The downward spiral is a fancy name for that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that doesn’t let you be at peace no matter how hard you try. In more psychologically relevant terms, the spiral refers to the feedback of negative thoughts and emotions, often as a result of a trigger. Downward spirals are often misunderstood and lead to advice such as, “Stop thinking so much” and, “Have you tried to chill out?”
Popular culture often represents this spiral as an endearing trait of a neurodivergent character that their love interest can fix in quick and, in my opinion, unimaginative ways. However, the downward spiral is not that and is wildly misrepresented like most things related to mental health.
The truth is that the sinking feeling that accompanies these thoughts is not endearing in the least. The thoughts don’t just pass over a person like a soft breeze, they hit you like a tidal wave, and it is exhausting to keep afloat. We eventually give in to the fiend and find ourselves recalling painful incidents that we’d normally like to forget. We pick on ourselves and become the enemy that we would otherwise avoid. We force ourselves to consider every possible thing that could go wrong in life and start to walk down the slippery slope of despair. The cyclical thoughts of repressed emotions and experiences, negativity, and self-loathing go on and on till you can either shock yourself back to reality or seek help from someone who can do that for you.
Why do we find ourselves in this place?
The answer is not as complex as one may assume. The downward spiral is often an amalgamation of our guilt, humiliation, anger, and gloom. We often dwell on the wrong things in life. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It doesn’t matter if we’ve made peace with it. It doesn’t even matter if you’re happier now than you were when these things first happened. Once there is an inconvenience that triggers you, the thoughts are sure to follow. Ask yourself, what is it that bothers you during a downward spiral? Is it not things that hurt you as a child? Is it not something/someone that isn’t a part of your life anymore said to you? Is it not the same insecurities you usually tuck away in a rarely visited corner of your mind? Is it not thoughts that you usually recognize as useless and untrue? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then know you are not alone. We are humans, and it is our nature to ruminate. Introspection and reflection are a part of our life. The only thing to be looked at here is the way in which you go about it.
The most important thing to remember in your journey towards peace is always being mindful of what you do. Understand what you’re doing, be deliberate in your efforts, and know your motivations. The trajectory of your life is yours to decide, so it is your job to treat it in a hands-on fashion. Understand what leads to you spiraling and be prepared. Practice forgiveness towards yourself and others. It might be difficult to forgive people, and I do not recommend forcing it. However, being forgiving towards yourself is non-negotiable. Remember to be kind to yourself if you find yourself getting stuck in a spiral. Everyone makes mistakes, and yours are neither unique nor novel. You should be content with the mundane nature of our existence. Years of human life and countless people have made it nearly impossible to create a new mistake. Even if you make a new one, know that you won’t be the last to do it and live in peace with that knowledge.
We often process loss in ways that are not healthy for us. The downward spiral of negativity is one such unhealthy coping mechanism. Some say that it is oddly satisfying to vocalize every negative emotion you’ve ever had. Others say that self-medicating with alcohol, nicotine, and such help. They may be somewhat right about both, but it is essential not to turn it into a habit. If you go down the path of self-loathing and spiraling every once in a while, it is a normal derivative of the kinds of lives we’re living. However, if you do this at every minor inconvenience, then it is unhealthy and requires intervention. You can’t keep destroying your health and life because you’re having a bad time. Don’t self-medicate, don’t indulge your negativity, and try to hold onto the happier memories in your life. If you can’t check yourself as you start spiraling, talk to someone who can tell you precisely what you need to know. Write down reminders and affirmations for yourself so that you can hold onto your reality rather than getting washed away in the momentary wave of anxiety. Seek counseling if you feel like the spiral might be eating away at your life. It is never too late to ask for help.
We all wish there were an easy fix to everything in life, but there rarely is. We are complex beings, and it is only natural to experience complex emotions. Do not beat yourself up over how you feel. Try to understand why you’re there and start moving forward. If you feel like you can’t deal with the emotions alone, talk to someone you trust. Seek professional help if required and do whatever it takes to live your best life. You deserve acceptance, love, and peace. Know and accept them and be determined to achieve serenity. Sometimes you’ll fix a bad day with some sunlight and exercise, and others will need something stronger. Regardless of how you get there, the end goal is to be at peace, and you will get there sooner or later.