GOT THE BLUES?
Life has hard moments for everyone.
Some people appear to take things in stride, to keep the proverbial “chin up” attitude.
Other people fight back and, with a flurry of activity, attack perceived problems head on and get back on their feet in that way.
Still others go through a bit of a down time, perhaps consult with friends, work it through a bit, and move on. But there are many people who find themselves cast into depression, unable to shake loose what others might call “the blues,” but what for some people are minor challenges can be, for a person in the midst of depression, overwhelming and paralyzing. I have known many individuals struggling with depression in the events leading up to, during and after divorce, but I have known just as many people in healthy marriages who also struggle with divorce for one reason or another. Times of depression can be tough.
Today I thought I might simply pass along some tips for dealing with depression. Before I close the blog, I will also include some thoughts for those of you who, while not depressed yourselves, have a family member or friend you would like to help through their time of depression.
- It isn’t useful to pile guilt on top of your depression. It is often a temptation to blame oneself for depression, as if it is something you have chosen. Most of the time, however, it is not. Depression is just what it is, adding guilt over being depressed only leads into deeper depression. Argue with the thoughts that would convince you otherwise. Depression is sometimes a natural response to difficult circumstances, sometimes induced by brain chemistry, and generally only lasts for a season. By the way, don’t let others pile guilt on your for it, either.
- Realize you are a unique individual. Just because something helps someone else you know who is depressed, does not mean it will be helpful for you. For those who struggle with periodic depression over a lifetime, it can be a wise preparation to develop some self-awareness. Along the way, take time for some reflection as to what kinds of things help create depression for you, as well as what things you find helpful in the midst of it. These things can be useful when facing another round of depression.
- Though you may not feel like you have the energy or motivation to do it, I encourage you to get out of the house and be around other people regularly, even if you have to drag yourself out.
- Take care of your physical needs as best you can. Try to eat more healthy and balanced meals, as depression often expresses itself through one’s relationship with food, and unhealthy eating can also contribute to feelings of depression. Stay away from alcohol during depression…it is a drug that is a depressant, remember? Pursue an exercise routine, it can release mood lifting endorphins, boost energy, and help your focus. Enforce for yourself boundaries on your sleep…refuse to stay up out of bed when you wake up in the middle of the night, and refuse to spend all day sleeping. You may have to take sleep aids and read really boring books, or in contrast, you may have to force yourself to take that shower and get dressed or to go out to the store, but don’t let depression’s sleep patterns control YOUR sleep patterns.
- Find something to make you laugh, preferably on a daily basis. There are lots of options for this; a stupid movie, a humorous book, a pet you can play with or some ridiculous YouTube video are all options that could brighten a few moments of your day.
- Keep in contact with those who care for you. While you don’t want to drag them down into the dark hole you are experiencing, neither is it wise to shut them out of your struggle completely. Ask for support and encouragement when you need it, share your prayer needs, spend some time in positive social interactions, such as dinner out, a movie or a walk in the park.
- If you had bronchitis, you would go see your doctor and take the medicine the doctor prescribes. Similarly, chronic or deep depression may compel you to see a professional counselor or take medications to help you through. Don’t be afraid to get help when help is needed. Just as it is unwise to wait too long and let bronchitis turn into double pneumonia, it can be just as unwise to wait overly long before seeking help in depression.
- Your pastor, Bible study group leader or other Christian leader can be a good source of encouragement, helping you address the spiritual battle often accompanying depression. Keeping faith through the dark days can require support from other people of faith, and nurturing your spiritual side in the midst of it can help strengthen you to get through it.
- Provide regular opportunity to let God to minister to you directly and personally. Do your best to continue to attend worship. Talk honestly with God about your struggle. Spend time in the scripture, even if it is just reading a psalm or a few verses each day, and even if you don’t feel like it is doing you any good.
- Do at least one thing constructive each day. Often, when depressed, the load of tasks to be done is overwhelming, and begins to get bigger as time passes. As the list gets longer, it becomes more overwhelming and the depression grows stronger. Selecting something, anything, that you can do and scratch off the list helps. Some days you may take on a bigger challenge, other days, a simple task may be all you feel you can manage. So do what you can, but do something. If that something also happens to be the kind of something that also brightens your environment a little bit, such as a new coat of paint or planting petunias, so much the better.
- Last of all, grant yourself the grace and compassion you would grant to others who were suffering depression. Don’t expect more of yourself than you would expect of them. Cut yourself some slack. It’s okay if you can’t get through it instantly, some things just take time to get over, and depression can be the process that makes you slow down to get through the losses and fears. Give yourself time to make it through, one step at a time.
Now, for those of you dealing with a family member who is depressed, I will only offer a few thoughts. You don’t have to tiptoe around someone who is depressed, but it can also be counterproductive to be overbearing or pushy, too. Just do your best to maintain as normal a relationship as possible. You don’t need to avoid the topic of the depression, nor should you overly dwell on it in conversation with your struggling friend. Some days, a little challenge from you might be the encouragement that helps them turn a corner, or at least take a step forward.
Sometimes the greatest gifts you can give are the simplest, such as a listening ear, a thoughtful card, a meaningful scripture, an invitation out for lunch, or a token gift such as flowers or tickets to a show. Let them know you care, let them know you are praying for them, let them know you are available to talk or spend time together, but also let them know you will give them the space they need.
Finally, I would add, there are things you can suggest, encouraging your friend to see a counselor or to eat something, but always remember, your friend’s depression is not something you can fix. You can support, you can encourage, you can pray, you can assist, but you cannot fix this for them. Depression is a lonely journey, and much of it has to be traveled alone in the wee hours of the morning or in the silent recesses of the soul. Being available when needed and offering support during the difficult dark days can mean much more than anything else you can do. For the rest of the time, you just have to be patient, and in your patience, make sure you are doing your own self-care, lest you get dragged down into another’s depression.