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How to Lift Yourself Out of a Downward Spiral

Sharing some tips on regulating our emotions, a surprisingly impactful skill, especially when things seem out of your control and you're not sure how to pull yourself up.

downward staircase

Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.

Ralph Marston

Now that we’re in the depths of Winter, I thought we could use a reminder of some tips on how to lift yourself out of a downward spiral.

Several years ago, I did some post-graduate work on the neuroscience of leadership. While on this journey, I became more and more in awe of the brain and its workings. To think that this mere three-pound organ has over 100 billion nerve cells that each makes millions of connections, and the more I learn about how we operate, the more it astonishes me.

I learned about regulating our emotions and how impactful this one skill can be. Emotional regulation is the ability to respond in the range of emotions that is socially acceptable and takes practice and time. How frequently do you operate in a downward spiral? When things seem to continue to go down and out of control and you get the feeling that you can’t pull yourself out of it no matter how hard you try. It’s like being in a vortex.

I know so many people that are constantly operating on the downward spiral and are unable to see any way of changing the it.

Nine of my learnings on how to counter the direction of the spiral, or even prevent it are:

  1. Just knowing what the different aspects of a downward spiral are and acknowledging you are on one can help one reappraise, reframe, or label this as something else.
  2. Label them and find someone to talk to about your emotions during this time. Encourage others to talk about their given situation and even to write about it.
  3. Take a look at the situation in the third person rather than in the first. There is a technique I have learned from Organizational, Relationship and Systems Coaching that is called “Coaching the Third Entity”™. Using this technique, the coach is able to help clients look at the situation as an entity outside of them. This helps bring to the situation an objectivity that was previously absent. It also helps in regulating emotions around the situation.
  4. Get out and be around others. This action will remind you that you are not alone.
  5. Find something positive to look forward to. At times, the expectation could be more rewarding than the reward itself.
  6. Practice Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. This broadens one’s awareness to encourage exploring ones thoughts and actions and learning that most of our downward spirals can be attributed to our thoughts. Over time, use of this technique can build the necessary skills and resources that can help us catch our downward spirals early or prevent it all together.
  7. Learn the importance of managing your own expectations by under-promising and over-delivering. Set clear and realistic goals. As the author of the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip, Bill Watterson states, “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”
  8. Try mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation. This helps by staying in the present instead of worrying what may or may not happen in the future. “Be here now” has become something of a cliché. Still, when it comes to fear and anxiety, that recommendation holds true. If you are experiencing anxiously or worrying, then you are by definition living outside the present moment and, in a sense, even ignoring reality itself.
  9. When all else fails, breath deeply and often.

Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.

Marilu Henner

How do you lift yourself up from a downward spiral?

Written by Pat Obuchowski

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