Pity Parties: Why Briefer is Better
Getting Stuck Impacts Health
—In the Spirit of Fitness—
We all feel sorry for ourselves sometimes. Just recently, I did. My list of mini-woes included missing our two 20-something kids who’d just moved back out, missing friends, missing all the things we could do before covid and the security we felt, and missing a time when my body ached less. Luckily, I kept my pity party brief. And I do mean luckily because sometimes it's just harder than others. In fact, it’s taken years of practice to leave the “party” more quickly. Over time, it just became clear that I feel a thousand times healthier when I resist an extended wallow (though I’m certainly in favor of brief ones because I think they’re way more honest than pretending with gritted smile that, “there’s nothing to see here, folks”). When we can flip the switch on self-pity more quickly, our health benefits.
First, A Crucial Distinction
It’s INCREDIBLY important to note that “pity party” here is meant to be a light term, meaning a fleeting period of frustration. If you suspect your situation goes deeper and/or you are prone to depression or to any other mental health condition, seeking treatment is absolutely crucial. (By the way, according to the World Health Organization, 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression and the CDC has determined that many more are currenty doing so amidst the ongoing pandemic.) Please reach out to your physician or mental health practitioner if you're struggling. Please don’t delay.
Why We Should “Bow Out” After a Brief Visit
For most of us, the body rebels when stress strikes. We each know our unique stress responses, don’t we? Potential ingredients like stomach upset, headaches, tight muscles, & fatigue mix in different amounts for each of us. This is normal, but getting stuck in a negative state for prolonged periods actually threatens health.
Self-pity embodies a sense of helplessness— I say this without any trace of judgment. We all experience this at times. Feeling powerless causes stress to skyrocket. If we can consciously acknowledge the "pit" and attempt to climb out (yes, like many healthy habits, more easily said than done), good things happen. Sleep & mood improve, physical distress eases up, motivation blooms, diet and workouts become more focused, and life just seems sunnier. In short, quality of life and health recover.
But How’d We Get Here?
Some very common patterns allow a pity party to rage. Most of us adopt one or more of these behaviors, and ferreting them out is a good start. Facing negative tendencies now makes it more likely that we’ll head them off sooner next time. Some pretty universal behaviors that foster self-pity include believing we’re alone with struggles; ruminating, which is basically a looping pattern of negative thoughts; and needing to prove our strength while ignoring the value of support. All of these propensities breed fatigue when we actually need ENERGY to pursue our best health.
And How Do We Exit?
Just my humble opinion: If you’re feeling stuck in a rut and sorry for yourself, take a day or two to acknowledge this muddy, little party—just maybe not a Coachella length wallow. Complain to someone who sincerely cares. Lose yourself in Netflix. (Personally, I jolted from my most recent funk after watching the Netflix docu-series “Immigration Nation,” which flooded me with a tidal wave of thankfulness for everything about my life.) Punch a pillow—looks silly, very cathartic. Take a mental health day. Then consider these healthy exit strategies.
Muster everything to make a workout happen. Exercise boosts mood, the perfect antidote to the blues of being stuck. It also increases self-efficacy, which is a sense of empowerment, in this case, over your health. This can break a cycle of pity by brightening outlook and zapping a temporary sense of helplessness.
Acknowledge abundance. Gratitude breeds optimism, the opposite state we face amidst self-pity. What’s going right with your health? What’s in your fridge (or could be) & why? Why is it possible for you to exercise—Have a body that can do it? a partner who watches the kids while you head out to sweat? or maybe a schedule that simply contains the time?
Catch exaggerations. This requires brutal honesty. Are things legitimately as bad as your mind declares? They quite possibly might be, but having a thought does not mean it’s true. Sometimes we repeat them so frequently we cement them as “truth.” It’s worth trouble shooting these.
Rest sufficiently. I won’t speak for you, but I am whiniest when I sleep badly. Sleep deprivation not only causes obvious fatigue but increases depressive feelings. It also increases likelihood of injury. (Ironically, injury can easily fuel a bout of self-pity.) Adequate sleep unquestionably serves as THE building block of quality of life.
Have a hero (just don’t worship or compare). It doesn’t matter if you know them personally, just try looking up to someone. This could be a mentor, relative, or friend. It could be a public or historical figure. It might even be a stranger you see at the gym regularly or a jogger who passes your house daily. Admiring someone who seems to possess the qualities we value, has created the type of life and health we admire, and/or achieved goals we share can pull us forward into a more positive state. Just be wary of comparing yourself to them, which can plop you right back into a pity party. Similarly, worshipping someone can also make it seem like you’ll never do what they’ve been able to do, again breeding pessimism.
Whatever you do, just know that we ALL stumble into a pity party sometimes and it’s no cause for shame. Just feel around for a door (or get assistance finding one, if it's proving impossible) and get back to this amazing life.