Brighter Outlooks for Pessimists

Pessimist

I’m sharing my experience with a ten minute daily habit that’s been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in pessimists. 

Predicting a Brighter Future

As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits, “Life feels reactive, but it is actually predictive. All day long, you are making your best guess of how to act given what you’ve just seen and what has worked for you in the past. You are endlessly predicting what will happen in the next moment. Our behavior is heavily dependent on these predictions. Put another way, our behavior is heavily dependent on how we interpret the events that happen to us, not necessarily the objective reality of the events themselves.”

It would be depressing if our well-being were dependent on what happens to us, which often is beyond our control. But, with practice, we can get better at controlling how we interpret what happens. This exercise from Greater Good in Action shows us how.

List Five Good Things

To start, list five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. These things can be as general as “being in good health” or as specific as “drinking a delicious cup of coffee this morning.” The purpose of this first step is to help you shift into a positive state of mind about your life in general.

Here are five things I find enjoyable, enriching, and or worthwhile about this exercise. 

1. I find that listing things that are going well helps me appreciate them again in the moment. 

“Enjoyed dropping in on the Day of the Dead art exhibit at Guardino Gallery.”

2. It primes me to look for and recognize the good in things I might otherwise take for granted.

“Washed new underwear and socks. Look forward to wearing them!”

3. It prompts me to pursue the good when opportunities arise. 

“Signed up for a Social Gathering Meetup on Saturday.”

4. What is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile in the moment is relative, and highly scalable.

“Not feeling well because of debilitating allergies. Scrambled eggs and English muffins was comforting breakfast.”

5. Through repetition and neuroplasticity, repeating these instructions changes the brain.

“I’m noticing that this exercise is helping me recognize and reframe frustrating situations more quickly.” 

Describe the Situation

Next, think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.

In a few sentences, briefly describe the situation in writing.

Focusing on the “most recent” event brings attention to fresh circumstances instead of rehashing old ones. Writing the event down translates it from feelings and negative self talk (which I seldom question) into words (which I constantly question). The ten minute time limit and brief description prevent me from going on a rant.

“I was frustrated that none of the friends who said they were interested in joining me for Paranormal Pub at the Kennedy School showed up. I kept looking at the door to see if they’d arrive. It made it difficult for me to relax.”

List Three Positives

Then, list three things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you missed your bus this morning. Three ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be:

1. Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.

2. You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.

3. Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.

Three things I like about these examples:

1. The running to catch the bus example encourages creative thinking and having a sense of humor about oneself.

“I can be autonomous in choosing something I want to do and let others choose for themselves.”

2. The recognition that there’ll be another bus acknowledges how we benefit from each others’ contributions.  

“It’s nice that Kennedy School puts these programs on as an opportunity for community.”

3. Taking the “ten year” view works with larger setbacks. It’s unlikely we’ll remember small ones even one week from now.     

There will be another opportunity to get together.”

Ten Minute Exercise

Finding Silver Linings

Ten minutes daily for three weeks

1. To start, list five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. These things can be as general as “being in good health” or as specific as “drinking a delicious cup of coffee this morning.” The purpose of this first step is to help you shift into a positive state of mind about your life in general.

2. Next, think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.

3. In a few sentences, briefly describe the situation in writing.

4. Then, list three things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you missed your bus this morning. Three ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be:

a. Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.

b. You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.

c. Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.

Bonus Track

Listen to the “How to Find Your Silver Linings” episode from the Science of Happiness podcast.

Bibliotherapy: a Novel Cure

If your depression seems resistant to the usual therapies, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin may have a novel cure for you: bibliotherapy.

Bibliotherapy
Reading as Therapy

Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm,” wrote Ceridwen Dovey in her New Yorker article “Can Reading Make You Happier?” 

“Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”

Enter the Bibliotherapist

Bibliotherapy, as offered through The School of Life, is not unlike any first session with a therapist.

Patients answer questions about their reading habits and “What is preoccupying you at the moment?”

The bibliotherapy session can take place in-person (in London) or via phone or skype.

Patients receive an instant prescription, and a full prescription follows within a couple of days.

Bibliotherapy by the Book

As therapies go, $140 is a bargain for many, many hours of reading “books that can put their finger on feelings that you may often have had but perhaps never understood so clearly before; books that open new perspectives and re-enchant the world for you.”

But, if circumstances prevent you from scheduling an appointment at this time, try Mss. Berthoud and Elderkin’s book, The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You.

Method of Treatment

Each human condition listed prescribes a novel title or several. There’s a brief description of common aspects of the condition, then a brief description of how the title relates,  and, finally, a summary of the novel’s active ingredients.     

