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I’m getting kind of meta with this blog today because, at the time I’m writing this, I DO NOT feel like doing it.
(Sorry to anyone who thought that every time I sit down to write I’m inspired and brimming with wisdom! This is real life, and I’m in a funk today.)
Blame it on lack of sleep and that time of the month, but I’m feeling grumpy and dull and lethargic. I wish I could wait to revisit this blog, but this is my only time this week to make it happen. And in a weird way, it actually aligns perfectly with what I’d already planned to write.
The thing about being in a downward spiral (I’ve been riding this one for at least 5 days now) is that the lower you sink, the more real and believable all of your thoughts feel.
When I’m in this state, it’s really easy to start thinking some pretty bleak stuff like, “You’re looking gross right now,” and “Nothing’s ever going to work out for you,” and “You’ll never make enough money to do X,” and on and on.
BUT, what’s critically important is that at this point in my life, I know not to trust the things I think and feel when I’m in a spiral. I know that, eventually, the mood will lift and I’ll see things in a MUCH more accurate light. I just need to wait it out.
But I didn’t always realize that. In fact, there have been many times when I picked apart my entire life, thinking I had a serious problem (that didn’t actually exist).
I think you might be able to relate. And given that I’ve talked to a couple of clients recently about this very subject, I’m guessing we could all use a refresher.
THERE WAS A TIME I ALMOST QUIT COACHING
One of the most memorable spirals happened about 3 or 4 years ago, when I nearly convinced myself that I hated coaching and wanted to quit.
At the time I was coaching about 15-16 people per week and REALLY hustling to grow our business. I’d only been coaching full-time for a year, so the whole thing was new to me. Kristen and I were figuring everything out as we went.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had taken on WAY too much in my desperation to get to a point of financial stability. I’d stretched myself (an introverted, highly sensitive person) to the limits, and I was BURNT OUT.
But when you’re that exhausted and frayed, you can’t think clearly. So I assumed that the resentment and frustration I felt was about what I was doing, rather than how I was doing it. I freaked out and started worrying that I’d made a terrible life choice!
The same thing happened to a client of mine a few weeks ago.
Kelsey and her husband just sold their first home and moved to a brand new city. She doesn’t have many friends there, her work routine is entirely different, and nothing is familiar.
A couple of weeks after moving in to their new house, Kelsey and I got on the phone. I was expecting her to be bubbling over with excitement and eager to tell me about all the new things that were going on, but that’s not at all what happened.
Instead, she told me that she’d been feeling really inadequate lately. She was saying things like, “Everyone in this city is so cool. I’ll never live up to that,” and“Why can’t I decorate my house in an Instagram-worthy way? Why haven’t I ‘made it’ to that level yet?”
She’d even gotten to the point where she was questioning their entire decision to move, which had been something she was really committed to and excited about a month earlier.
THIS REMINDS ME OF YODA
Any excuse to bring up everyone’s favorite little green Jedi master is a good one, OK?
Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hates leads to suffering.”
And while I don’t think fear and anger have to spiral into hate and suffering, he’s definitely got a point about how quickly we can descend into a dark place.
To put my own Yoda-like spin on Kelsey’s situation, I’d say it was more like, “Feeling unsettled leads to instability. Instability leads to insecurity. Insecurity leads to inadequacy.”
In other words, OF COURSE Kelsey ended up in a spiral. She just made a huge transition, and she’s in a vulnerable state — her whole life has been upended, and the dust hasn’t settled yet.
It doesn’t matter that she wanted this change and that she’d even been looking forward to this change. ANY big transition will bring up our inherent discomfort with the unknown. And in that state, it’s really easy to slip into a downward spiral.
Which means that the feelings of inadequacy aren’t real. Kelsey doesn’t actually have deep-rooted issues that need addressing; she’s just in a spiral that will end once she’s feeling more settled.
