This is the last in our “Healthy Mind” series, tackling the problem “I feel unhappy because I never enjoy anything.” Is this something that you’ve said – or thought – recently? Leading a busy life can sometimes make us feel we’re not “allowed” to enjoy ourselves. And when things are stressful or difficult, even activities that were favourites in the past can somehow lose their appeal.
Perhaps you feel that, once, you could at least enjoy your food – a big stodgy meal after a hard day at work, a bar of chocolate when you were a bit low, a bag of crisps if you were bored. Now, carrot sticks and crispbreads just don’t quite cut it …
If you’re like me, there are activities which you think you should enjoy – and perhaps you even feel a bit guilty when you don’t. Going out to the pub is one of mine: if I’m with my boyfriend or a few good friends, I love it … but if I’m with people I don’t know very well, I tend to feel shy, awkward, and regret wasting both my time and my money.
I’m also ambivalent about most music, find nightclubs loud and intimidating, get quickly bored in art galleries…
Just because your friends enjoy something, or because it’s deemed “fun” by society, doesn’t mean you have to take part. Be honest with yourself about what you really enjoy: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to curl up with a good book, play a video game, organise your stamp collection … Forcing yourself into doing things because you think you “should find them fun” will only make you miserable.
Sometimes, we get so busy with work, chores, studying and time-consuming hobbies that it can be hard to stop and do something purely for fun. Block out some time at the weekend to enjoy yourself: getting out of the house really helps – I know that when I’m in, I find it hard to relax and not check my email every half-hour. Try some of my favourite weekend activities:
In closing, I should mention that an inability to enjoy activities which were once fun can sometimes be a sign of depression. If you’ve been feeling that there’s nothing exciting left in life, or that you never laugh any more, take a few minutes to read through the symptoms of depression. Make an appointment with your doctor if you are suffering from several of these, and get some professional help and advice.
Thanks for sticking with this series, which has taken a slightly different tack from many of The Office Diet’s posts. I hope that, by now, you’re feeling in tip-top shape both physically and mentally … but if, like most of us, you’ve still got a way to go, why not subscribe to The Office Diet’s feed and get a daily post straight to your RSS reader? And if you’ve got an idea for an article or series you’d like me to write, just drop me an email: email@example.com.
(Photo above by Jim Blob Blann)
Do you have lots of little worries on your mind? They might be keeping you from getting to sleep at night – or waking you up in the small hours. And feeling a nagging sense of anxiety all the time can sap your motivation to exercise or diet. It can even interfere with your digestion.
Of course, it’s normal to be occasionally worried or apprehensive about things (and you can probably think of friends or colleagues who could do with being a bit more worried and a bit less blasé on some occasions!) However, it’s very easy for this to tip over into crippling anxiety.
Why do you constantly worry? Is it something you consider a normal part of adult life, perhaps because you had a parent who was always anxious? This great article about How to Stop Worrying suggests that worrying is a habit which we can unlearn.
Sometimes I know exactly what’s on my mind (“Will that new project at work go okay next week?”) but sometimes I find myself moody, stressed or lying awake in the middle of the night for no immediately obvious reason.
It often helps me to work through things on paper, and writing down worries is particularly helpful as I’m often anxious about forgetting things…. You’ll find that your worries divide into two categories:
Are your worries related to things you can’t control at all? If so, write them all on a big sheet of paper (draw some sad faces if you like – no-one said you can’t be childish), then rip it up! Any moment spent worrying about something outside your influence is a moment wasted.
Sometimes, just getting on top of things can help you stop worrying. Whether it’s checking exactly what your bank balance is, when you’re worried you’ve been overspending, or getting the exact details about the journey to the conference you’re dreading next week, you’ll feel much better just for having things clear.
If you can, take a step towards improving the situation that’s making you worried. For instance, if you’re worried that you’ll end up eating junk again because you keep coming home late, plan ahead and have something quick but healthy ready to cook – ideally something you can just zap in the microwave.
Or if you’re worried about a friend or family member who’s been distant lately, why not have that chat you’ve been putting off? It might be difficult at the time, but once it’s over, you’ll have fewer things to think about.
