Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Being miserable can be one of those things that can linger as we get older and when we hit our midlife. The happiness curve research conducted by Dartmouth professor David Blanchflower on hundreds of thousands of people in 132 countries shows that people around the world experience an inverted, U-shaped "happiness curve", however this study has been criticised there is some truth to it (full article here). As we get older our happiness and contentment with life can decrease and this depends on many factors such as job and relationship satisfaction. We get into a routine, live the same way, behave the same way and do the same things in life expecting a different result. When we have created a life, we thought would make us happy, we feel as though we have no choice but to continue living the same way because we have no idea what else we could do or we feel a sense of responsibility to take care of everyone else before taking care of ourselves.
When we stay in a job, relationship or environment that makes us miserable and hope that something will change we can become stuck in our misery. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." – Albert Einstein.
Why do we find it so hard to change our situation even when our current environment makes us miserable? Fear Have you ever tried to do something scary and you psych yourself out, for example heights and extreme sports can do this to us? So, you have all the resources, your physically fit, there’s an experienced guide there to support you, there are safety ropes in place, but you still can’t climb to the top because you’re terrified of heights and physiologically your entire body has adrenaline surging through it and is in a heightened stress state. Why is that? It’s because you have a strong belief that immobilisers you in the freeze response, this is a instinctive response that happens automatically and mentally. How our parents raised us to deal with emotional stressors in our lives has an impact on our ability to handle stress as adults. If our parents were unable to help regulate our emotions because they were constantly stressed and did not have the ability to relegate their own emotions, we will find this challenging as adults and will need to consciously learn how to become more emotionally resilient in stressful situations. Fear Responses There are four fear responses, fight, flight, freeze (first described by Walter Bradford Cannon) and newly discovered fawn response (a term coined by therapist Pete Walker). When we are activated or triggered we have a physiological response for example we start to shake; sweat, our heart rate increases, and your thoughts turn into worry and try to make sense of the feeling we have through negative thinking patterns. How does the fear response relate to being miserable? Our environment can influence our state where we can feel miserable, and our past experiencers influence our ability to make changes in our life to improve our situation. If you are in an environment that is stressful and triggers anxiety, feeling depressed and resentment, your body is experiencing a fear-based response similar to the heights example but not as intense. It’s more subtle and you can notice it if you stop and check in with yourself. One signal to know that your in a fear based thinking pattern is when you worry and have negative thoughts.
"If you're not creating a new life by creating new thoughts that produce feelings and new behavior, you are living in the past. Our thoughts can make us sick. Then can our thoughts make us well? Of course they can." - Dr. Joe Dispenza
Beliefs are what keep us feeling stuck. The fear of our situation being even more uncomfortable if we change it, the fear we project into our future because there’s no certainty. I was working with a client who was feeling depressed and anxious. They could not find joy in life their life. As we were talking it became clear that their job environment was triggering a fear response. That response is mixed going from fight such as blaming the organisation and others for the way they feel and freeze where they feel depressed, to flight where they would feel anxious before and during work. They wanted to make a change in their life and felt like it was impossible to do this due to their responsibilities, being the sole provider for their 3 children and wife. Here are some beliefs this client expressed: I have no choice… I have responsibilities and bills to pay I can’t afford to change I don’t know what I want to do I don’t feel emotionally strong enough I have no strengths or skills in anything else I wouldn’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t do this When we’re in a fear response we worry, we feel vulnerable. This is to keep us safe for when there is real danger. Often our body goes into a fear response because it perceives danger when a situation may not necessary be dangerous. We sense danger instinctively and traumatic or negative experiences heighten this response in the body. It can be as subtle as feeling irritated, worried or uncomfortable and as extreme as having flashbacks and feeling as though you’re back in the experience that is traumatising. So, this is why change can be more difficult for some people and not others. Our sense of safety and security needs to be seen for us to make the changers we need to make so we can no longer feel miserable. How can you overcome feeling miserable?
Notice when you’re in the fear response and the types of thoughts you’re thinking during this time.
Notice what is happening in your body when you’re in a fear response
Notice when you feel joy even if it’s for just a moment. What are you doing? Who is there with you? where are you? How are your thoughts different during this time?
Journal daily and notice the situations in your life that trigger a fear response. Such as, what are you doing when you feel depressed, anxious, sad, numb, resentful, or angry? What is a common problem in your life? where are you who and is there with you?
Invest in your personal development as much as you would invest in buying a home or car
Ask for help and support from someone outside of the situation such as a therapist
Is fear getting in the way of your health, growth and feeling content with your life? Think about a situation that upset you or irritated you. What is your response in the stressful situation? Do you want to leave (flight), do you zone out or numb out (freeze)? Do you complain or argue back (fight)? Do you try to please the people around you in an attempt to control the way people respond to you (fawn)? The way we think and feel about situations plays a huge part in whether we feel happy or miserable. The more aware we become in these moments the more control we have over how we respond and this feels empowering.
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