And for my part, I think my spiral about wanting to quit coaching went something like, “Overwhelm leads to exhaustion. Exhaustion leads to burn out. Burn out leads to resentment. Resentment leads to wanting to quit everything.”
Obviously I didn’t REALLY want to quit coaching. I just needed better boundaries around my time and a clearer sense of what I could realistically handle on a physical/mental/emotional level.
SO, HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
First of all, I’m going to make a bold statement and say that MOST of the “problems” we think we have are likely the result of a spiral, rather than a real, true-blue, deep-seated problem.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you sniff out if you are, in fact, in a spiral:
- How long have you been feeling this way? The shorter the time, the more likely it is that you’re in a spiral.
- Has something changed (good OR bad) in your life lately? Transitions of all kinds can trigger spirals.
- Have you had any disappointments or letdowns? Even mild disappointment can easily spiral out of control if it goes unchecked.
- How overwhelmed or pressed for time do you feel? If you’re constantly rushing around, that’s not good for your mental health and can easily lead to terrible funks and anxious, depressive thoughts.
- How firm are your boundaries? A lot of us say “yes” to everything (ahem, people-pleasing, anyone?) or have over-committed for one reason or another. Trying to do too much and please everyone is a big cause of spirals.
- How hydrated and well-fed are you? You’re an animal. That means you need regular, nutritious meals and lots of hydration. Your thoughts and mood will absolutely reflect how you’re treating your body. Speaking of which…
- How often are you exercising? Humans aren’t meant to sit still. When we don’t move, we get really crabby. Exercise isn’t just a “nice to have”; it’s a must.
- What are your hormones up to? I’m sure this applies to all genders, but as a woman I can definitely attest to how different I feel at certain points of each month. It’s like night and day!
- How’s your sleep?Honestly, I think this may be the factor that makes or breaks you on any given day. It’s that fundamental to EVERY aspect of your health and general wellbeing (or lack thereof).
- How’s the weather? Seriously! It’s SO hard to stay in a good mood when all you’ve seen is bleak, grey skies for days on end.
The power of realizing you’re in a spiral is that you don’t have to take all of your bleak, pessimistic, negative, self-effacing thoughts seriously.
It’s not that you’re gross, or you’re doomed to fail, or you should resign yourself to a lifetime of poverty — your feelings are just a natural symptom of the negative momentum you’re in. And that momentum will END.
It will either end naturally (hormones will fluctuate, the sun will come back out, transitions will fade) OR you can do your best to lift yourself out of it (get more sleep, drink more water, change your schedule, set some boundaries).
ONE LAST MAYBE-CONTROVERSIAL THING
I think most deep-seated problems are spirals that just never ended.
Maybe you’ve been in a funk for months. Maybe you just straight-up hate your job and that doesn’t change regardless of what color the sky is. Maybe you’re in a difficult relationship that drinking enough water won’t fix.
Even if you’ve got what you believe to be a deeper, more “permanent” problem — my prescription to you is the same. Ask yourself any and all of the above questions and make the adjustments that become obvious.
Because here’s the thing: You won’t be able to solve a deep-seated problem if you’re running on empty, or overwhelmed, or sleep-deprived, or unnecessarily resentful.
The BEST thing you can do for yourself, regardless of your situation, is to do whatever it takes to get into a higher, more balanced state of being. And from that place, the answers will come easier. The energy will be better. Your patience will increase. And your outlook will be rosier.
And when you make that shift — from spiraling negatively to spiraling positively — there aren’t any problems that you can’t free yourself from, eventually.
So, can you relate to this? Have you been spiraling without realizing it? Come share with me, in the comments.
Rachel (& Kristen)
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Once again, you’ve literally discussed EXACTLY what I have been thinking. I have been in a bad spiral for a few months from now and literally lay in bed at night asking – WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?? Because I didn’t think anything truly deep was, but I couldn’t get unstuck. I CANNOT wait for this workshop! Thank you both for always reading my mind 🙂
Hey Heather! Oh man, I can totally relate. Something that may help to consider: What if the only thing that was “wrong” with you is your belief that something is “wrong,” in the first place? Chew on that for a little while! 😉
Very timely for me too! I also know when my hormones are getting the best of me, but like anxiety, awareness only helps with half of it.Great list! Thanks for keeping it real.