Whenever you catch yourself worrying, ask yourself:
Do you ever find yourself thinking there must be something more? Perhaps you feel a bit guilty: you’ve got a good job, a nice home, a loving family, and you know that you’re better off than most people in the world.
Yet, despite telling yourself all this, you still feel that you’re not achieving what you wanted in life. Maybe you’re not satisfied with your weight or fitness levels – or maybe your job is getting you down. Perhaps the problem is with your relationship with your partner, or with your friends.
Whatever the issues are, these feelings of discontentedness can have a knock-on effect on your health – dragging you further and further down. For example, if being overweight makes you miserable, you may lack the motivation to diet, and thus stack on even more pounds…
A good way to start improving how you feel about your life is to look for little everyday things that make you smile. If there don’t seem to be any, find something fun to fit into your day! Some of my favourites are:
Try to pinpoint exactly what factors are making you feel discontent with life. You can’t improve things until you know what’s wrong. Be totally honest with yourself. It’s fine to admit that you’re miserable about your body, relationships, career, and financial situation – even if you put on a brave face about all of these to other people.
Focus on the biggest problem area and find ways to gradually improve. For example, if your weight has crept up over the years, and you’re unhappy but can’t bear the thought of dieting and cutting out all the foods you love … you don’t have to! Find a new way each week to move in the right direction, and”change one thing at a time. That might mean skipping dessert on three nights out of seven the first week, then drinking your six-eight glasses of water a day the second week, and so on.
I strongly recommend keeping a “What’s Better” list at least once a week – write down all the things that were better about this week than the one before, with a particular focus on your problem area. This helps focus on areas of growth, as well as often turning a “meh” week into a good one. You are not allowed to dwell gloomily on anything that went badly – focus on the positives!
Feelings of discontentment may be frustrating and even depressing to live with. They’re a prompt towards change, and you shouldn’t ignore them: if being content requires radical action, such as moving to a new city, changing your career, taking a sabbatical, finally seeing all those places in the world you want to travel to … then find a way to make it happen.
You may need to work hard, think ingeniously, and be passionately committed to moving forwards – but it is always possible to change things in your life. Don’t stop striving for the best, because you’ll never be content with “just good enough”.
There are scores of great articles relating to personal growth and leading a contented life online. These are some of my favourites:
(Image above by Meredith Farmer)
Does your life revolve around work and family commitments, with little or no chance to laugh with friends? Is your closest pal a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream? If you’ve admitted to yourself “I feel unhappy because I don’t have any friends”, you need to examine why you feel that way – and what you can do about it.
Those of you with a large amount of weight to lose may feel deeply unhappy about going out and socialising. Shauna Reid writes very movingly and honestly about this on www.dietgirl.org – saying how she worried about friends wanting to go for a walk. It’s incredibly common for people to feel ostracised by their weight; if all your friends are slim, you may hate being the one who stands out in the crowd.
Unfortunately, cutting yourself off from friends can be very damaging to your health. Being bored and alone often leads to unhealthy snacking – I know that I, and many other successful dieters, had to ditch the mindset of solitary binge-eating: there’s something guiltily exciting about crisps and chocolates scoffed in secret, and we may fool ourselves that if nobody sees us, the calories don’t count…
Living as a social recluse is also bad for your mental wellbeing, especially if you’re prone to mild depression, or if you’re naturally shy.
When you look back to your school or university days, you were probably surrounded by friends. At school, you saw them every day in class or on the playground; at university, they lived in the same house or halls as you. The world of work can come as a shock after this: when I graduated and moved to London, I felt very lonely at first. If your friends have spread themselves around the country, it’s difficult to find time to meet up.
Or perhaps you do have friends nearby, but you’re too tired in the evenings to invite them over, and family commitments seem to eat up your weekends.
Often the biggest challenge is simply getting round to setting a time and place to meet up. When you’re used to the spontaneous socialising of student life, the need for foreplanning as a working adult may pass you by. Grab your diary for April – have you got a free Saturday or Sunday? Why not call or email a friend today to invite them round for lunch, or to suggest going out for a drink?
