milestone birthdays with a positive attitude. I didn’t mind turning 40, 50, or 60. Hey, this is what 60 looks like. No. Big. Deal. But now I’m 65 and not feeling quite so positive.
My hair is going from salt and pepper to silver. Just 3 short years ago I was running 18 miles a week, and now an arthritic knee prevents me from running even the shortest distance. My body is starting to show wear and sooner or later something major is going to go on the fritz.
I’m floundering trying to figure out how to cope with this new stage of life.
My old way was using food. Stress and depression were an excuse to overeat. Not anymore.
Here’s what I’ve learned about managing a low mood:
Food doesn’t really help.
A bag of chips or box of cookies may provide a temporary distraction, but it is just that, temporary. The mood and whatever is causing it, is still there.
You can’t gloss over a bad mood.
I came across the term Toxic Positivity recently. The idea that everything has to be turned into something positive can choke us. Not everything can be solved by painting a happy face on top of it. We ignore what is real at our own peril. Acknowledge how you are feeling.
Ask yourself, “What’s present for me in this moment?”
A lot of times a crappy mood is the result of what is happening, but we make it worse by focusing on the worst part and worrying about what could happen. A lot of the time depression, stress, and anxiety are escalated by the stories we tell ourselves. Physical therapy has helped my knee. But I focus on the running I can’t do and worry about a knee replacement that I might not need. What’s real in this moment is that I can walk without pain. The past is a memory, the future has not yet been born. All we really have is the present moment. Living in it fully goes a long way in managing stress.
Ask yourself, “What’s not wrong?”
This is a powerful practice. Simply list 5 things that aren’t wrong right now. Notice I’m asking you to think about what’s not wrong rather than what’s right. There’s a lot more leeway in what’s not wrong, less of a need for perfection. My car is running. I turn on the tap and water comes out. I have food in my fridge. I’m in a loving relationship. I can read music. This exercise is most effective if you do it twice a day, morning and evening, say, as you’re brushing your teeth. Sometimes low moods tend to be all-consuming and this practice is a way of reminding you that not everything is wrong.
I came across Kate Bowler’s quote above at just the right time. Maybe my achy knee and gray hair are what’s supposed to happen. A Buddhist teacher once told me that the only real cause of death is birth. And that’s the reality. We age and we wear out, and that fact at the moment is pissing me off. No chocolate cake, no smiley faces, no rah rah, keeping a positive attitude is going to change my aging body or that it’s got me down.
Shit happens. Some of us get more than our share but no one is immune. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stay with the moment and bless the life you actually have, in all its fragility and messiness.