Glad this hit you at a good time, Leah! Thanks for reading! 🙂
I spiraled yesterday, actually…and came out of it last night, following a really disappointing day. I managed to identify the patterns that led to the spiral by doing a new thinking exercise that’s kind of my thing these days. I ask myself “can you rewind what happened, look at the action that went down, and see what the pure facts of the experience show you is true?”
I found that by focusing on the rewinded movie of my life and my actions, if you will, that the conclusions I was making about myself “maybe I suck, maybe I’m delusional, etc.” were not supported by the reality I rewinded and saw.
Sounds sort of like what you were saying here. Great post, as usual, and hope you get to feeling better!
So yeah, basically, I recommend this “rewind button” exercise. Testing your emotional conclusions against facts can help weed out stinking thinking.
That’s a really great mental exercise! It mirrors something I tell my clients all the time (and what we’re taught right off the bat in coach training): There’s a difference between absolute “Truth” and your version of what’s “true.” Most of us act like our versions of what’s true is The Truth, when 99.9% of the time the bare facts of the situation don’t support that at all!
You have summed up my week perfectly! I have been in this bad horrible place for the past week. I have wanted a new job for two years but this week has been absolutely awful. I have been extremely angry and bitter with everything in my life. The strange thing is that listening to this blog I realized why this week has been uniquely awful and for good reason. Hormones this week yeah probably through the roof, got accepted to grad school, worried and stressed about money, exhausted from caregiving, still trying to figure out what to do about my job and etc… Just have been feeling like a failure and just like nothing is going to improve, maybe I should just accept things as they are it is easier. Then on top of that yeah health not so great… asthma horrible. This blog couldn’t have come at a better time. I now can move forward knowing that it is possible tomorrow can be a better day at some point.
I’m sorry you were having such a rough week, Victoria. But I’m glad this blog hit you at the right time and reminded you that it’s only natural you’d feel this way, given that you seem to be stretched too thin! I hope you’ll consider reevaluating your priorities and giving yourself more time to take care of YOU! 🙂
I’ve been in a bad spiral for what? 2 years now? I did have to do a huge transition in my life (moving to another country, forced because of the government, not because I wanted to, having to leave too much behind) and I just can’t get out of it and everyday is getting worse and worse and it’s kinda sad that out of your questions only two I answered that they weren’t bothering me (hormones and weather).
Though, honestly, I know what has me down but it’s things that are very hard to change so, it’s been an ongoing battle of trying to accept things as they are, and also, to accept the fact of who I am and where I come from and how I need to deal with it. Being venezuelan is tough sometimes! I always joke around that when I finally sit down with a therapist, and they ask me what’s wrong with me, I’m just going to say “I come from Venezuela, that’s all you need to hear to know what’s wrong with me” hahahaha
But, I’ll start working on a few of those questions that you mentioned, like sleeping correctly, being hydrated, eating better and exercising! Little steps 🙂
Also, I want to say, your articles always lift me up and make me very happy, I’m always eager to read your blog posts! Both of you are awesome! I hope you feel better soon as well!
I’m sorry, Pandita! You’re right — when you come from a country with a lot of suffering and difficulty, that’s more than just a spiral. But you’re also right that the best thing you can do to lift yourself out of a long-term funk is to start with the small things. It’s hard to jump straight from 0 to 60; sometimes we need baby steps. If you can stay consistent with those basic things, the rest will come a LOT easier.
I’ve been spiralling for a while. I’m hoping that my vacation this week can help me get out of it for a bit. I’m also making plans for when I come back to start dealing with my stress and such differently. Thank you for the post.
Enjoy your vacation, Gillian! I hope it gets you into a higher-feeling state. 🙂