You know that feeling when you’re just not ‘on it’? When everything seems to have gone to shit and is just spiralling further and further.
Yeah, me too.
In fact, I’ve kind of been on that spiral myself for most of January, and once it starts, it can be very hard to get out of. Luckily, I’ve found myself in this position a fair few times over the years, and as I’ve grown older I’ve become very easily able to identify what it is in my life that’s causing it. In fact, it’s almost like second nature.
So, whenever I find myself in that deflated, unproductive place and am ready to get my spark and motivation back, the first thing I do is go through a little ‘checklist’ in my head to see where in my day-to-day life I am going wrong* to cause these feelings. I firmly believe that our mentality is influenced heavily by our daily habits and how we go about them. We may not even think about these things or notice how much power they hold over us. I know I didn’t for years! As it’s fresh in my mind at the moment, I thought I’d take a minute to go over the areas that I check on, and how I correct any issues that arise.
- Nutrition. I’ve only come to realise quite recently how much power the food I put in my body actually holds over my mental health. It might sound a bit far-fetched, but for me it really is true. I think it’s mainly a psychological thing, because when I’m feeling really down and lacking in energy, I will generally order takeaways or eat FAR too much Maccies, so I’ve come to associate negative feelings with eating non-nutritious food. From a biological perspective, eating lots of carb-heavy food (which is my go-to stress food) leaves me feeling even more bloated, fatigued and generally bad. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. If I find myself in this situation, as I did last week, I make a point to carefully plan all of my meals for the next week (which I try to make a habit of anyway) and ensure everything I have planned is nice and nutritious and full of veggies and fresh ingredients. I’ve literally only made a couple of meals so far this week and I already feel so much better and more full of energy/productive.
- Sleep. This is probably up there with food choices when it comes to how much it affects my mental health. It’s recommended that adults get between 7 and 10 hours of sleep every night, and there is a tonne of (sometimes alarming) research into how important this is. Since becoming interested in sleep and sleep hygiene a couple of years ago, I’ve been trying to figure out the sweet spot for exactly how much sleep I function best off, and I’m pretty much settled on 8.5 hours from getting in bed to getting up, so around 8 hours of sleep. My problem when I’m not feeling too great is that I oversleep – I will go to bed later (usually after being on my phone for a few hours) and wake up a lot later than I ideally would. Oversleeping affects me really badly and leaves me with a headache for the entire day and generally feeling really moody. If I notice that my sleep pattern isn’t ideal, I take it back to basics and set myself a relatively strict go to sleep/get up time which is usually 10pm/6.30am. If you’re struggling with your sleep, give this a go – I also find that dimming the lights in the evening and putting my phone down half an hour or even twenty minutes before going to sleep is really beneficial.
- Exercise/outdoor time. I think many of us can relate to not wanting to exercise (or even move in general) when we’re not feeling great. For me, this is often one of the first things that goes out the window, but it is also one of the best things for our mental health. I enjoy going to the gym, but even spending some time outdoors and going for a walk can be equally as beneficial. If I notice my exercise time slipping, I will make a point to plan in a few gym sessions (even if it’s less than I’d ideally do) and make sure I walk to and from Uni.
- Structure. Ok, this one might not be the same for everyone, but I am a person who craves order and structure in my life. I’m a firm believer that a routine can be really useful in keeping us motivated and achieving what we want to achieve. If I notice myself getting a little too laid back and wasting my days (which only makes me feel worse) I will make a point to get back into planning out the day ahead every morning. Having a proper schedule seems to make doing things more effortless, and finishing the day having been productive has a great knock-on effect in helping you sleep better and really appreciate and enjoy that designated evening ‘chill time’.
- Spending. If you’re not feeling great, the last thing you want added on top of it all is money worries. Now, when I’m in a rut, my go-to coping strategies are fast-food and spending too much. I don’t think it’s any surprise that those two go hand-in-hand! If I’ve found myself overspending I have a really bad habit of pushing it to the back of my mind and just not checking my bank accounts or tracking anything. When I’m ready to get things back on track, it always helps to set some time aside to just re-evaluate, and (non-judgementally) decide what I need to do to get myself back on the right track financially.
So, there we have it – a bit of a Monday evening ramble from me! This little checklist is what I use to help myself get out of a rut, and I would highly recommend figuring out what your main negative coping mechanisms/triggers are so that you can figure out how to get yourself re-motivated without too much effort!
*having said that, feeling very negative/unmotivated/fatigued can of course be symptoms of depression and don’t necessarily mean you are doing anything ‘wrong’! This post is more aimed at people who have periods lacking in drive and motivation periodically (as most of us do), that they can pull themselves out of fairly easily. If you are feeling this way regularly or consistently and are unable to deal with it alone, be sure to go to your GP. I’ve been there and it was only in addressing that underlying issue that I gradually became able to pull myself out of these feelings more easily and form my own strategies!