Down in the Dumps

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The best way to manage those periods where you feel down in the dumps is to mindfully accept that they are an inevitable part of human life. The mental health industry, and especially pharmaceutical companies, have done humanity a grave disservice by capitalizing on our belief that we should spend all our time feeling the pleasant emotions, convincing us that any other state is a definite sign of dysfunction and needs to be medicated.

In my view hopelessness stems not from unpleasant emotions and experiences but from the egocentric belief that they will last forever. Powerful emotions often grip us so strongly that our field of vision is narrowed and we forget that these emotions are transitory, evolutionarily designed to give us quick and decisive information about our environment so that we can act appropriately without having to think too much. Their purpose is not to stay around forever, and pleasant or unpleasant, they never do.

When you’re feeling down in the dumps, let yourself feel down in the dumps. There’s probably a good reason for it and the idea that your state is dysfunctional just adds to the misery, leading to more negative thoughts and emotions. A concept that helps a lot of people is being able to differentiate between primary emotion and secondary emotion. A secondary emotion stems from the value judgement you place on your primary emotion. For example, you might experience a situation that occasions sadness and your desire to cry, but as a culturally typical male you judge this feeling to be a sign of weakness, at which point you start to feel shame. The correct emotion for the situation is replaced with an incorrect emotion, and you never get the chance to move through your sadness in a healthy way because you won’t even let yourself feel it.

In the case of feeling down in the dumps, let yourself feel down in the dumps. Don’t put a value judgement on the experience or worry that it means you’re dysfunctional in some way. Stop thinking that you should always feel happy and upbeat. The belief that life should only be filled with pleasant emotions is an insidious cause of mental illness. You end up hurting yourself more by feeling bad about feeling bad than you would by just accepting your state as a normal part of life while also reminding yourself that it will likely pass on its own soon.