We all have times when we don’t feel so good. And in those moments, many of us ask ourselves the perfectly reasonable question “Why do I feel like this?”
Now there’s a bright side to this question … and there’s also a dark side.
The Bright Side
The bright side of this question is that it can help to alert us to issues we need to deal with.
For example, suppose the answer is we’ve been fighting with our partner, eating too much junk, drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, working too hard, not exercising enough, smoking, taking drugs, partying too hard, worrying about our kids, coping with an illness, struggling financially, racing to meet a deadline, facing the death of a loved one.
If so, then recognising those issues as the trigger for our painful emotions is a useful first step. And the second step is then: take action! Do something practical, useful and helpful to effectively deal with or adapt better to the situation.
Now usually, such issues are obvious – and you can identify them easily and instantly when you ask yourself the above question. But suppose you find that there is no obvious answer for why you are feeling down or anxious or sad or grumpy; what happens if you keep on asking yourself the question?
Well, that’s where things go awry. If you keep asking yourself “Why do I feel this way?” when there’s no immediate obvious answer, it usually just hooks you into …
The Dark Side
The dark side of this question is what psychologists call “rumination”. We get lost in our thoughts, analysing all the possible reasons for “why I feel like this”.
Usually, we then start running through all the unpleasant things that have happened to us, all the things that are wrong with our life, all the things that aren’t good enough in ourselves or others or the world around us, wondering if any of them might be the cause.
Naturally this pulls us more and more into discontentment, dissatisfaction, as we run through everything that’s lacking in our life. (Hardly surprising that this pattern of thinking plays a big role in depression.)
So when you catch yourself caught up in this type of thinking, it’s a good idea to unhook from it:
- Notice the thinking process and silently name it: “Aha! Here’s my mind trying to figure it out again” or “Aha! There’s the ‘why do I feel like this?’ story” or “Here’s rumination” or simply “Analysing”.
- Use your mindfulness skills to unhook from theses thoughts and get fully present
- Start doing some meaningful, life-enhancing activity, and give it your full attention
- Engage in what you’re doing
- In this manner, repeatedly unhook yourself from the “Why do I feel this way?” story – over and over and over again; and repeatedly refocus on the activity you are doing.
But What Do I Do About The Feeling?
- Use your mindfulness skills to practice acceptance of the feeling, and be self-compassionate.
- Take action: do whatever you can to improve the situation or solve the problem that’s triggering it.
- And if there’s no effective action you can take, stick with A). But stop trying to analyse the feeling, and instead put your attention and energy into doing something meaningful.