“Sometimes it’s the story that charms; other times it’s the rhythm of the prose that works on the psyche, stilling or stimulating. Sometimes it’s an idea or an attitude suggested by a character in a similar quandary or jam. Either way, novels have the power to transport you to another existence and see the world from a different point of view.”

Ten Minute Exercise

Each book’s entry is concise enough to help you make an informed decision about whether the prescribed novel is right for you in ten minutes or less.

If you’d like to give bibliotherapy a test drive, I’ve quoted from the authors’ active ingredients for prescriptions related to common depression challenges. 

1. Choose a prescription for a current depression challenge. 

2. Pick prescription up at your local library or order it for online delivery. 

I’ve been in a funk all day.

SADNESS

The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by J.P. Donleavy

“If you are sad, immerse yourself in the warm, tender humor of this novel. To begin the long, slow uplift out of sadness that it effects.”

Also see: DISSATISFACTION; GRUMPINESS; MALAISE, TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

The things I usually do for fun just aren’t fun anymore.

DISENCHANTMENT

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier

“Meaulnes’s tragedy is that when he finds happiness he can’t embrace it. His sense of identity is too firmly bound up with yearning, and he needs the dream to remain a dream. But we can live differently.”

Also see: APATHY; POINTLESSNESS; STAGNATION, MENTAL

I can’t seem to stop losing weight.

APPETITE, LOSS OF 

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa 

“One cannot help but revel in the old patriarch’s appreciation for the sensual world. This is a novel that will help you rediscover your appetite—for food, for love, for the countryside, for Sicily with all its history and rampant beauty. And, most important, for life itself.”

I can’t seem to stop gaining weight.

OBESITY

“If you’re overweight because you’re unhappy, don’t padlock the fridge or put yourself on a rigid diet; the diet will fail and you’ll only make yourself unhappier still. Try to discover why you are seeking consolation—this book may give you some ideas (for starters, try: Stuck in a rut, or Career, being in the wrong). Once you’ve ironed out your relationship with yourself, your relationship with food will self-correct.”

STUCK IN A RUT

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

“Long before you’ve reached the travails of Winston Cheung, the paper’s barely competent, barely employed Cairo stringer, you will find yourself resolving to avoid their fate, unstick yourself, and get a move on.”

CAREER, BEING IN THE WRONG

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

“If you, too, could find a way of earning money that brought you spiritual as well as financial rewards—and allowed you to spend your days full of joy—what would it be?”

I can’t get to sleep. I’m constantly on edge.

INSOMNIA

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa 

“Nowhere in literature are the rhythms of prose more attuned to the lumbering gait of the sleepless hours. If your eyelids start to droop as you read, Soares won’t mind. You can pick up your conversation with him, wherever you left off, tomorrow night.”

ANXIETY

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 

“Of the fourteen causes of anxiety that we have identified, the first chapter…can be expected to ameliorate ten.”

Also see: AGORAPHOBIA; ANGST, EXISTENTIAL; IRRITABILITY; PANIC ATTACK; STRESS

I sleep all the time. I have no energy.

BED, THE INABILITY TO GET OUT OF

Bed by David Whitehouse. 

“Read it once, and then during subsequent attacks of the condition you will need only a brief dip to send you leaping out from under your duvet and thence into anything other than the small suburban bedroom and freak show of a life depicted within its pages.”

EXHAUSTION

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis 

“What we love most about this archetype of energy is his apparently limitless ability to throw himself wholeheartedly into the next project, frequently picking himself up off the floor (when by all rights he should sleep for a week) and dancing himself back to life.”

LETHARGY 

I’m a worthless piece of crap.

SELF-ESTEEM, LOW

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“If you subject yourself to constant criticism, undermining your belief in yourself and your own opinions, you’ll recognize a kindred spirit in the nameless narrator.”

See also: IDIOT, FEELING LIKE A; HOPE, LOSS OF; SHAME

I’m the meanest, most insensitive person who’s ever walked this planet.

MISANTHROPY

The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann

“If, like Gregory, you tend to stand apart from humanity, despising what you see, consider whether your hatred isn’t in fact hatred of yourself. Adopt, like Gregory, the expression Absolvo te—“I forgive you”—and turn it inward. Once you’ve learned to love yourself, you’ll find it easier to forgive others’ failings as well.”

Also see: ANGER; ANTISOCIAL, BEING: CYNICISM; EMPATHY, LACK OF; SCHADENFREUDE

My attention span is zero seconds, and I can’t decide what to eat for lunch, let alone what to do with my life.

