I was down a bit last month. I am not sure if this makes for good blog reading, but I thought I would write about how I dealt with it as an example of some good and bad ways to work with not being on our “A” game.
Within a couple days of my mood dropping, I noticed things being slightly off. I did not notice the drop sooner because it was not a huge change in mood or activity. I was still making it to work and doing well there, I was eating normally and taking care of the important things in life. Items that were dropping off these first few days and the rest of the month were the optional things. I wasn’t returning personal phone calls and emails in a timely manner, exercise dropped from five days a week to one or two, I wasn’t working on projects at home – one of which created a significant inconvenience. Sleep was off, too, I was getting 4-5 hours, waking and not being able to get back to sleep.
A few days after recognizing the lower mood, I found what I believed to be the cause: I had set high, yet undefined and unrealistic expectations for a social event/activity I was involved in. And though the event went quite well, it had not met those high and undefined expectations.
So far, I had made two good acknowledgments –that I was feeling a bit down and a likely reason for it. The next things I did may not have been the best. I did not give the potential cause for the depressed mood more thought, nor did I look at the lowered mood as something that needed correction right away.
It had been a busy summer – busier than usual, so I looked at this as an opportunity to take a small break, relax a bit. I was fine with not returning calls as quickly and with exercising less often. I could live with the broken bathroom sink a little while longer. I decided I would monitor my mood, watch it for awhile, make sure it didn’t get any worse and pull out of it when I was ready.
The first couple weeks went well. The lack of sleep was bothersome, but I was fine with everything else. By the third week, I started to realize why I needed to exercise more and I was getting tired of the house becoming messier day by day. By week four I had a sense (though not a solid idea) that I was getting crankier with those I am closest with and tension was developing in some relationships.
Time to come out of this vacation!
I started with an easy activity – cleaning the house. It felt good to be more active and to have a cleaner home. I began to return calls and emails quicker, but I was still not interested in returning these right away. Sleep was still dragging me down; and the social event that brought my mood down initially was also in the background. This was not going to be an automatic, snap-the-fingers and everything is good again.
A friend/support asked me how I felt about that social event. Giving it serious thought for the first time in a month, I replied that it made me feel empty. Thinking about it more, I remembered I had a good time, but my expectations were too high and unattainable. I now started to look at the event more realistically.
Shortly after this, I had a good conversation with another friend that decreased the tension that had been developing there. The weekend came and I focused on catching up on sleep. I laid around a lot, but when I was up, I was doing things. On Monday I felt fully rested for the first time in a month. This time I told myself to keep things going – a few more nights of good sleep, staying active, and I would have a good pattern for things going in the right direction.
The next two nights’ sleep were not good, but I pushed forward anyway, excited that I was coming out of my doldrums. A few other life events occurred during the month that kept me getting all the way back to my “A” game, but I was back in control of how I reacted and responded to these events.
Looking back, I could have done things differently. It became a little scary in those third and fourth weeks when my moods were more in control of me than I was of them. Not paying attention to the impact of unrealized expectations hurt me. Lack of sleep played a large role. And I had been over-confident, thinking, “Ah, I’ll be able to pull out of this easily enough when I am ready.” Catching the lower mood early was valuable. How I responded initially was not.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields, including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.