Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to many friends and acquaintances who have been having bouts of classic sadness. I won’t call it depression, although I am sure some of them might be inclined to use that label. I’ve always been wary in using that word with my clients since it can easily be misunderstood. Most of the time what they’re suffering from is sub-clinical depression, commonly known as extreme sadness.
To be diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must experience a specific number of symptoms every day for at least a two-week period. Some of these symptoms may be: loss of usual interest or pleasure in activities; reduced appetite and weight loss ( other than from healthy dieting ); increased appetite and weight gain; changes in sleeping pattern; feelings of inappropriate guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, or pessimism; inability to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions; constant fatigue or loss of energy; restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others; thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide; and persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
Most people do not fit into this pattern, and are in fact suffering only from a serious case of the blues. It may last anywhere from days to weeks. I don’t want to minimize how difficult this is. Once people get into a funk, they often cannot notice anything positive going on around them. They are experiencing the world through defective filters. The Law of Attraction states that you will get more of whatever you put your energy, focus, and attention on. So people in this state will be drawn into a negative vortex that is difficult to escape from without some form of intervention or interruption of pattern.
Whether alone, or with the assistance of a friend, any combination of the following approaches will contribute to breaking that pattern. They work.
1. Notice disguised opportunities.
Lee Iacocca once said, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities – brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” When I trained in customer service skills, I used to tell front line staff that customer complaints were not to be feared, but rather to be welcomed with open arms. They were being handed a wonderful gift. Here was their opportunity to shine. Here was their opportunity to show the customer just how much we did care for their needs. Most customers are neutral, but a disgruntled one, once turned around, is usually an activist for the company.
2. Get ye to the countryside!
A research study measured subjects’ cognitive deficits and psychological states after walking in a city environment compared to a group who walked in an arboretum. Those who had walked in the city scored considerably less on a test of working memory and attention, and were also in a worse mood than the other group.
3. Accentuate the positive.
I love Jim Carey movies. I recently watched, “Yes Man.” Here was a man living an uneventful life until he began responding positively to every request. Of course this got him into some unexpected and very funny situations; however there is a great lesson here. For every event, look for and embrace its positive features.
4. Stay connected.
Maintain and foster your network of friends and family, even if it is a bit of a chore. Isolating yourself just deepens the hole you’re in.
5. Stay active.
This is probably one of the simplest methods available. Walk, dance, swim, or do some gardening. Trick your brain into thinking that everything is just fine.
6. Nurture your body.
Eat well, drink well. At some time or other we all turn to comfort food – self-medicating to make us feel better with too much of things like pasta, pop, alcohol – but, though it feels fine in the short term, it’s destructive over time. Keep in mind that dehydration is a prime cause of fuzzy thinking and convoluted decision making. For good hydration, choose water over pop and alcohol, and, for abrupt and dynamic change, switch much of your diet to fresh fruit and vegetables, their fiber helping regulate your system’s pace of absorption.
7. Get some sunlight.
During the short days of winter, either get outside for twenty minutes a day, or buy a full-spectrum light bulb. Exposure to this light on a daily basis will encourage your body to promote the generation of the mood-raising vitamin D.
8. Nurture your mind.
Lots of research has shown that what we read, listen to, or watch will affect our consciousness. Our conscious thoughts influence our emotions, behaviors, and even our health. None of us can afford the luxury of a negative thought. Saturate your mind with positive thoughts. Avoid the news and listen to relaxing music. Spend as much time out of doors as you can. Develop a habit of laughing and smiling often. If you want to take it to another level, consider taking a personal development course or hiring a life coach.
9. Live in the present.
Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future generates and sustains anxiety. Focusing on the present creates a sense of grounding and wellbeing.
10. Be grateful.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, or grieving over what you once had, be grateful for what you do have, whether it’s health, family, skills, abilities, friends, or a place to live. Many people keep a daily gratitude journal. This keeps their good fortune at top of mind.
The last thing I want you to be aware of is that life is full of cycles. Sometimes we may find ourselves in a natural low, and it takes only a few negative events to make our life appear very gloomy indeed. Be assertive. Give some of these approaches a trial run. I am sure you will notice a difference within days.