INDECISION

Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel

“Dwight Wilmerding, the twenty-eight-year-old slacker hero…finds that he can’t ‘think of the future until [he’s] arrived there—a quality shared by many indecisive types.”

RISKS, NOT TAKING ENOUGH

The Sense of and Ending by Julian Barnes

“As he sits alone in his poky, aging bachelor lair, he occupies his idle hours with meaningless tasks: ‘I restrung my blind, descaled the kettle, mended the split in an old pair of jeans.’ Too late, he finds himself ‘in revolt against my own . . . what? Conventionality, lack of imagination, expectation of disappointment?’ At least, he comforts himself, ‘I still have my own teeth.'”

Also see: COMMITMENT, FEAR OF 

I’m always thinking about death.

DEATH, FEAR OF

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez 

“As the novel spans a full century, death occurs often and matter-of-factly and the characters accept their part in the natural order of things—an attitude that, in time, may rub off on you.”

DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

Recommendations follow Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief.

DENIAL

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

“Let this novel give you permission to exist for a while in your own cocoon of shock. Don’t worry if you can’t seem to persuade yourself to come out of it; your body will shed the cocoon when it’s ready.”

ANGER

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

“Your anger may feel endless—and so it should, for it is the transmutation of your love. But it can dissipate only if you let it out. This stage cannot be rushed.”

BARGAINING

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

“Oskar finds…an understanding of suffering and loss from the lives of his grandparents before he was born and, in a touch that will help to rewarm your heart, the desire for a grief-stricken but loving mother to help her son recover from his enormous loss.”

DEPRESSION

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

“Pain is an unavoidable part of life, and experiencing yours in the company of these characters will help you inhabit its darkest corners—perhaps the most vital part of the process of grieving, if you have any hope of moving on.”

ACCEPTANCE

Here is Where We Meet by John Berger

“So it is that, further along in our mourning process (though the process never ends), we come to see our lost loved ones as they really were, the good and the bad together.”

Depression Books That Read Your Mind

The Hilarious World of Depression podcast recently asked listeners to recommend books that get depression right. The results were far from depressing.

 

Depression Books
I Didn’t Know I was Depressed

When I picked up a copy of Peter D. Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, depression was the last thing on my mind. The reviews focused on the sexier ethical and societal implications of changing one’s true personality through drug use.

I was working in advertising and writing plays at the time. Writing a Pygmalion-like social satire about a designer drug that could create a six- or seven-figure income personality seemed worthwhile.

A peculiar side-effect of reading the book was my first exposure to depression screening questions. I had always chalked up my moods and variable stamina to artistic temperament and allergies. Here, I learned that my collection of lifelong symptoms went by another name: clinical depression.

Prozac wasn’t the answer. But before picking up a book about the history of depression and its treatment, it never occurred to me that there was a question.

How Reading These Books Can Help

The novels, memoirs, and non-fiction works below helped The Hilarious World of Depression listeners (affectionately known as THWoD-balls) practice self love and get serious about treatment. They also offered hope, helped readers process their childhood, teenage years, motherhood, understand what loved ones with depression were going through, and gave them language to describe their experience.

Ten Minute Exercise

The podcast episode “Jenny Lawson and Books That Get Depression Right” runs 35 minutes, and includes the names and locations of the listeners (which I won’t attempt here due to the hazards of phonetic misspelling). I categorized and condensed their recommendations for an episode summary that can be read in less than ten minutes. 

1. Use these thumbnail recommendations to find a book that speaks to your situation or that of a loved one.

2. Put a hold on that book at your local library or order a copy if you prefer to own books.

3. See if the book offers any helpful ideas or insights.

Spoiler Alert: I’m going with The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb 

Anxious Childhood

Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life by Amanda Stern and First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson

“Both of these books talk about the authors’ experiences as highly anxious children, and reading them helped me connect events from my childhood to my anxiety, rather than how it felt and how I viewed it for so many years, which is that I wasn’t brave enough, or strong enough, or capable enough, or whatever it is that I wasn’t ______ enough to go through them on my own.” 

Struggles of Young Adulthood

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

“One of the quotes from the book reads, ‘So this is my life, and I want you to know that I’m both happy and sad, and I’m still trying to figure out how that can be.'”

What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

“Fagan’s book can help us talk more realistically about the pressures that affect an eighteen-year-old’s mental health, and maybe help concerned adults spot problems sooner.”

Empty by K. M. Walton

“The book really portrays a young adult’s mind going through multiple things. Dell the main character has to deal with anxiety, depression, an abusive mother, bullying at school, suicidal thoughts, and her constant battle with her body weight and image.”

Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America by Elizabeth Wurtzel

“I read it first when I was in high school and my sister was experiencing depression, and I wanted to try to understand what she was going through… A few years later, I started experiencing depression, and I went back to Prozac Nation. And as I re-read it, I kept thinking, how does she know what’s going on in my mind?” 

Motherhood Blues

She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel

“I love that it addresses a huge misconception about depression, which is that depression equals a bad parent whose children grow up to ultimately resent them. This book shows a child who grows up to adore their parent and to write a book about their happy and perfect childhood, and how proud they are of their parent.”

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple

“As a new mom it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or like the life that you thought it was going to be isn’t exactly what you turned out to have, and that desperation to get it back can lead to some pretty severe depression.”

Case Histories and Science

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

“Most of this book is an academic study of suicide from cultural, neurological, and other perspectives, but what made it resonate with me was Jamison’s inclusion of personal narratives, including her own struggle with bipolar disorder and suicidality. On top of being an established academic, Jamison is a terrific writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading what she had to say.”

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb 

“The recommendations suggested in the book are nothing you haven’t heard before, but it actually tells you how they work, which will most likely inspire you to persevere.”

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon

“One passage sticks out to me that I think about a lot. He talks to a woman who says, ‘You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a gray veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness and that now you’re seeing truly.'” 

An Illustrated Favorite

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

“One of the first times when I felt so seen that I almost thought she had been living with me and had been documenting my life.”

Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two Online

Biblical

The Bible (The Psalms of David)

“God called David a man after his own heart, which helped me to no end when I thought about the struggles that David faced, and the fact that God still loved and cherished him, and saw him, and accepted him as flawed, and still the man that David was supposed to be. And perhaps that God in his wisdom and love and struggles looking at his own creation might go through the same.”

Finding the Right Words

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

“Something about this book nails exactly what it’s like to live with these unwelcome little guests of anxiety and depression in your mind day to day. If I wasn’t nodding in agreement along with the way that Matt explains things, I was grabbing a highlighter to mark them because he explained them in a way that I had never thought of.”

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

“Intended as a kind of antidote to modern life and the way that that can contribute to making us all unhappy.”

“Depression isn’t funny, but we are. Jenny reminds us that humor can be found in difficult times… Finding real talk like hers helps to empower self love and strengthens us to stand up for folks with brain illnesses… We find common ground in her writings, and that creates dialogue. Jenny Lawson brings the monsters out from under our beds.”

“You do a good job of rinsing your sorrow out with joy.”

Welcome to My Planet by Shannon Olson

“She totally nails how there doesn’t have to be anything exactly wrong in order to suffer from depression. The main character, also called Shannon, has decent people in her life, good things around her, but those people and those things can’t fix everything.”

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

“One thing that resonated with me was Styron’s complaint about the word depression to describe depression… ‘Brainstorm… has unfortunately been preempted to describe intellectual inspiration, but something along these lines is needed. Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved into a storm, a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else, even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction.'”

Recognizing Emotions

Can recognizing emotions really help you handle the troubling ones more effectively? Fortunately, or not, I recently had a chance to put this theory to the test.

Recognizing IRS
Where’s my money?
A Taxing Moment

When I checked the mail a return address triggered tightening in my face, shoulders, jaw, and chest: the crude outline of an eagle with a scale of justice for claws above the letters IRS. It was addressed to my partner, but because I had prepared her taxes and she was out of town visiting her family, I opened it to see if it contained something urgent.

The IRS and I had come to different conclusions about the tax owed. And they hadn’t written to say, “You accidentally overpaid.”

I felt…bad.

Shifting Blame…

My knee-jerk remedy for feeling bad is to find someone or something to blame.

My partner works with a financial advisor. Maybe she should hire a tax professional, too.

It’s Turbo Tax’s fault for designing software that requires an operating system that their QuickBooks accounting software won’t run on! 

Turbo Tax touts free online tax preparation, but they tried to up-sell me by over $100 when I entered a deduction for internet service that I use for my small business (and more than their small business software). As a former advertising professional, I have a visceral negative reaction to bait and switch.

That tax law that made the form easier for most Americans? I had to download and fill in more forms than I’ve ever used before.

Those IRS instructions (if line 13 is greater than line 12, add line 7 to line 14 and subtract line 11) are written for computers not humans.

…Doesn’t Work

Blaming my partner, or Turbo Tax, or Congress, or the IRS made me feel wronged, but it didn’t make me feel better.

Blaming others for my feelings may restore self-esteem, but empowering others to make me feel bad robs me of agency. 

Besides, I had offered to do the taxes.

