Kick the Blues in the Ass #Depression #FeelBetter

Holiday time can trigger the blues. It may be a reminder of loved ones lost, past hurts, or loneliness. Be careful about calling these times “depression.” Maybe. Maybe not. The term “depression” is overused. I am guilty of using the term “depressed” to describe when I am feeling down or blue, but we should be careful to note that “depression” is an actual disease.

Depression is: feeling sad, blue, irritable most every day to the point that you don’t live your life well (you may want to sleep all day or you don’t get your work done); feeling guilty or worthless most of the time; having difficulty sleeping most every night; having a hard time concentrating on everything; having a hard time feeling any pleasure; and having a hard time getting motivated to do anything. Depression isn’t a reaction to the death of a loved one. That is grief, which can feel similar, but it is natural. With depression, there may even be a point when you lose hope for the future or start thinking about ending your own life. That is when things are really bad. If this happens, call 1 800 273 8255, go to your local emergency room, or see your primary care physician to discuss medication and a counseling referral. The American Psychiatric Association says the symptoms of depression need to be present at least two weeks. Personally, I believe a month is a better time frame, but you don’t want things to get out of control.

I think of depression kind of like diabetes. Your brain isn’t maintaining the right balance of neurotransmitters necessary for a good mood. You aren’t “mental” or “crazy” just as you wouldn’t be “mental” or “crazy” if your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to keep a steady blood sugar. Just like diabetes, you may think of medication, but you will also think about lifestyle changes.

Here is the rub. Medication can work for moderate and severe depression. However, for mild depression and just feeling generally dissatisfied with your life, medication isn’t that great. Counseling is better. And, counseling isn’t just talking about your feelings. It is finding ways to DO things differently.

Sometimes I feel like people take a medication to wish away life stress. The bad news here is that life is full of stress, both good and bad. That is how you know you are alive. Be very careful when you start to think about medicating away life. What is the point of that? — Not that it actually works. Secondarily, once people get put on medication, it seems they never get off. My point is that it can be helpful to evaluate your life and see what changes you might need to make (e.g., getting rid of unhealthy relationships, finding meaningful activities, etc) before turning to a medication. Medication doesn’t solve the problems you are avoiding. Medication can help you be more effective in dealing with those problems.

The bottom line is that depression does not refer to fleeting periods of sadness. The reason I say this is that if we tell ourselves that we are depressed, we run the risk of actually becoming depressed. It is the self-fulfilling prophecy. And, while I am on a roll, I will tell you that American society underlies some of the problem. There is this fallacy that we are entitled to be happy most all of the time. “I should be happy. Look at everyone else. They look so happy. Why can’t I be that happy? There must be something wrong with me or my life. Maybe it is my job. I hate my job. Maybe it is my looks. I hate my looks. Maybe it is my partner. I am not treated well.” When we tell ourselves that we don’t measure up or our lives don’t measure up, we create a storyline of feeling sorry for ourselves. Then, we feel like shit, all along telling ourselves that other people have it better. If only……

Our brains are wired to feel a range of emotions, and it isn’t realistic to think that you will feel happy all of the time. In fact, research shows that when we go out and try to find happiness externally, we can get on a cycle of ups and downs, something Martin Seligman, Ph.D. calls the “hedonic treadmill.” We chase the next best thing. We get it and feel good for a moment and then want something else. We are never satisfied to be where we are or with what we have.

When we get “there,” we find that “there” isn’t as great as we had hoped. It didn’t solve all of our problems. That is because there is no “there.” There is only “here.” “Here” is where you are belong because it is where you are. Look around. Appreciate “here” because you won’t be “here” for long. There is a reason you are “here.” Soak it in. Learn your lessons. But, don’t necessarily label “here” as “depression.” Perhaps “here” is natural sadness associated with losing a relationship or not getting what we want — not to be labeled as a disease.

Here are some things you can do to kick the blues in the ass. As I said before, if you think you have depression, see your physician and/or get counseling. These are just some other things that help.

1. Move. Exercise is a natural mood lifter. It detoxes your body of tension and stress, helps your brain release endorphins, and provides a nice distraction. Studies show that moderate daily exercise is as effective as an anti-depressant. It also has the nice side effect of decreased cancer risk, improved memory, decreased anxiety, improved energy, and the like. There are no commercials selling exercise. I will tell you that it is my absolute favorite mood booster (as long as your physician hasn’t told you to avoid exercise). Even for chronic pain, exercise can help your brain shut off the pain signals and release muscle tension. Key: Don’t wait for the mood to strike you. Get up and exercise, and THEN you will feel better. Action comes first.

2. Write it Down. Journal your heart away — goals, vent about life stress, gratitude. You can examine yourself over time and see patterns. Write before bed to clear your mind for a better sleep.

3. Find a Friend. Be around supportive others. Avoid negative nellies. Our brains are wired to be social (to differing degrees), and anyone who is isolated will eventually become depressed. Finding good friends can be hard. Meet new people through interest clubs, yahoo meetup groups, social support groups, church, and community activities. If you like to read, go to a book store and start up a conversation. Put yourself out there. If you google, you will be surprised at the ways you can meet people in your area. In my experience, this is the number one reason men feel down. Men don’t give as much time to relationships as women. This is fixable.

4. Do Something Else. Get out of your space and into a new environment. Go to a coffee shop. Go to a movie. Get reading. Just put your mind onto something new.

5. Chill. Search Youtube for meditation, visualization, and relaxation exercises. Find some to try. Focus on something positive.

6. Help Someone Else. Volunteer work is a great way to increase those “feel good moments” and meet new people. Test me on this one. Do something, and see how you feel.

7. Make An Action Plan. Make a plan to be active. Don’t alter it. Stick to the plan. The busier you are, the better you should feel.

8. Argue With Yourself. Tell the negative voice to shut the hell up. You aren’t going to listen to the shit that weighs you down. If there is something you need to do to fix it, then do it. Otherwise, what is the point? Self-torture?

9. MOMF. Being human necessarily means you will experience negative emotions. Soak it in. Feel it. If there is something you need to learn, process that. Reflect on that. If there is something you can control, make a change. If there is something you need to do, do it. Otherwise, move on mother fucker. Let it go. If you knew you would die today, would you waste one more moment being worried about this? Now live your life as if you could die any time because there are no guarantees, and you deserve to be in this here and now.

Keep MOMF’ing.

Author of Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go. Using CBT, mindfulness, humor, and profanity to feel better.