Several years ago I had a bad month. I found myself saying, "Gosh, that was a bad month!" I would repeat it like it was some sort of way to excuse myself from fully engaging in life. And then it grew to a hard summer - then a hard year - until one day I found myself literally saying, "It's been a hard... two and a half years." When I said it I wondered, how long is this going to go on? How long can I give myself a "get out of feeling happy" pass? Right then and there I knew that even though there had been some legitimately hard things going on, I had to find a way to be happy.
Making yourself happy isn't the easiest thing in the world to do if you've never tried. I started by putting happy quotes on my wall and repeating them like positive affirmations. I also tried blocking out all unhappy thoughts. And though it wasn't overwhelmingly effective - it slowly began to work. And then over the next couple of years I came up with several strategies that are my "go-to" activities when I feel the blues coming on. I don't know if I'm prone to the blues more than most people but I do know it is something I have to stay on top of. I have had full fledged depression - after the birth of two of my boys and then another especially hard time. And now, sometimes for a reason and sometimes for no reason at all, I'll have blue times. But now, as soon as I recognize it, I start down this list.
1. SUN SUN SUN. First off, I get outside. I know that sometimes my depression can be coming from something as simple as a vitamin D deficiency. So, I go sit on my porch with short sleeves and shorts on and soak up some rays. No, you won't feel completely gleeful after 20 minutes but it WILL help.
2. FOOD Next, I look at my diet. Am I eating enough fruits and vegetables? Am I sad simply because my body doesn't have everything it needs to function? Am I eating enough? (That doesn't happen very often). I will load up on the healthy foods, take a multi-vitamin, and try and be more attentive to my diet.
3. SLEEP This is a tricky one because when you're depressed you can find yourself sleeping TOO much. In fact, that was how I discovered I was depressed a few years back. I would get up, get my kids breakfast and my oldest off to school. Then I'd stick a movie on for my toddler and go get in bed. Get up, fix lunch, pick up my oldest, another movie and back to bed. Luckily, that schedule didn't last too long but it's a bad place to be. So, now I just make sure I'm getting enough sleep but try to stay away from naps. Though I LOVE to nap, it doesn't actually help my feel any happier - though going to bed a little earlier does.
4. EXERCISE - I know, I know, boo! I sometimes wish I didn't know that exercise is so important to happiness - but I do - I KNOW it. My happiness is often directly linked to the amount of exercise I'm getting. If I start my day with a jog - even if it's only a slow mile, my day is way better. I am able to get outside, listen to my feet hitting the ground, my breathing, my heartbeat - I am living in the moment when I run. It's almost like meditation - it's the best. I am able to ride the ups and downs way better, I'm more optimistic, and a lot less anxious. I just feel smooth inside. And that's a fact, jack.
5. LIMIT MEDIA TIME, INCREASE FACE TIME - Media can be a real drag - and when I say media I mean television, music, and most especially internet. For me, FACEBOOK is so toxic in large quantities. Instead of sitting down to stare at a contrived world, I walk to a neighbor's and chat. Also, while you're there - give her a hug or throw some kids in the air. Humans need to be touched and to touch things. It can be feeling a soft blanket, kissing a baby, but the best is hugs. All of that contact seems to get my happy signals flowing again. It awakens me to the beautiful real world around me. When I hug Mike after a bad day I let myself imagine that he is squeezing all of that stress and darkness out of me.
6. WASTE POWER. What I mean by that is I open ALL of my blinds and turn on EVERY light in the room. I really do believe that our spirits are drawn to and added to by light. I really need light. When we were house-hunting - how much light came in was one of the main characteristics I was looking for. Bright days make me a happier girl.
7. MUSIC - I know, this seems at odds with #5 but this is a very speific use of media. I don't mean listen to any music all day long. I mean that I choose specifically uplifting songs and listen to them to get me out of a funk. I don't lay on my bed and listen to it like an angst filled teenager - I get up, dance, start working on something - I let it get me going.
8. CLEAN/CREATE - these two may not seem related but they are! Cleaning and creating are times when you take something and make it into something else. That could be organizing your silverware or knitting a hat. But a warning, DO NOT try reorganizing a super messy basement when you're depressed - instead start with a small linen closet. Or just do the dishes. Cleaning the kitchen, even if I really don't want to, can make me feel better than just about anything. The act of cleaning requires you to stop thinking so intently about yourself and instead about how to fit a lot of cups in the dishwater. You feel the water and the bubbles on your hands, you move - it's really effective. As for creating, just like cleaning, don't start a huge project that will overwhelm you and leave a huge mess to clean up. Instead, rearrange your furniture or pictures, watercolor with your kids, bake some bread for your friends. It's really hard to be depressed while standing over the stove-top and smelling yummy food cooking.
9. BUCK UP - This step is one of the most important because if you don't try harder to be happy, none of the first 8 will help. If you are moping around and feeling sorry for yourself nothing is going to help. SNAP OUT OF IT! If I feel those blue thoughts swirling around me I will physically shake them off - I jump up really fast, shake my head, or say out loud, "Get thee hence!" You've got to try not to think those thoughts or to listen to the father of all lies. I'm positive that Satan is always watching for moments of weakness when he can start to bring you down into depression - like when you get on the scale, when someone doesn't wave back, or when you forget to complete something important. He and his servants are lying in wait to pounce on you at those moments - so you've got to be able to throw them right back where they came from. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's like I'm wrestling with those voices - slowly flicking each and every one away. But you can get help...
10. FANTASIZE. Yes, you read that right. I'm not talking about fantasizing about someone's hot bod - I'm talking about imagining your future life with a lot of hope. This move is surprisingly requiring a lot of faith for me and it's been really hard to feel happy about it all. So I've been forcing myself to imagine myself there and how happy I'll be. I imagine myself sitting in my grass on a beautiful evening and being happy. I imagine future friends, happy holidays, and almost everything. It's really helped me to be more positive. Also, sometimes I have "future girl" visit me to tell me how everything is going to be ok. I imagine my future self coming to me and saying, "Wow, that WAS a hard time, but don't worry - you'll make it through it - and you'll be glad you did. There are a lot of happy things ahead." My favorite future girl visit is when she says, "Wow, you are a lot fatter than I remember being! But don't worry - you won't always be!" What would your future girl/guy say to you?
10. PRAY -I used to wait to pray until I was really depressed, but now, as soon as I feel it starting to bug me - as soon as I feel like I'm having a hard time doing #9 - I get down on my knees and ask for help. And you know what? Your Heavenly Father loves it. He KNOWS what you need to do to overcome it. When I ask for help - sometimes I'll get an idea of what I could do to feel better, sometimes I'll have an easier time remembering why I'm cool and ALWAYS I get added strength. Sometimes he sends a friend my way, and sometimes he tells me to be the friend to someone else. We all know service is a really effective way to stop thinking about how terrible your life is...
In the end, I think that depression is the plague of our time - I think it's the most effective way to weaken us and keep up from doing what we were born to do. I'm not going to murder anyone but I might kill my potential by spending my life unhappy. But that being said, sometimes depression can be a tool to help you get better. When I'm depressed I can often figure out why - maybe it's the way I'm spending my time or who I'm spending it with or without. Depression can act as a barometer to your life - and when you figure out what is amiss, you can change and get better - and HAPPIER! So, don't stress if you're blue - it's normal! And maybe my steps won't help you but try them out and figure out your own ten ways to beat the blues.