I had chosen not to buy another computer or install and reinstall operating systems to use Turbo Tax software.  

I had chosen not to pay the up-sell to use online Turbo Tax.

Some of the people I voted into office have contributed to the tax code being what it is today.

Taking responsibility for my decisions made me responsible for my feelings, but it didn’t make me feel better. Good thing I remembered something else I could try.

What’s in a Name? 

Here’s the most exciting paragraph I read in Elisha Goldstein’s Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

The amygdala’s job is to interpret the data we gather through our senses. When subjects label an emotion, brain activity shifts from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for analyzing data and making decisions based on that analysis.

Okay, the words amygdala and prefrontal cortex don’t excite many people the way they excite me. So, let’s watch them in action. 

I hear a loud bang.

The amygdala interprets the sense data as unpleasant and energizes the body.

How I respond depends on what happens in the next moment.

Re-Cognizing Experience

To cognize means to perceive, know, or become aware of. The prefix re- means once more, afresh, or anew.

By perceiving; knowing; or becoming aware of emotion once more; afresh; or anew, we give ourselves the opportunity to analyze what is actually happening.

In response to the bang, deciding what to do next depends on whether I label the sensation as fear (based on the concept gunshot) or surprise (based on the concept firecracker).

The label helps determine what happens next. Fear: get the hell out of there or lay low. Surprise: get back to what I was doing.

Labeling the Emotion

I tried labeling the unpleasant physical sensations that arose from the tax letter as feeling incompetent (this label may also apply to the thought I am incompetent, but experience tells me that’s not always true). In one way or another, I have always been able to cope with taxes, mostly getting the numbers to work. The feeling of not being able to figure them out, of ceding independence to tax preparation software or a service is a blow to self-esteem. 

Another label might be feeling untrustworthy. I have taken on the responsibility of doing taxes within the relationship. My partner trusts me with the job. I know that I have a strong identification with being trustworthy. It’s a blow to feel that I can’t be trusted.

Label Analysis

While my experiential history with taxes played a role in activating my physical response, it didn’t apply to my current situation.  

I wasn’t afraid of dealing with my partner wailing and breaking down in tears of frustration. I wasn’t afraid of being thrown in prison for tax evasion or slapped with massive back taxes: things I associate with audits (though my own audit didn’t result in either). I wasn’t concerned about losing all my computer data while shuffling back and forth between operating systems.

I only needed to respond to this situation.  

Determining Action

Once I had labeled my emotion, I could analyze the situation and decide what to do. I apologized to my partner for the error and returned to the worksheets to see whether I could determine the discrepancy. 

Was it something I had missed? I could learn from my mistake.

Was it something they had missed? I could draft a letter explaining their error. 

Was it something I couldn’t figure out? I could acknowledge that I needed help preparing taxes without beating myself up about it.

Realization

In the end, I realized where I’d slipped up on the tax calculation. 

I also realized how recognizing emotions can prove beneficial.

The negative physical sensations had mostly subsided by the time I revisited the taxes. I was fairly clear-headed about something that had initially been emotionally charged.

Ten Minute Exercise

The original mindfulness manual advocates setting time aside to simply recognize whether a mood is present or not.

Elisha Goldstein applies that practice to depression treatment. Just as various roads lead you into a traffic circle, the depression loop has four entrance points: thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors. Any one of these can lead you into the depression loop…

The first step in uncovering happiness and experiencing freedom from the depression loop is learning how to objectively see this loop in action instead of getting lost in it.

1. Take three minutes to identify emotions that coincide with the onset of a depressive episode. 

Goldstein offers some ideas: anxiety, sadness, irritability, impatience, moodiness, fear, emptiness, hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, shame, grief, anger, despair.

In my tax situation, I might label my initial physical sensations as anxiety (initial response), irritability (initial response), pessimism (incompetence at handling taxes going forward), shame (of being untrustworthy), anger (blaming others, then myself).

2. Take three minutes during the day, when you’re not engaged in activity that requires your full attention (either at intervals or all at once) to check in with your bodily sensations and notice whether they’re generally:

Pleasant and calm.

Pleasant and aroused. 

Unpleasant and calm.

Unpleasant and aroused.

Note whether the emotions on your list are present or absent.

I’d classify my initial sensations when noticing the IRS logo as unpleasant and aroused.  

3. Take three minutes to review your day (evening) or previous day (morning) and note which emotions (on the list or otherwise) you experienced.  

4. Use the final minute to place your hand on your heart out of gratitude for the absence of troubling emotions or out of resolve to take self-compassionate action when they are present. You can then choose a well-being practice that seems appropriate to try.