Feeling Crappy? Relax Your Ego

We all feel crappy sometimes. There are times we might even say we’re feeling depressed.

60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace defined depression this way: “Sunshine means nothing to you. The seasons, friends, or good food mean nothing. All you do is focus on yourself and how badly you feel.”

My own experience and the lessons I’ve learned from others who have gone through depressing times seems to suggest that this intense inward focus doesn’t seem to help much. I’m going to suggest 9 steps you can take to defeat depression, but first allow me to share some philosophy with you.

I read about this theory and it seems to make a lot of sense. It goes like this…….

There are essentially two impulses in the universe: contraction and relaxation. Everything, every animate and inanimate thing, is, literally, becoming more or less dense at any given moment. The ultimate denseness is a black hole, which sucks in light but gives out none.

As psychological creatures, our consciousness is always in flux between the contraction and the dissolution of the ego. Our egocentric impulses are the source of much of the work we do and the art we create, but they are also the source of tension, sickness, and despair. Our dissolution impulses are the source of our loving relationships. They relax us and prepare us to accept the ultimate dissolution of the ego, which is death.

Contraction gives us the egoistic pleasure of being loved and being acknowledged and appreciated. Relaxation gives us the exocentric pleasure of doing the loving, in our work and in our lives.

Both contraction and relaxation can deliver pleasure, but the pleasure of contraction (the pleasure of the ego) is temporary, whereas the pleasure of relaxation is the enduring pleasure of the soul.

It feels good to have people pay attention to you. But even at its most intense (imagine being a movie star), the pleasure dissipates almost as soon as the attention shifts away. And when the pleasure of the ego leaves, a vacuum of sadness takes its place.

It’s like taking drugs. The effect is temporary. It’s addictive. It leaves you wanting more. And each time you get more, it is not enough. Eventually, it kills you.

“Enough of all this deep thinking,” you say. “What does this have to do with me?”

Just this: The next time you are feeling depressed, sad or angry, recognize that there is a way to become happy again: relax your ego.

Here’s how:

1. Accept the fact that it is perfectly normal to feel crummy sometimes.

Despite your core strengths and your many accomplishments, you will occasionally find yourself down in the dumps. It’s natural for people to feel that way.

2. If you are upset because of something you did to yourself, forgive yourself.

It’s okay. What matters is what you do next, not what you just did.

When I recognize that my mood is being affected by my own prior actions, I say to myself, “It’s okay that I’m angry. But I don’t have to be. I can get through today. And I can have better discipline or make wiser choices tomorrow.” That’s what I tell myself, and it helps me feel better instantly.

3. If you are upset because of something someone else did to you, take a chill pill.

Count to 10. Recognize that you can’t control the behavior of other people. The only thing you can control is your response to their behavior. Nobody can take that away from you.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” said Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Getting upset when your family, friends, or colleagues made a mistake doesn’t do you any good. And it will make you unproductive, unhappy, and unpleasant to be around. Try learning to turn the other cheek. The moment you can stop resenting others for their shortcomings, you’ll likely feel better about yourself.

It’s amazing how well this works.

4. Don’t allow unrealistic expectations to interfere with your relationships.

Accepting people for who they are does not mean allowing them to make your life miserable. On the contrary, it means being realistic, realizing that 90 percent of the time a person’s fundamental characteristics cannot be changed. If you find a certain behavior unacceptable, you change the way you deal with it (something you can do) instead of trying to change the person (which you can’t do).

5. If you are upset because of circumstances beyond your control, take a double dose of chill pill.

You can deal with your troubles more effectively if you define them as “problems” (which can be solved) or “predicaments” (which can be coped with).

6. If you are unhappy at work, find a way to care about what you’re doing.

As Albert Camus said, “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” You won’t experience happiness if you work at a job you hate or if you do poor work on a project you like. But if you learn to care about the work you do, you will find that your energy will improve and you will start to enjoy it.

7. Engage in some sport or challenging exercise – something that is so demanding you can’t do it while thinking.

Walking, stretching, and yoga are great forms of exercise. If you do them with a tranquil mind, they will make you healthy and happy. But if you do them when you are sad and feeling sorry for yourself, they will give you no relief. It’s more likely you will forget about the exercise and focus on your negative thoughts. That will make things worse. Try an exercise that demands your attention. For me, that’s golf.

8. Recognize that the health of your body has a great deal to do with your mood.

If you are feeling bad much of the time, you probably need to make a few lifestyle changes. For example:

  • Eat healthy. Eating too many carbohydrates will make you crazy, cranky, and tired. To have consistent energy all day, use food like fuel. Try eating six smallish meals a day, avoiding junk food and favoring healthy fats, veggies, fruit, and plenty of protein.
  • Sleep and rest adequately. For me, adequate sleep is a major contributor to feeling good. Studies show that people who get seven good hours of sleep a night live longer, suffer from fewer illnesses, and achieve more because they have more energy. If you get tired during the day, take a short nap.

9. Take positive steps to focus “outward” instead of “inward” – to pay less attention to yourself and more attention to others.

A few examples:

  • Make your friends happy. Smile when you see them. Listen to their stories. Become the person they turn to when the chips are down.
  • Be a reliable and steady resource for your work colleagues. Help them achieve their goals, not because you want them to reciprocate in some way but simply because you care about them and want them to succeed.
  • Do something for someone you don’t know: a stranger you meet, a foster child, or a sick or poor person who can benefit from your help.

Make this outward focus a natural part of your daily life. Do it purposefully and deliberately until it becomes second nature. You will know when that happens because you’ll be feeling happy most of the time, and when you become sad or angry, you’ll be able to get over it quickly and easily.