Perspective Triggers

There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach, my thinking becomes cloudy, my mood slumps, my energy levels deplete.

For some reason or no reason I’m sad, I’m forlorn, I’m unable to focus or lift my spirits. Everything seems to suck, and whether I can connect this feeling to something that happened or not, it doesn’t improve my disposition. Caused or cause-less, this is how I feel.

When I notice I’m experiencing such a slump, I stop what I’m doing, close my eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths, and refocus on the big picture.

I remind myself that, although in this moment I feel horrible, things overall are good. I get to do work I care about and enjoy, I have wonderful people in my life—if things suck momentarily, it’s just a transient thing.

Often that works, and although I’m not back to normal in the sense of feeling 100% myself, fully upbeat and energized, at the very least I cease to feel absolutely awful and can climb the rest of the way out of my sadness pit from there.

Sometimes a little more perspective is warranted, though, and I refocus up another level, thinking about the scope of the world, the scope of history, and how I’m fortunate to live in a time of technological miracles, of immense imperfection but also immense striving and social gains—the consequences of actions taken by people over the course of history, improving things little by little so that I’m able to imagine things getting yet better, but also able to enjoy the fruits of what they’ve accomplished, thus far.

I also take a moment to ask myself when I last ate, if I’ve been drinking enough water throughout the day, and whether my sleep (or lack thereof) might be a factor in this particular mood.

The way we feel is the result of a confluence of chemicals, electrical impulses, and neurological responses to all kinds of variables, conscious and unconscious. By pinpointing possible influences, it may be possible to remedy things at a physical, psychological, or very practical (drink more water! get more sleep! maybe work out a little!) level.

(That said, everyone’s different in this regard, and some people have much higher, steeper hills to climb than others, and in many cases it’s unlikely that perspective alone will serve as a reliable solution. If you’re suffering from depression or something akin to depression, don’t feel like it’s something you have to deal with on your own—consider getting external assistance of some kind).

If none of that helps, at least not to the point where I’m capable of doing anything more than navel-gazing and thinking sad thoughts, I’ll go a step further and think about how tiny a dot I am in the grand scheme of things—less than a dot, actually: a particle of a mote of dust on a speck of microscopic whatever floating in the vast emptiness of maybe infinite reality.

That sense of personal diminutiveness reminds me that whatever I’m worried about, no matter how vital it might seem in the moment at my human scale, it’s actually less than nothing in the grand scheme of things.

This is reassuring, I find, because it decreases the implied stakes and increases my sense of freedom to make mistakes and fail, and to then get back up. To try again. To maybe do better next time, or the time after that.

I’ve worked hard to make this perspective-reassessment process into a habit, triggered by that sense of sadness or helplessness or hopelessness, because it consistently helps take the edge off, and it’s a difficult perspective to muster if I don’t activate it thoughtlessly, reflexively, and without first questioning whether I should make the effort.

If I allow myself to pause and wonder if it will work, I generally don’t do it: I’m wallowing in self-loathing and succumbing to the energy-drain that entails, remember. So a hair trigger is almost always warranted.

But even lacking that trigger, even when I’m not drowning in doubt and a feeling of meaninglessness, I find that periodic reminders of this kind—assessing the scope and scale of where I am, the world in which I find myself, the universe in which that world sits, the finitude of my existence—is valuable unto itself.

Periodically peering through this particular lens helps me make conscious choices based on more than my everyday, ultra-focused, human-scale experience.

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