How to avoid spiralling down into negativity

All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on the couch, eat chocolate, and watch Netflix… only as a way of sinking into despair and shrinking my comfort zone as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling my feelings.

How to avoid spiralling down into negativity
Photo by Dustin Scarpitti / Unsplash

After managing to pull myself out of a slump and back into my self-care habits and routines that genuinely make me happy from the inside out, I then hit a roadblock… I got some news that one of my friends had a potential health problem and from there, my mindset and my thoughts started spiralling down into negativity. My mind kept going to the worst-case scenario of losing this person, I couldn’t see them at the time and so I missed them, I felt weak for missing them (FYI - I am working through this self-critical misbelief), and then I felt annoyed at myself for being so self-critical, then I was annoyed that I was annoyed, and now I was spiralling all the way down with no way of stopping.

I was supposed to be continuing my 30-day yoga challege (I was on day 5) but all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on the couch, eat chocolate, and watch Netflix… and that is what I did, for the first few hours of the night. There is nothing wrong with Netflix and chocolate, but only if it fosters happiness and relaxation, not as a way of sinking into despair and shrinking your comfort zone as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling your feelings.


So I opened up my note taking app and started to journal about how I was feeling. It was an important step and it was how I recognised the spiral I was on (miss them, feel weak, feel annoyed for being self-critical, feel annoyed that I’m annoyed etc.) Journaling allowed me to express what I was feeling and notice repeating thoughts that were arising. I have been noting down any intrusive thoughts I have been having recently as a way of tapping into my subconscious and have found it be really eye-opening.

Although journaling definitely helped and got me part of the way, I still wasn't ready to get off the couch. So I then reached out to two of my close friends. Talking with friends is different to journaling as it requires you to explain the situation in a different way than what you would in your own journal, and you also recieve advice and a new perspective from someone outside of yourself.

Friend Number One’s Advice

Through talking with one friend, I realised that I was wanting to sink into the bad feelings. I realised that part of my subconscious knew that I wasn’t getting the validation and comfort that I would normally get if I could see the person and so I was wanting to sink into negativity and have them know I was feeling bad, as a way of seeking that validation/comfort.

This reminded me of what I had read about the pain body in the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The idea behind the pain body is that there is a part of us that harbours all of our unexpressed or unfelt pain and can sometimes take us over. This part actually wants to feel pain because it feeds off of pain. It is important to recognise when this part of your mind is being activated. When you feel the pull of negativity and despair. For me, it was the part of my mind saying "I don’t want to do yoga, I just want to curl up in a ball, I just want to do nothing and watch Netflix, I am too miserable to do anything".

An important thing to note is that this isn’t about avoiding feeling your feelings. You are allowed to feel sadness, you are allowed to feel despair, and you are allowed to feel pain. What I want to highlight here is that there is part of your mind that wants you to continue feeling this pain forever and there is part of your mind that wants to see you through to the other side of the pain. This is a reminder to recognise which part of the mind you are going to put in the driver's seat. Try not to identify with the pain or become the pain, and instead see it as something you are feeling but not what you are (I feel sad, rather than, I am sad).

Friend Number Two’s Advice

My other friend had such left-of-field advice that I would never have thought of, but was precisely what I needed in order to move through this situation:

If you have told the person that you care about them and that you are worried for them, then there is really nothing more that you can do. It might be helpful instead, to focus on doing something good for your own health and well-being for the sake of the people that very much care about you.

My mind was blown at how genius this was because they were so right. I worried so much about the health of my friend that I was willing to neglect my own health and well-being just to worry about them. But there are people in my life who care about me in that same way and the right thing to do is to make sure I am taking care of myself first.

What is the benefit to anyone (apart from my pain body) if I curl up on the couch and throw away the progress I had made on my health and fitness habits? The reason I had reached out to this friend was because I was struggling to get off the couch to do the day's yoga session. Their advice very much got me straight off the couch and onto the yoga mat and I felt amazing after completing the session.

It's not like this was an immediate cure to my pain. There were still tears hitting the yoga mat and I couldn’t exactly breathe through my nose properly because of the uncontrollable crying every time I thought about losing this person, but I was so proud of myself for sticking to the yoga challenge and doing something for my health that makes me happier and healthier. This actually brings me to the last thing I want to note.

Tracking your cycle

If you are someone who menstruates, it is so important to learn about your cycle and to be tracking your symptoms throughout its phases. For everyone else, I am sure there is someone in your life who menstruates and it is also helpful for you to learn about the best way to support them.

For example, I know that there is a drop in estrogen after ovulation. Because estrogen naturally soothes the nervous system, as it drops you can become more sensitive and have a more reactive nervous-system response.

Now that I have been tracking my cycle, I know that between days 13-16 (depending on when I ovulate each cycle) I can be a lot more sensitive and can be triggered into uncontrollably crying. In the past I might have experienced this response and allowed my pain body to take over, spiralling me down into depression. Now that I can recognise why this extra sensitivity occurs, I am confident that it will pass and that I just need to be kind to myself and give myself time.

Try to track your psychological symptoms through your cycle and see if you can recognise any patterns. This can help to see your responses and reactions objectively and with curiosity as opposed to identifying with them and sinking into them.