I had one of those days yesterday. The one where you wake up depressed, look out the window at the dreary grey weather outside, feel more depressed, think of the day ahead, and feel still more depressed—and all this for no particular reason. But for someone like me who has struggled with bouts of depression in past decades, these kinds of days are a wee bit worrisome. I fear going back into that deep dark valley I used to inhabit for months at a time.
I know I am not alone in this. Whenever I experience these kinds of feelings, especially in Vancouver’s rainy wintery months, I start hearing about other people who have had just such a day. Sometimes, it is the exact same day (or days) that I was trying to get through.
So, yesterday I thought hard about what kinds of things might help me and, therefore, what might help others get through this kind of day too. Not, what was going to magically snap myself or anyone else out of a depression—but how could I going to get through THIS day with a bit more hope and self-respect and a little less dreariness and dark thinking. And, importantly, it had to be doable given the current high levels of inertia and meh-ness.
So, I did some research and some reflection and came up with a list of a few things that might help you get through your today:
- Acceptance: The first thing to do is accept that you are here in this place again, right where you don’t want to be. Accept it as a day in your life, accept the emotions you are experiencing, and accept that it may be hanging around for a while. BUT, also accept that you have gotten out of this funk before and you will get out of it again. Some days have been better, some weeks, months, and even years have been better. Accept that this day is just one day, it’s not all that there is to your life, and you WILL eventually feel better.
- Nurture & Nourish: What are some very small things you could do to add a small flicker of sensory goodness into your life? We’re not aiming for ‘joy, joy, joy’ happy-clappy here (although if that happens embrace it, obviously). But what are some activities you like that are all about your senses: taste, touch, scent, texture and so on and then make it happen. Make a list of these if you don’t have one already and keep adding to it on happier days so you don’t have to think up that helpful idea in the midst of heavy brain fog.
- Get outside: Tell yourself you will only go out for five minutes. And then be sneaky; trick your brain and stay out way longer. Extend your walk around the block to include that new coffee shop six blocks away. Or, take you, your dark mood, and your lunch to the park or museum. Listen in on other people’s conversations as you walk around and really see people and nature as you trudge along. Notice beauty and life around you: examine those strange vegetables at your local grocery; notice the colours of leaves on the sidewalk and your neighbour’s garden; browse for a bit in that pop-up store.
- Be in Community (or not): If you’re stuck in the house, go find some people. Coffee shops, stores, art galleries: all are full of people making noise. If those noisy people are also your lovely, upbeat friends so much the better. Contact people for no reason at all and focus on their lives (put gloomy thoughts aside for a few minutes). If you’re stuck in an office or a crowd, go find some space by yourself and daydream about that warm, sunny place you’ll visit someday or remember your niece’s giggle when you were reading a book together last Christmas. Read or watch something positive or funny or lively (i.e., inhabit some ‘opposite-world’ space for awhile).
- Do something creative: Cook, macramé, build something, finger-paint…whatever creative work inspires you. This is not the time to start up that huge project or delve into a complicated solution to a design problem (unless, of course, it is). Creative work is like comfy pants for the brain. Tell your serious, brainiac side it’s okay to ease up a little and take some time off. Cease from all that incessant thinking and mental processing and engage in some imaginative or discovery play-work.
- Serve Someone: Do something for someone else. Make a meal, clean up the leaves or pull some weeds, knit a scarf, build something you could give away. Most importantly, notice someone else’s need. Get out of your solitary hamster-wheel-bad-thoughts headspace for a few minutes or hours and be fully present to someone else who could use a gift like your attention or your non-heroic service.
- Listen to Music (or make your own): Soothe the savage beast that is your emotional life right now. Grab a guitar and sing. Drum out some of that nervy energy you’re packing around. Dancing: also good. Plus, if you are as coordinated and talented as I am, you’ll have the added bonus of making other people laugh while you do it. (My moonwalking is especially good for cheering up others around me.)
- Distract yourself: Find something else to think about. Facebook rants are probably not going to give you that oh-so-welcome dopamine hit so maybe just avoid them. Instead, do one small thing that challenges your brain a wee smidge. Figure out the name of that band you listened to last year and loved and download some of their music. Clean up your floordrobe (you know, the clothes that could be hanging in the closet but have made the bedroom floor their rumpled home). Make lists. Paint a wall. Plant something. Go to the library/rec centre and look at all the “New/Hot-Sellers” books and check out some programs they are offering.
- Change of Plans: Change things up a bit. Move your glacial-speed heavy body around and get busy for awhile doing pretty much anything except laying on the couch with only your own dark thoughts to keep you company. Trust me: it won’t make you feel any better about yourself to empty the Kleenex box while rockin’ your decades-old hoodie and sweats. Alternate between moving and sitting, working and resting. Save the pyjamas and sloth-appreciation-day behaviour for bedtime.
- Think Light-Bright. Turn on all the lights in your space. If it’s still dark, go buy some more. If you live or work under fluorescent bulbs, replace them with the full spectrum kind. Or buy some Ott bulbs for your lamps. Do you have a light especially designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder (drugstores have them)? If not, get one and sit under it every day. Wear colourful clothes or scarves. Cook with red, orange and yellow veggies. Buy something bright and place it directly in your line of sight.
- Be Mindful: You may think binge-watching Netflix is the definitive antidote to your raincloud self but mindless TV watching doesn’t actually alleviate bad moods or stress. Actually, mindless anything is probably not that helpful. Checking out is not the same as distraction and “a-musement” (not thinking) creates mental cavities, not relief from your own tedious thoughts. So, what could you bring into this moment that counters your restless boredom (ennui) and engages your whole being and brain for a short while?
- Put Good Things in Your Body: You know this one but it bears repeating; stay away from the crap you NEED to gobble or guzzle RIGHT! NOW! If you really, really want that sugary, boozy, or salty thing, find the most nutritionally dense option that won’t bring on a food-coma, food-baby, or hangover. Everything in moderation (including those common pain relievers a.k.a. alcohol and weed). Too much of any food, drink, or drug, once gone, produces the opposite feeling you were longing for—and that’s probably not what you hope will be the defining part of your tomorrow. So, show some mercy to your systems and s.l.o.w.l.y eat that ice cream you want to shovel in your hungry belly (soul or spirit). Enjoy it; savour it.
- Get Through the Day: just keep working through the day as best you can (radical self-acceptance, right?) and then go to bed. Hopefully, your sheets are cool or soft or crisp or however you love them and your room is cozy and peaceful. If it isn’t, make that a priority for tomorrow. If sleep doesn’t come in 30 minutes, get out of bed and repeat all the above ideas until you are tired enough to sleep right away. BTW: don’t bring your screens to bed with you and be sure to turn them off an hour before sleep-time. Why? Their light is especially good at keeping your melatonin levels low and you need this hormone for falling asleep (but there’s a blue-screen app for that if you just can’t turn that device off).
Hope this helps get you through this dark today but if a lot of days are starting to feel this depressing, get yourself to a doctor or a counsellor (or enlist a friend to help you get there). Mind, body, and spirit: all of them may be out of whack, so be creative in your list of helpful options or get someone else to help you create that list. And then take a small step. Trick your brain into thinking its just for one meeting or one appointment and then keep going to the next one and the next one until you feel better.
Note: I will be holding a workshop in late January or early February about understanding and working with mild-to-moderate depression. Send me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get on the “Interested” List.