Dark days and the black dog

At this time of year, when the days are short and the weather is almost uniformly grey, like many people I can succumb all too easily to a touch of the black dog. Not full-on depression, because I’ve been there and I know what that’s like. More a slight listlessness. A difficulty in finding my usual motivation. A certain lack of, for want of a better word, va-va-voom.

When this particular black dog rears its head, I’ve learned the hard way that I need to act quickly to stop it taking over.

My usual approach is exercise. My regular morning routine includes a half hour or so of calisthenics, weights or yoga. I walk the dogs for an hour or so twice a day. And I invariably go for a run with Ozzy for an hour or so, too. The buzz that I get is more than enough to put the black dog firmly back in its crate.

Except, like this week, when I’m not feeling very well. Specifically, I have a cold. Nothing too serious, but enough to convince me that an early morning tussle with my kettlebells or a three-mile slide through the mud and rain probably isn’t going to do me any good. (Again, I’ve learned this the hard way.) So it’s big jumpers and gentle dog walks for a few days,

Which is fine, but I now don’t have those endophins to maintain my black-dog-fighting defences.

As I work for myself and I work from home, I don’t have the structure of an office job or the threat of a boss breathing down my neck to keep me on the straight and narrow, either. But what I do have, thankfully, is Molly and Ozzy to make sure that I get up in a timely manner, so that I can take them on their morning walk.

I also have one of those fake daylight light-boxes, which I switch on for a few minutes at a time over the course of the day. It seems to give me a bit of a boost and certainly does take the edge off the grey sky outside the window.

The most effective weapon in my arsenal, though, is the ability to stay focused. If I stay focused on what I want to do, I know that I’ll crack on with it until it’s done. But if I lose focus, I can so easily get distracted and fritter away minutes or hours at a time. And as someone who is usually hyper-focused and highly motivated, the thought of wasting any time at all pains me greatly.

To keep me focused and to stop my mind wandering off unsupervised, I’ve spent a few minutes every morning this week planning what I’m going to do over the course of the day. I’ve made myself a list (I use the Todoist app, which works well for me). And I’ve decided how much time I’m going to aloocate to each task or activity.

Oh, and I’ve decided how I’m going to ‘reward’ myself when I’ve finished each task. Like getting a cup of tea, doing some training with Molly and Ozzy, or writing a blog post.

Essentially, I’ve been micro-managing myself. Which is something that I usually do without thinking. But when the black dog’s on the prowl, I need to do it more explicitly. I need to give myself the structure to keep the black dog shut out and to keep my mind focused on the task(s) at hand.

This approach won’t work for everyone, of course. But it works for me. And until my cold’s better and I can get back to my usual routine of running around in the mud like an idiot, it’s how I’ll ward off listlessness. It’s how I’ll keep up my motivation. It’s how I’ll find my va-va-voom.

Update: Writing this yesterday clearly had a cathartic effect, because I woke up this morning with my cold gone, my head clear and my va-va-voom right back where it’s supposed to be. I’ll hang fire on the running until next week, just to be sure, but it’s nice to be feeling ‘normal’ again. 🙂

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