[THE SPIRITUAL LIFE] Shutting Down the Pity Party

I’ve heard it called, “delicious misery.” It’s that masochistic feeling of pleasure we can get when wallowing in our own pain. As I represented EBONY.com on a four-day trip to Stockholm, Sweden recently, I discovered that if delicious misery had a face, it would look like Stockholm.

Sure, the people of Stockholm live in the most pristinely clean and perfectly green (and blue) city I’ve ever visited, with its well-coifed natives looking like they all just escaped from an Abercrombie & Fitch ad at the same time. But because Sweden gets almost no sunlight for months at a time during the darkest days of its harsh winter, the residents suffer from what they call, “Swedish melancholy.”

Though spring has sprung in Stockholm, meaning that the sun now rises at 3 a.m. and doesn’t set until 10 p.m., when it did dare to come out, the bite in the air and the overcast and rainy days I spent in that beautiful city were the perfect backdrop to both wallow in and admire lovely misery. Even though I was the only Black woman I saw the whole trip, I felt right at home.

Because there’s something comfortable (and comforting) about being inside of a good, long wallow.  If it didn’t feel kind of good to be so absorbed in our own problems and pre-occupied with our own mess, we certainly wouldn’t spend time doing it. 

Though sitting in a rut of melancholy can be helpful momentarily—it can give us time to feel and process the pain we’re experiencing and then create a plan of action to move forward—it is not a place we can stay in. It is a shirking of our responsibilities, a distraction from our purpose. It’s a rut we must get out of as quickly as possible. Here are 5 ways to get out of an emotional rut:

1) Know the difference between melancholy and clinical depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Clinical depression can last for months or years and can be debilitating. If your feelings are interfering with your day-to-day responsibilities, or you are having thoughts of suicide, seek a licensed therapist or psychiatrist immediately. Visit the American Psychiatric Association website for resources on how to get help for depression.

Sadness, on the other hand, is a normal and healthy response to a tragic, stressful or disappointing life event that should dissipate over time. How long it takes can very well depend on whether or not you choose to wallow it.  If you don’t have a good friend or relative to tell you that you’re having a pity party for 1, you must be able to recognize the signs and self-diagnose.  Is life unfair? Are you not getting the things you deserve? Do people not understand you and is that causing you distress? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you could very well be in an emotional rut and digging yourself in deeper.

Though sitting in a rut of melancholy can be helpful momentarily—it can give us time to feel and process the pain we’re experiencing and then create a plan of action to move forward—it is not a place we can stay in.

But now that you know, you can stop!

2) Seek Spiritual Counseling. Being disappointed when life isn’t going the way we’d planned or feeling sad when experiencing great loss are healthy and normal responses to life events. But to avoid wallowing in these feelings, it can be very helpful to acknowledge and process them with the help of a spiritual counselor or leader. A spiritual counselor can help lead us away from resentment and toward forgiveness and acceptance, equipping us with healthy ways to process our emotions.

3) Live and work purposefully. Pity parties are distractions that work to keep us from our purpose. The fastest way to shut down a pity party is to get back to living and working with purpose, on purpose.  Instead of wallowing in a rut, fall into your passions, head first. Focus on doing the things you’re most talented at doing and pursue new ways to cultivate your talents.

4) Change your diet, up your exercise regimen.  Nothing can make you feel more sluggish than poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Replacing sugary snacks and beverages with naturally sweet fruit and water while also taking a jog someplace peaceful, like a nice park, can increase your endorphins and brighten your mood almost instantly.  Get out of the house and back on track.  

5) Get an Accountability Partner. Whenever you’re trying to make life changes for the better, the process can be difficult. Try quitting smoking or starting an exercise regimen all by yourself and you’ll see. When we include friends -- people who genuinely care about our health and happiness, as well as their own—we exponentially increase our chances of success. Make gradual life changes, grab an accountability partner or two to hit the gym with and get yourself out of that emotional rut. Your purpose is waiting!

Brooke Obie is an EBONY.com Contributing Editor. Follow her @BrookeObie