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What To Do When You Just Feel Crummy

March 28, 2022

A first step out of feeling terrible is to stop trying to avoid feeling terrible. Practice three flows of compassion and movement in nature.

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Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion

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We all feel crummy sometimes—and lately, “crummy” may be an understatement.

Key Points:

  • The first step out of feeling terrible is to stop trying to avoid feeling terrible.
  • Compassion flows three ways—taking in compassion, giving compassion, and receiving compassion.
  • Movement in nature can help shift your attention away from self-referential thought and toward something bigger than you.
  • If you’re feeling off, make a commitment to eat well and get back on track with sleep.

We all feel crummy sometimes—and lately, “crummy” may be an understatement. The American Psychological Association’s most recent “Stress in America” survey (March 2022) reports that 63 percent of Americans say that their lives are ever-changed by COVID. And after two long years of a pandemic, our top three stressors have shifted to inflation (83 percent), supply chain issues (81 percent), and global uncertainty (81 percent). We haven’t had much of a chance to come up for air.

There is a lot you can’t control right now, but there are some things you can do to give your mind and body a helping hand when it comes to stress and anxiety. Here are some tips I use from ACT and integrative psychology, that will help you turn your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day into something better.

  1. Avoid avoiding. It’s normal to want to avoid pain. However, when it comes to emotional pain, experiential avoidance often makes things worse. Avoidance can lead to feelings of loneliness, guilt, or secondary problems like having to deal with that hangover you created or the work you missed while you were avoiding life. The first step out of feeling terrible is to stop trying to avoid feeling terrible. Open to the present moment with willingness and friendliness, and take action toward what you care about, no matter how small.
  2. Don’t fear compassion. Compassion flows three ways—taking in compassion, giving compassion, and receiving compassion. Portuguese researcher Dr. Marcela Matos and colleagues looked at a sample of over 4,000 people across 21 countries during COVID and found that fears of compassion predicted greater anxiety and depression and lower feelings of social safeness. Many of us fear that if we are kind to ourselves, we will “lose our edge.” Some of us fear that if we allow ourselves to feel the pain of others, we will be overwhelmed by it. Compassion doesn’t mean you give up or become engulfed in pain or pity. Compassion involves turning toward suffering, offering a caring heart, and making moves to alleviate it. How can you practice compassion for yourself and others today?
  3. Take a walk in nature. Movement in nature can help shift your attention away from self-referential thought (thinking about yourself and your problems) and toward something bigger than you. A study conducted at Harvard Medical School showed that just running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour a day has been shown to reduce the risk of depression. Walking in nature may be especially beneficial for people who ruminate: In a study conducted at Stanford University, participants who were assigned to walk in green space around the campus had lower levels of rumination and lower brain activity in the sgPFC (a brain area associated with behavioral withdrawal) compared to participants who walked in urban spaces. If you are feeling stuck in your head or overfocused on yourself, try a walk in green space, and shift your attention to nature sounds, smells, and sights.
  4. Eat and sleep for your mood. Biological factors like inflammation, your gut microbiome, and sleep play an integral role in your mental health. There also may be a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mood. If you’re feeling off, make a commitment to eat well and get back on track with sleep. Look into the Mind Diet to learn more about the link between the Mediterranean diet and mental health, incorporate some fermented foods like sauerkraut to diversify your microbiome, and try some of these tips from my conversation with Dr. Ellen Vora to improve your sleep.

We all feel off sometimes, and some days, we have good reason to feel bad. Instead of trying to get rid of the bad feeling, get better at feeling it. Tend to your whole person: bio-psycho-social and spiritual.

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