How to Shift a Downward Spiral

By Cheryl Richardson


We all have those days when life hands us one frustration after another, as though we’ve been possessed by some kind of negative force that brings mayhem to even the simplest tasks. I’m sure you know what I mean. You’re running late for a meeting when your child’s school calls to say your little boy is sick. You grab your paperwork on the way out the door, trip and drop the files all over the parking lot, curse yourself and rush to the car (and of course, you can’t seem to get the key in the ignition fast enough). Finally, on your way to pick up your son, you get stopped for speeding and realize that you left your wallet back at the office. By this time it feels like you can’t do anything right.

Sometimes the tailspin begins with something small like an upsetting phone call or an e-mail that pushes your buttons. One moment everything seems fine, and the next, your mood quickly takes a turn for the worse.

Fortunately there are things you can do to change your mental direction. When you find yourself feeling out of sorts, try one of the following actions:

1. Clear the air.

Do something to shift your energy. Take a shower, change your clothes, or tidy up your office. If you’re at home, vacuum the living room, open a window, or change the sheets on your bed. As you take these simple actions, imagine yourself clearing energy blocks that might be fueling the negative cycle.

2. Get into motion.

One of the quickest ways to change your mental state is to move your body. For example, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, resist the temptation to think about what you need to do to get organized. When we’re overwhelmed we’re the least resourceful. Instead, take a brisk walk or go for a bike ride. When you do, you’ll find that exercise enhances your ability to focus making you better able to tackle your stressful situation later on with clarity and ease.

3. Shift your thinking.

Your thoughts influence your physical reality so you’ll want to shift your negative thinking as quickly as you can. Recall a favorite childhood song and start singing it out loud (Trust me, “Row, row, row your boat” or “Twinkle, twinkle little star” will make you laugh). Or, pick up an inspirational book, open to any page and start reading. For some people, taking a nap can do the trick. Sometimes it helps to shut down your mind for a while so you can wake feeling refreshed and clear-headed.

4. Put on some music.

There’s nothing that shifts my mood quicker than music. I still remember the days when I felt stuck or anxious while writing my first book, “Take Time for Your Life,” and I’d put on the “Mambo Kings” and dance around my office. The wild rhythms were like a secret prayer that always restored my creative power.

Finally, while there are many things you can do to shift a temporary bad mood, the truth is sometimes we need to honor the fact that a low mood may be an indication of something deeper. For example, if you’ve experienced a recent loss, you may need to have a good cry. Or, if you feel frustrated or angry about a negative pattern in an important relationship, you might need to rant and rave before engaging in a discussion with your loved one. Just like a wound that needs time to heal, sometimes our moods are an indication that our heart needs space, rest, or the loving support of someone who cares.


Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including, Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, The Unmistakable Touch of Grace, The Art of Extreme Self Care and her new book with Louise Hay called You Can Create an Exceptional Life. She was the first president of the International Coach Federation and holds one of their first Master Certified Coach credentials. Her work has been covered widely in the media including Good Morning America, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, New York Times, USA Today, Good Housekeeping, and O Magazine. She was the team leader for the Lifestyle Makeover Series on the Oprah Winfrey Show and she accompanied Ms. Winfrey on the “Live Your Best Life” nationwide tour.  Cheryl also served as the co-executive producer and host of “The Life Makeover Project with Cheryl Richardson” on the Oxygen Network and as the co-executive producer and host of two Public Television Specials – “Stand Up for Your Life” and “Create an Abundant Life.”