By all accounts, my friend had a good day. She and her husband puttered around their village, enjoyed shopping and sightseeing, and ate a nice meal. But when she returned home, a blanket of gloom settled on her.
It didn’t make sense. She’d been so happy. There was no reason for the blues, yet she was inundated by negative feelings. She slumped on the couch, feeling an inexplicable weight on her shoulders.
Has this happened to you? I’ve experienced it. For no apparent reason, your enjoyment of life simply fades. You can’t get interested in anything. You’re lethargic. Unmotivated.
Everything on your “to do” list seems a burden. Why did I sign up for this? you wonder. You feel sluggish but not tired enough to sleep.
This feeling is like Depression Lite. I don’t want to comment on actual clinical depression because that’s more serious, but in the moment, this feels pretty serious, too. It might be hormones, brain chemistry, or something else. If it lasts, you should see an expert.
Which I am not. But I’m in my 60s, so I’ve learned a few things, including how to offset these moods. Some of my tactics might seem too simple, almost superficial. Believe me, I felt pretty lame when I realized that I sometimes brought on my own blues.
On the upside, this means you can manipulate your feelings.
1. Your Environment. As you try to figure out why you’re blue, consider outside influences. Especially for sensitive people, these can affect your mood even if you don’t see the big deal: an article you just read, a news item, a rude comment at the hands of a stranger, hearing harsh words hurled at a child, cabin fever from bad weather, fear of an upcoming dentist or doctor appointment, and even the music you listen to.
This was one of the most ridiculous things I realized about myself. I used to listen to a lot of slow, moody, new-agey music, until I realized the impact it was having on me. Fine for earlier in the day, but toward evening, when I’m more tired, it sounds funereal. Now I change the channel to something more upbeat, and my mood lifts.
2. Physiology: Did you really get enough sleep last night? Maybe you’re just tired. Or, if you’re at a certain age, have you had a physical lately? Are you moving enough to get your blood flowing? Are you drinking enough water? Sometimes dehydration manifests in the form of lowered mood and energy.
3. Forced Productivity (made easy): Set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes and force yourself to do something productive for that short period. There’s a tenet of motivational theory that says doing one small thing can break the logjam; if you feel even a little bit productive, you might feel better. So throw a load of laundry in the washer, or sweep the kitchen floor. When the timer rings, you might even feel like going another fifteen.
4. Distract Yourself Part I: Humor. Watching comedy on YouTube can really change your attitude. You might still be planted in your recliner, but at least you’ll smile. Maybe even laugh. Then congratulate yourself for taking action.
5. Distract Yourself Part II: Tried and True Entertainment. Dig up an old movie you love, or reread the last few chapters of a favorite book. Make sure it’s something you know you’ll enjoy. Don’t go channel or internet surfing for something new. You won’t find it. In your frame of mind, everything on TV is crap, and you’ll find only death and destruction. Do not surf.
6. Publicize. Although this is more risky, if you have a trusted friend or family member, contact her / him and cry on their shoulder. I even saw someone post about their case of the blues on Facebook, and she received tons of loving support. I’m not sure that would be for me, but it’s your call.
7. Wallow. As a last resort, give up and wallow. I swear, this works. If I can’t fight it, I join it. I wallow deeply, fully immersed in my negative feelings. I’ll journal, wailing away about how unfair everything is and how badly I hate everything and everybody, including myself. I watch sad movies and cry. I throw away perfectly good clothing and plants. (Okay, not really. But I might set them out by the trash.) I don’t drink, because the blues are bad enough when you’re in your right mind.
And then, at a certain point, I get sick of wallowing and climb out of the pit, back to some semblance of normalcy.
And if you’re blue, don’t make it worse for yourself.
In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, she talks about dealing with the overwhelming grief of losing David, her husband. I recommend it. Have a box of tissues handy.
Option B offers many great insights, including this from psychologist Martin Seligman. He says these three P’s can stunt recovery:
- Personalization–the belief that you are at fault
- Pervasiveness–the belief that this feeling will affect all aspects of your life
- Permanence–the belief that this feeling will last forever.
I definitely recommend Option B. I read it on my Kindle and then bought the hardcover so I could have it (highlighted and dogeared) in my bookcase forever.
Also, remember that Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroscientist, said the physiology of negative emotions only affects your body for 90 seconds, unless you remember or relive the memory. Then the bad chemistry will affect you again. Here’s that post and a link to her book.
On a happier note…
You probably know I write midlife fiction. All my main characters are over fifty, because the stuff we go through then is powerful and mindblowing and so very different from when you’re younger. I like to show people going through it and coming out the other side, stronger and wiser. If this sounds good to you, check out my latest, Key Largo Blues. It’s the sequel to Dakota Blues, and it’s received 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Click here to buy, or if you’re in the Kindle Lending Library, you can read it for free! And if you’re of a mind, please leave a review. Thanks!