Ways to Find Internal Balance When You Start The Year Feeling Blue
I went to bed at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t care about the new year. As far as I was concerned, nothing was going to be different when I woke up. I was still going to be living in a divided nation helmed by a narcissistic man-baby.
I still made my yearly resolutions, though.
On the second day of the new year, the president threatened nuclear war on Twitter. The whole thing was an ill-disguised allusion to penis size (even if he didn’t intend it to be), but it scared me nonetheless. Again, the alarm bells that had been clanging in my head for over a year screamed, “THIS ISN’T NORMAL!”
I immediately broke my third resolution.
I’m deeply sad. The future of my country, of the world, is a terrifying unknown. Maybe it always has been, but right now it all seems too real, too doomsday. I’m not alone in my anxiety. According to the American Psychological Association, 63 percent of adults report their biggest source of stress as being the future of the nation. In fact, 59 percent of Americans consider this to be the lowest point in our nation’s history.
We’ve also just made it through the holidays while dealing with this nonsense. This time of year can be hard enough — depression brought on by the holiday season is not uncommon — without having to worry about whether or not the latest piece of legislation is going to leave us jobless or homeless.
Having been feeling blue for a couple of weeks now, I decided it was time to do something about it. I’ve had my time to wallow, and now I’m ready to make a change. If you’re feeling a bit out of sorts, or if you’re battling serious depression, here are a few things you can do to hopefully bring a few more smiles or positive energies into your life.
Take a Break From Social Media
Excessive social media use can cause/exacerbate depression and anxiety for a couple of different reasons. For me, first and foremost, it’s the constant exposure to distressing and unseemly posts. It can evoke a great deal of mental and emotional anguish. To put it plainly, when all you see is sadness and pain, you start to internalize it.
There’s also the feeling of resentment, low self-worth and rejection that comes from continually comparing our lives to those of others. When you’re sitting on the couch, not feeling your best, and scrolling through the laughing faces of friends, vacation montages, and general good times being had (sans you), it’s only natural to feel left out.
Go on a social media detox. Start by going a day without checking Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If you make it through a full day, see if you can do another. Once you get the ball rolling, try a week without social media. Spend the time you would have scrolling through Facebook doing something you love.
Get Some Vitamin D
Did you know that exposure to sunlight causes the brain to increase its release of serotonin, a hormone known to have mood-boosting properties? Conversely, insufficient exposure to sunlight can lead to a dip in serotonin levels, and low serotonin levels are associated with a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression brought about by the changing of seasons and shorter days. One of the most effective treatments for SAD is light therapy, in which a special SAD light box is used to stimulate the brain’s production of serotonin.
If you suffer from SAD, or you just need a little mood boost, consider going for a walk during the day when the sun is shining. If weather or work schedules keep you from getting the fresh air and vitamin D you need, talk to your doctor about light therapy.
Gratitude is a powerful thing. When we focus onto the things we’re grateful for, our attention veers to what is good in our life. Scientists believe that by shifting our thoughts from the negative to the positive, we generate a surge of “feel good” hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
Insight and reflection are part of what makes the practice of gratitude so effective in lessening the symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, you’ll experience more lasting impact if you seek to tie gratitude into your everyday life.
One way to do this is to start a gratitude journal. Each night, before you go to sleep, write down three things that you’re thankful for. It can be something big (like having a roof over your head), or something little (like the feel of your favorite blanket on your skin).
It’s important to remember that expressing gratitude doesn’t mean denying pain, suffering, or other uncomfortable feelings. But it does help you identify and savour the points of light that always shine through the darkness.
Spend Time With Your Loved Ones
When you’re depressed, it often feels easier to withdraw into yourself rather than to seek the company of others. However, new research has found that one of the best ways to ward off depression is to spend quality, in-person time with loved ones. Affectionate social exchanges cause the brain to release oxytocin, which helps to relieve stress and combat the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Forcing yourself to be social when suffering from depression is no easy feat. Nonetheless, making the effort to connect with the people you love can yield great results. Start small, spending just an hour or so with a friend or family member so you don’t get overwhelmed. Slowly build up to whatever level of interaction you’re normally comfortable with over a few days or weeks. To really get that punch of oxytocin, laugh as much as possible and get some body contact, such as big bear hugs.
A Final Note
Winter-related depression is a topic that’s close to my heart. In fact, I’ve previously written on Mookychick about activities to help with the winter blues, because SAD sucks.
The items listed in this article are small things you can do to help with depression, but they are not a treatment or cure. If you believe you are suffering from clinical depression, please seek professional treatment through a doctor or therapist. Remember, you are not alone. In the last year, 6.9 percent of adults have reported at least one major depressive episode. There is no shame in asking for help.