If you still feel that you don’t have any friends, it’s time to find some! That could mean getting back in touch with people you’ve lost contact with.
Old friends are easy to re-establish a connection with: just ring or email; don’t feel shy about it, as they’ll likely be delighted to hear from you and they’ll want to get you caught up on all their news. If you don’t have any details for them in your address book, try searching for them on popular social networking sites such as www.myspace.com, www.bebo.com or www.facebook.com – or just type their full name into your favourite search engine and see what comes up!
Once you’ve made contact, stay in touch. I find Facebook very useful for keeping track of all my friends – almost everyone I knew at university uses it, and it’s an easy way to see what everyone’s been up to. Email is also great, since it’s instantaneous and free, but why not write a proper letter once in a while? I know how much it brightens up my day to have a handwritten card or note in the mail, amongst the usual junk and bills.
There are lots of reasons why you might want to be brave and forge some new relationships. Perhaps you’ve moved abroad and away from all your friends. Perhaps you’re deliberately seeking to put the past behind you.
One of the easiest ways to meet new people is online. Join a web forum related to one of your interests or hobbies: you may want to “lurk” before joining to get a feel for the community there. I strongly recommend the friendly people at the Steve Pavlina forums — the forums are orientated around the idea of “growth” in your life, but these are subdivided into topics such as Health & Fitness, Business & Career, Technology, and so on. The users of Weight Loss Resources are also a very friendly and supportive bunch (you do have to pay to subscribe, but the site has a lot of valuable tools and information to help you meet your weight loss goals.)
Other ways that have worked for me in finding some great friends online are:
If you want to meet people in your local area, try joining a community group or a church. When I first moved to London, the only people I knew were colleagues and the members of my new church: I’ve always met with a warm welcome at the various churches I’ve been a member of during my life.
Joining a club or hobby-based group is also a brilliant way to get out and meet people who share your interests. I’ve been to some of the mid-week meetings of the East Dulwich Writers’ Group, and it’s been good to meet some fellow creative writers.
Decide on some concrete actions that you’ll take to get in touch with old schoolmates, to make time to see the pals who do live nearby, or to find some new friends. I tend to be a little introverted by nature, so I know this is one of the areas I need to make an effort in to. My actions for the next couple of weeks are:
What are you going to do to ensure that, in a month or two, you can say “I feel happy because I’m surrounded by friends”?
(Image above by decadentyou)
Money worries often cause sleepless nights – leading to over-eating, being too tired to exercise, and a vicious circle of feeling unable to cope. Most of us would like a bit more cash, but if you’ve realised that you “constantly feel anxious because I never have enough money”, make a firm decision now to do something about it.
If, like many people, you end the month broke and “can’t work out where the money goes”, it’s time to sit down with a calculator or spreadsheet and add up your incomings and outgoings. The more precise you can be, the better, but even getting a rough idea will help.
Record your income on a monthly basis (and your partner’s, if appropriate), then list all your regular outgoings, again, per month – rent or mortgage, bills, travel, groceries, magazine subscriptions and so on. Are the bills are higher than you thought (especially if you’ve been throwing away envelopes unopened)? Are you surprised what’s costing you the most?
Obviously, your income needs to match or exceed your spending. If your regular monthly outgoings don’t seem too bad, take a closer look at what you’re spending on a day-to-day basis…
If you’ve been recording your food intake in a diary, you’ll probably have noticed how the simple act of writing down everything you eat makes you consider whether you really needed that mid-afternoon slab of chocolate cake.
A similar principle applies to money. Write down everything you buy, every day, for at least a week, and record how much it cost. That daily latte on the way to work could easily be costing you £10-£15 a week. A sandwich and packet of crisps every lunchtime might be another £15-£20. Perhaps that weekly night out with mates is clocking up well over £50 in drinks, food, transport and entrance fees to clubs.
(If, like me, you find it hard to keep track of your spending in the pub, count how much money’s in your wallet at the start of the evening, pay for everything in cash, then see what’s left at the end of the night.)
Examine any expenditure which made you think “I spend how much on that?!” If you shop several times a week for fresh food, your total grocery bill could be higher than you realised: try having some meat-free meals, and buy anything with a long shelf life (rice, pasta, tinned foods) in bulk.
