You can feel up and down at the same time, the goal is to have more ups

If you never felt down you would be completely out of touch with reality

In the mornings I like to use what are called ‘sentence stems’ to nudge my mood upwards. File photograph: iStock

In the mornings I like to use what are called ‘sentence stems’ to nudge my mood upwards. File photograph: iStock

 

Passing a building site the other morning I noticed that someone had drawn a vertical arrow on a hoarding with a tip at each end. The word “up” was written at the top of the arrow and the word “down” at the bottom.

Looking up I could see only the sky and looking down only the ground.

Could it be art, I wondered?

A man walking past, who had spotted me staring at the arrow, declared in a deep, fatalistic tone of voice: “That’s what it’s all about.”

By “it”, I presumed, he meant life. As he walked away, I noticed he was wearing a Manchester United woolly hat. More downs than ups, then.

By coincidence, I often think in those terms myself. In the mornings I like to use what are called “sentence stems” to nudge my mood upwards or to keep it there.

A sentence stem might be: “If I want to stay ‘up’ during the day I need to . . .”

Here you list what would help during the day that is feasible. For me, the list begins with doing what’s on my to-do list that I must address today, and that I’ve put off and off – tackling the day’s most-postponed task releases energy and makes me feel lighter.

Another sentence stem might be: “If I want such and such a relationship to go well I need to . . .” This probably means talking to someone, doing something you’ve promised to do or even explaining why you can’t do something you committed to.

You can make up your own sentence stems. The technique is used by some cognitive behavioural therapists.

I find sentence stems work best for me if I write them. I also find that I am most likely to use them if I have been feeling down. If I am already feeling up, I don’t feel the need for them.

Up and down

The preoccupation with feeling “up” seems always to have been with us. If you went back to the time of Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics you would find many quotes to help you to be up or at least not to be down. For instance, Aurelius recommended reminding yourself that during your day you are going to meet a succession of chancers, crooks and rogues, and not to get upset over it. It’s life. Works for me.

It’s useful, though, to consider that you can be up and down at the same time. Going for a walk you might consider some positive aspects of your day or life and this can bring about a sense of lightness. But within this lightness could be a cloud, probably in your stomach, made up of gloom about a situation or maybe an unidentified issue. Here, both up and down are happening at the same time. People dealing with grief or loss or who are in a generally anxiety-provoking situation – such as having their job under threat – might be familiar with this.

You could say that if you felt up all the time you would have cracked one of the big challenges of life; you would also be completely out of touch with reality and of no use at all to people who needed empathy or a shoulder to cry on.

Better, I think, to aim more modestly to have more ups than downs and even to increase the proportion of ups you have. You could start with those sentence stems either in writing or in your head.

Come to think of it, I don’t really know if the man in the hat meant what I thought he meant. Still, it’s always useful to meet a philosopher on your morning walk.

Whoever wrote that arrow on the hoarding used chalk which was subsequently washed away, I presume, by one of those Mediterranean-style downpours we’ve been getting. Or perhaps it was power-hosed away by a chap in a hard hat on the instructions of someone who didn’t appreciate what was described, by one to whom I said I was writing this article, as “that feel-good stuff”.

Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com)

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