Have you ever experienced the negative energy spiral?
You wake up late. In a rush to get out the door, you spill your tea on your shirt. You can’t find your car keys, and when you finally do get on your way you manage to hit every single red light. Maybe someone makes an unwelcome comment that strikes a nerve and gets under your skin, or plans that you have been looking forward to suddenly get canceled.
You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that it’s going to be one of those days, and from that moment on everything seems to go wrong. You go from feeling mildly agitated or disappointed to completely overwhelmed and enraged or depressed, and before you know it you’re burying yourself under your covers and questioning your entire existence.
I’ve definitely been there;
The Negative Spiral
To me, it feels like getting sucked into a whirlpool. Something happens or something is said that flips a switch — one thing, one thought, leads to another, and another, and before we know it we’re caught spinning around in this relentless emotional undertow that keeps pulling us — our energy, our thoughts and our feelings — deeper and deeper down.
How Negative Energy Creates a Downward Spiral
Our actions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs all have energy, and energy moves. Not only does it move but it has weight, and density. Negative energy — our fears, anxieties, insecurities, resentments, anger, negative self talk, etc — is heavier and more dense than positive energy, like love and gratitude and joy.
The more negative energy we accumulate, the more weight and momentum and power we give to that downward spiral.
To be clear, it’s absolutely okay and perfectly normal to get irritated, or feel nervous or angry or sad or let down.
Negative Thoughts and Feelings
Negative thoughts and feelings are part of the human experience, and when we experience these feelings it is important to accept and honor them. When we try to suppress, ignore or invalidate our thoughts and feelings, we are suppressing, ignoring and invalidating our spirit, and that brings us out of alignment with our truth.
Negative thoughts and feelings give us perspective and awareness — awareness of ourselves, of the people around us, and that which we participate in. They alert us when something is off or wrong so that we can take action to correct what we are able to, helping us to make better decisions and motivating us to create positive change. They also keep us mentally and emotionally balanced and help us to appreciate the good more deeply and fully.
It is only when we allow ourselves to dwell in these feelings and start to get stuck in them that they can become problematic for us and lead to more serious things like anxiety, depression and even illness; When we are chronically stressed, our bodies are flooded with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase heart rate and blood pressure, affect immune system responses, and alter mood and motivation.
Sometimes when we catch ourselves falling into a negative spiral, all we need is a nap or a good night’s sleep to get back on track. But other times, that force can be a bit more difficult to shake and break away from.
First and foremost, taking time to explore and understand what your triggers are and where they come from is key in preventing or at least better managing a negative spiral. But there are a number of other things you can to to shift that energy when you feel it start to pull you down.
Of course doing these things won’t make the trigger or whatever feelings you have surrounding it “disappear,” but they will help you to stay centered and grounded so that you can see what is going on more clearly and rationally, and address it more effectively.
How to Shift Negative Energy
Stop and Breathe
Breath work — specifically deep breathing — increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing heart rate and lowing blood pressure, which induces a sense of calm. Try to take more time exhaling than you do inhaling — for example, inhale for two counts and exhale with four.
Tapping, sometimes referred to as “psychological acupuncture,” is a technique that combines practices in ancient Chinese medicine with modern day psychology to restore emotional balance by activating certain parts of the brain that control stress and stimulating a healthy flow of energy along Meridian points in the body. It’s very simple and safe to do, and only takes a few minutes. Click here to read more about Tapping and how to do it.
Simply moving your body — whether with vigorous exercise or gentle stretching — can break up heavy energy and stimulate stagnant energy. Moving your body can also reduce cortisol levels and increase endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood and promote feelings of pleasure and well being. Take a walk outside, do some Yoga or even just some jumping jacks, dance like no one is watching or head to the gym — whatever resonates most with you.
Have Some Lists Ready
Are there some songs that you can’t listen to without smiling? Make a playlist! I remember when I was going through a particularly difficult time, I started listening to a lot of Motown; I made a station on Pandora that I could turn on whenever I started to feel myself spiral, and it always worked to pull me out of it. (It’s actually still my go-to!) You don’t have to limit yourself to music either — create a queue on Netflix of your favorite stand up comedy or feel good movies, a YouTube playlist of funny animal videos, or even a list of TED talks or podcasts that inspire you and get your thoughts moving in a more positive and upward direction.
Spend Time in Nature
Nature is the purest and most fundamental expression of harmony. It is no surprise then, that being in nature would restore harmony within us where there is dissonance — grounding and centering the mind and spirit, balancing turbulent emotions, and bringing our bodies back to their natural equilibrium. I actually wrote an entire post about the benefits of spending time in nature, which you can read here.
Spend Time with Your Pets
If you’re a pet owner, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how comforting and uplifting it is just to be in the presence of your four legged friend and look into those unconditionally loving eyes — but did you know that even just petting your dog or cat (or rabbit or rat, etc) actually releases oxytocin which creates a surge of positive energy and reduces levels of cortisol? Take your pup with you for a walk or have some cuddles with your kitty!
Make a Gratitude List
Not only does practicing gratitude keep us mindful of all that we have to be thankful for and make us more compassionate and resilient, but studies have shown that conscious gratitude and expressions of appreciation can actually increase levels of dopamine in the brain as well, which again stimulates pleasure, helps to regulate mood and even boosts motivation.