Can feeling grumpy be good for you?

Moods1 I receive a mischievous communication from my very good friend Mark McGuinness who wants me to comment on a research article he has looked into, written by some ‘Australian psychologists’, which claims that being in a ‘bad mood’ can be ‘good’ for you.

Now, some of my best experiences in life have been prompted by my ‘bad’ moods. With the aid of those I have got rid of countless annoying relationships, irritating jobs and pointless activities. So my first thought was that – yet again – a bunch of overpaid academics were being subsidised to announce discoveries most of us learned in primary school. And that Mark had forgotten our many rambling midnight conversations about emotions and the meaning of life.

Yet I realised immediately that these gorgeous, Bondi-beach seeking academics have made yet another category mistake: While bad moods can, indeed, be ‘good’, those are not the same as ‘bad emotions’.

To remind you: there is no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are an expression of Bodymind
intelligence. A mood is different. It is a  Headmind attitude. It expresses a relationship between our attitudes and the world as we find it. You can read more about moods here.

A grumpy mood, for me, is a relationship based on suspicion. It means that I no longer trust that experiences, situations, people, or the Lord God himself are doing me any favours. And that, in turn, is a cue that I need to revise my trusting attitude towards these entities. I need to retreat, stand-off, complain, and have a moan. I may even need to disengage – permanently.

So yes – a grumpy mood can be good for you if it helps you get rid of your intellectual garbage.

The funny thing is that I actually find grumpy moods enjoyable. Entraining my suspicion and pessimism on the planet gives me a god-like sense of detachment and playfulness. It also gives me a playground for wit.

Rather like one of my favourite philosophers – Arthur Schopenhauer – who once wrote:

“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.”

Come to think of it, Schopenhauer deserves an article all to himself, so I will write that next.

10 best ways to stay out of stress

  • Follow your passion

Your passion could be a skill that you practice, something creative, a new way of living, a dream you are pursuing, or something new you are learning. If it helps you actualize who you really are then spending time on this regularly is going to keep the stress levels down.

  • Practice awareness

It doesn’t matter whether you follow tai chi, yoga, meditation, qui gong, breathing work or anything else. So long as it keeps you away from Headmind chatter, grounds you in your body and that you keep on practicing awareness for the here and now.

  • Exercise regularly

In my opinion this is the easiest and yet most under-rated stress-buster there is. Even a 15 minute run every day is going to get those endorphin levels up and keep you energised through the day

  • Learn to say ‘No’

It constantly amazes me how many people have never learned to use the magic word. It doesn’t matter if you say it nicely, rudely, slowly or fast. Just say it! And the more you say it, the easier it gets.

  • Take time out for yourself

My grandfather (who died aged 94) would sit in a darkened room every evening for twenty minutes. It worked for him….

  • Do 75% of what you ‘have’ to do today and leave the rest

This one is based on a bit of research. Which showed that a lot of busy, stressed people don’t make effective use of their time because they waste it in worrying about all the things they haven’t done yet. Or they rush the job and have to do it all over again. Get the drift?

  • Surround yourself with people who care about you

That means people who don’t place extra demands on you and who give out rather than take. If you don’t know anyone that fits that profile then get a dog.

  • Cut down on routine

More research shows that too much routine can be as stressful as trying to do too much. If routine is unavoidable then balance it out by adding in more variety before and after.

  • Zone out the worries

Listening to negative self-talk every day will eventually drive you crazy. Practicing an awareness discipline that tunes it out is good to do. Keeping busy on activities that give you no time to listen to it is good too. Learn, also to see the worries as fantasies rather than predictions.

  • Be 20% more honest with people than you were before

Putting on appearances and lying about what is going on is draining. It’s also a powerful, and very subtle, stress-builder. Get rid of the baggage by regularly telling the people around you the way things really are from time to time.

Stress out

The first thing to do about stress is get rid of the word ‘stress’.
Because the moment you use that word you are going to develop the
illusion that an unfair, malign world is overloading you with problems that are driving you crazy. Thinking about your problem in this way will usually create passivity, hopelessness, procrastination and cynicism. It will also make you ill.

When Dr Hans Selye (the uninentional founder of the Stress Industry) first came up with the word ‘Stress’, he wasn’t referring to the cause but the illness. Stress, for Selye, meant the exhausted, aching, virus-ridden, sleepless, anxious, depressed state his patients had ended up in. He didn’t say they had been worn out by problems. Instead, he argued that they had failed to adapt to problems. And then they got worn out.

