“Slump.” It’s not a clinical term, but who wants to read an article about “anhedonia“?
One of the most common topics of therapy is lack of motivation. Sometimes a “slump” is born from the paralyzing anxiety of agoraphobia (think Joan counting her steps outside her house in “Shameless”); Sometimes it grows from the shackling anhedonia of depression (think when Tony Soprano couldn’t get out of bed). And sometimes it is a result of confusion and overwhelm (both planning-organizational deficits/ADHD-ish stuff as well as catastrophic what-if’s/perfectionism/self-doubt/other anxiety). In any case, the “slump” must be aggressively attacked as both a life-zapping symptom AND a cause of exacerbated mental health symptoms.
If you’re sick of being told “happiness is a choice,” and “it’s mind over matter,” and “think happy thoughts,” because YOU JUST GAVE YOURSELF A GOdDAMN PEP-TALK ABOUT HOW FUN THE GROCERY STORE IS, AND IT DIDNT FUCKING CHANGE YOUR REBELLIOUS NEUROLOGY, then this is the post for you.
Here are three weird things you can do when you’re completely stuck in a paralyzing “slump”:
1) Checklists with TINY tasks are completely underrated. If you are psychologically glued to the couch/bed, write down three simple and small things (take a shower? eat a yogurt? walk to the mailbox?). Do each thing, and nothing more (I’d add “mindfully observe and release your shoulds and judgments,” but that complicates things, and the goal here is just one small/SIMPLE step at a time to break the cycle of stagnancy.)
Then CHECK each item off with the beaming pride of a person who just did something HARD. Because you DID. For bonus points, add an IRL social interaction to the checklist. And yes, texting and calling totally counts a long as you have an actual exchange with an actual person.
2) Drink a whole glass of water while sitting outside at the beginning of the day. No, for real. There are many hidden benefits to this activity: Absorbing sunlight and vitamin D, actually having to walk outside, perhaps having to dress one’s self for the occasion if one has neighbors, hydrating, re-setting one’s circadian rhythm to get the hint that it’s wake-time, quiet reflection/presence for at least as long as it takes to drink a glass of water… This weird but simple behavior is a good go-to starting point for getting unstuck. If you can do this and you’re feeling extra ambitious and fearless, add a walk around the block to the ritual.
3) Talk to yourself. Outloud. Again, for real. OUTLOUD, NOT just in your head. Tell yourself the three most important things you want to accomplish. (Or even just the immediate request to plant your feet on the ground and stand up? Either way.) Then TELL your mind to shut up and stop thinking how it’s all going to be terrible and it’s all just too much. TELL yourself that you notice those tricky thoughts and you’re not listening to them; In fact, you’re going to get out of bed despite them. Or, if talking to your own brain feels too much like a battle and too easily reminds you of your struggles, simply tell yourself a story about anything, outloud and using actual words, while you go through the motions of putting one foot in front of the other.
There are a couple reasons why talking OUTLOUD works. First, talking with actual words, instead of just “feeling/thinking” automatic thoughts, more easily clarifies your actual thoughts, plan, and priorities. It also requires EFFORT, and exerting effort alone can do wonders to break a depressive slump.
Also, producing actual words uses some of the same parts of the brain as thinking actual words. And “slumped”people’s brains are stuck in an all consuming “loop” of repeated split-second negativity they they believe to be true (This rumination characterizes depression and anxiety. Resolving it is not as easy as “thinking positively,” because the depressed/anxious brain is stuck in a powerful loop.) One way to attack depression and anxiety (besides methodically challenging the loop in cognitive-behavioral therapy or catching this loop with mindfulness training) is to minimize the brain’s activation of those negative thoughts by flooding those parts of your brain with something else. (Kinda like the mechanisms of transcendental meditation or EMDR for “blocking out” trauma associations ) So, actually TALK outloud to yourself for as long as it takes for you to begin to put one foot in front of the other and leave the bed.
Of course, all of this is better if you have a purpose, says the therapist who remembers the research about doing stuff for others and depression, and also would like to remind everyone that therapy can help discover a purpose or reason for leaving the slump.