Having some money in a savings account will make you feel much more secure. Identify at least £100 that you can cut back on spending each month (taking a packed lunch to work every day could save a large chunk of that), and put that money into a separate bank account as soon as you receive your salary.
If you’re in debt – maxed out on your credit card, unable to face opening envelopes, feeling sick when you think about your finances – then get some advice. For those in the UK, your Citizen’s Advice Bureau or local churches are good sources of help. Sometimes just admitting and accepting the situation you’re in, and talking to someone about it, can help you cope.
There is a wealth of great advice online to help you spend less and save more, or to give you a better understanding of finance. You might like some of these:
(Image of coins by Jeff Belmonte)
Most of us have occasional moments when we’d rather like to go home and curl up under the duvet. Maybe it’s when your boss dumps yet another huge “urgent” task on your desk, or when you get the tenth furious phone call from a customer, in a single afternoon. The occasional bad day is almost inevitable, however much you generally love your work.
But if you’re constantly saying (though perhaps not out loud at work) “I feel fed-up because I don’t like my job”, don’t just put up with it. You’ll find yourself getting more and more miserable, and suffering ill health such as backaches brought on by stress, sleepless nights worrying about work, or mild depression from feeling trapped.
If you dislike your job, don’t force a cheerful smile and try to pretend that everything’s fine. Have a quiet word with your line manager or boss – there may be a scheduled way to do this easily (such as an annual performance development review), or you may need to find a moment where you can have a quick chat.
Let them know two or three things about your job which you dislike most, and also suggest a couple of ways they could improve it for you. For example, if you’re finding lots of your work boring, ask if there’s some way to do fewer of the tedious tasks and explain that you’d like more of a challenge.
Hopefully, all your co-workers are lovely, considerate, cheerful people who you’d choose to surround yourself with even if you didn’t just happen to work with them. Sadly, most of us find that there’ll be one or two individuals in the office who we just can’t manage to get along with.
It might be the office moaner, who drags everyone’s spirits down, or the office clown who is amusing at first but then begins to grate on your nerves. Don’t feel guilty that you’re not naturally inclined to be friends with everyone at work – be polite to all your colleagues, but try to avoid the people who make you secretly grit your teeth.
Sometimes, things might be more serious. If you’re being bullied or harassed, talk to your line manager or HR department – there will be company policies against this sort of behaviour (which you probably all signed when joining the company.)
There are some undeniable attractions to a relatively boring job; it’s probably not stressful, you don’t go home feeling mentally wrung out, and you can stick headphones in and ignore the rest of the world, without the distraction impinging on your work.
However, if you’re beginning to feel that your career is going nowhere, or that you’re already on the top rung of a very short ladder, it might be time to find something more challenging. Sitting around twiddling your thumbs all day is also a prime cause of office-cookie-tin delving…
Talk to whoever assigns you work: maybe the head of your team, your line manager or your boss (depending on the size of your organisation). Explain that you’d like a bit more of a challenge, and suggest what aspects of your job you’d like to learn more about.
Perhaps you’ve tried, and failed, to improve your job by talking to senior people at work – and the only option is to move on. Don’t start by scouring the “situations vacant” ads in your local paper and applying for anything half-way suitable. Take the opportunity to think about what you really want from your life: you have to make a living somehow, so why not do so in a job that you love?
There are loads of great books and sites which can help you with this.
What Colour Is Your Parachute? is a classic for a reason. It’s breezily written in a very accessible style, and full of concrete, practical advice – but also takes you through the process of considering your values and interests.
10 reasons why you should never get a job (Steve Pavlina) is an article that may completely change the way you think about work, careers and job hunting.
Guerilla Job Hunting is an amusing, slightly different, take on the world of job-hunting. Worth a read if you’re trying to break into a difficult industry.
Dumb Little Man is a blog I read regularly, with a rather eclectic set of tips and advice, lots of which are orientated around career and work. Particularly relevant to this article is their recent post: Dealing With Careers You Simply Hate
Don’t struggle along in a job which you don’t like – find a way to change it.
(Image above by Xdjio)