I was looking at a very good blog by Dr Ellen Weber on this very subject here. For Ellen linguistic intelligence (i.e. using words carefully) opens up options, choices and decisions. But linguistic dumbness leads straight to powerlessness.

For example, contrast this statement:

‘Things are so bad at work right now that I am heading for a breakdown’.

with this one:

I have way too much work to do and I’m going to need all the support I can get with that.

The first statement refers to ‘bad’ forces that cause nervous breakdowns. The second describes the challenge and the resources required to deal with it. Assuming linguistic dumbness isn’t holding things up the person will soon be talking to people who can help.

Here are some other statements you could try changing if you ever catch yourself using them. Notice that the first in each pair is passive, vague, overgeneralized, or unreal. While the second is active, specific and realistic.

‘My daughter is stressing me out so much I could kill her!’

try

‘My daughter is  staying out way too late. If she doesn’t start getting home on time I will take her key away.

‘My so-called ‘best friend’ is a real user. I can’t cope with it any more’

try

‘My best friend asks for way too much. I’d better learn to start saying ‘No’

‘My relationship is the pits. I feel like I want to go live in a nunnery.’

try

‘Things aren’t working out in this relationship. Time we both talked about what we really want from this.’

Linguistic intelligence leads to adaptation. For Hans Selye, adaptation is the key so finding the right words to describe what is going on will lead you to make choices that keep you out of stress. If you read this article too late and you are already stressed, then take Dr Ellen Weber’s advice and focus on the words that describe the way things might be instead of the way your Headmind imagines they are.

Next Up: My top ten best adaptive ways to avoid stress

Stress won’t kill you but hopelessness can

Ever since Hans Selye came up with the idea of stress in the 1950s people have misunderstood what he meant by it. They think stress is something that happens to you. Well – no – shit happens and then some people get stressed and some don’t. Selye’s point was that people get ill because they have been unable to adapt to challenges. The emotional overload that comes with that eventually leads to a break down in body function.

You can put two people through the same circumstances – unemployment, break up, financial disaster, or fleas on their dog – and one person will  react beautifully and the other will get ill.

What that means is that the ‘stressed’ person will get stuck in Headmind, will overload with fear, frustration and grief, and the General Adaptation Syndrome will kick in – the stress response. This happens as Bodymind tries to keep things going and uses symptom-signals to kick start the person into action. While no action is taken we get the Resistance stage, then the Alarm stage (first appearance of stress symptoms) and then the Stalemate stage (symptoms become chronic).

One thing Selye got wrong was that he thought there were only two responses a person could make: fight or fly.  But those two are often dumb responses. There is no point in thumping the boss if she is exploiting you – that just makes it harder to get another job. Nor is there any point in running away from her – that just encourages her to abuse you some more.

The emotional subtlety of Bodymind cues you up for plenty of smart moves if you are aware enough to be able to decode the feelings that go with them. For example, you could use assertive language, find some allies, clarify what exactly is it she wants, or start looking for another job.

Now the reason some people get stuck is that they have no memory banks that tell them what to do about problems. If you have never learned how to say ‘no’ then you are not going to be able to defend yourself against unreasonable demands – so you have to start to practice doing just that. If your partner leaves you and that has never happened to you before then you are going to have to get advice, help and support from others.

Now this is where Headmind can create a road-block. When it focuses on problems  rather than solutions, past failures instead of future prospects, and when it assumes that learning something new or asking for a help represents ‘failure’, then you have a problem. You won’t be able to adapt to the challenges, problems will mount up, the emotional overload will become acute, and you will get ‘stressed’.

When Headmind gets stuck in hopelessness then you will just give up. The secret is to reverse that by focusing on the possible, not the impossible.

Auschwitz
Let me conclude with a story about one of the most ‘stressful’ experiences a human being can go through – as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Now many people would think that undergoing starvation and torture in one of the death camps would be one stressful experience people could not survive. But Victor Frankl – who spent three years in one – found that it was not entirely so. Those who had not been gassed were put to slave labor and many died. Yet he observed one simple fact – people were more likely to survive if they had something to live for – whether that was a spiritual faith, another human being, or a vision of the future. On one morning when he had collapsed in the freezing cold and was near to death he imagined being applauded by an audience after talking about his experiences and his discoveries about the power of faith. That enabled him to get up and try to carry on. Over twenty years later Frankl was talking at a conference about this experience and the entire audience got to their feet to applaud him, many with tears in their eyes.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves”

Victor Frankl 1905-1997