A Comprehensive Guide To Feeling Less Sad
Are you ok?
A couple of weeks ago I was in a funk. It lasted a few days, during which I mostly got through the bare minimum of things I need to get done each day, but it was rubbish. There was no end in sight, nothing in particular had happened to explain my slump, everything was just bad.
Eventually, the fog began to lift of its own accord — as it always does in the end — and the moment it began to clear, I realised that there were a bunch of really easy fixes that I’d overlooked in my maudlin haze, but which would very likely have helped much sooner.
So I’ve decided to make this checklist as a reference for future bouts of the blues. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful too. If I’ve missed anything, or you have any tips, please let me know in the comments so that I don’t have to spend quite so long wallowing in my own filth next time.
Start with the obvious suspects
When the world feels grey and you haven’t got any energy and spending the rest of your life eating cereal feels like a viable option, the last thing you want to do is think about whether you’ve been drinking enough water or eating properly or going to bed at a reasonable hour. This is serious emotional turmoil we’re talking about here! It can’t just be explained away by something as frivolous as hydration or a few nights of decent sleep!
Actually, yes. Yes it can.
It’s never immediately obvious to me because, as I said, it never feels like something so pedestrian can be behind my feelings, but at least half the time, I’ll realise that I feel crappy because I haven’t been exercising recently, or I haven’t been taking proper care of my sleep or diet.
I know, I know, I’ve just finished explaining how exhausting feeling down can be, and now I’m talking about exercise. Am I insane?! I’m not picturing anybody running a triathlon or climbing Kilimanjaro, I’m defining exercise as anything that involves whole-body movement and gets your heart rate above resting. A walk, a bike ride, a swim, anything that gets you outdoors and forces out to change out of those sweatpants that you’ve been wearing for the past 5 days straight.
Directly below exercise on the list of things I don’t care even a tiny bit about when I feel depressed is my diet. I eat when I’m hungry, which isn’t often, and what I choose to eat is driven entirely by how quickly and easily it can be taken from its current form and put into my mouth. Very occasionally this makes fruit a strong contender, usually, it means chocolate. Eating crappy food gives you crappy energy which makes you feel crappier. You know this. Eat a salad.
For some reason, when I feel down, I become a house-cat. I laze around as much as possible during the day and then experience an inexplicable surge of alertness at around 1 a.m. Then I’ll drift off at around 4, wake up feeling sluggish at “Oh my God, is that the time!” o’clock the next day, and repeat the cycle.
Along with all the other wonderful things it does, sleep is our brain’s mechanism for processing the emotions of the day. It also helps to refresh the connection between the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s control centre), and the amygdala (the brain’s emotional hub).
Sleep-deprived people are as much as 60% more emotionally reactive than somnambulistically (I’m so happy to have used this word in a sentence) responsible people. Go to bed.
Ask yourself what’s on your mind
What’s the first thing you’d do if a close friend of yours was feeling down? You’d ask them what was bothering them, right? And you wouldn’t get frustrated with them if they couldn’t give you a clear, concrete answer straight away, instead, you’d ask them questions or distract them, and maybe circle back when they felt up to it.
Why is it so hard for us to be this reasonable with ourselves?
Ask yourself why you feel this way, and then ask again, and again. The first answer you give yourself is hardly ever going to be the truth. Not that it’s necessarily a lie either, but it’s still a few layers too high. Channel your inner two-year-old and whenever your frazzled, mopey brain throws up an answer which it hopes will shut you up, ask “But whhhhyyyyyyy?” I mean, be patient with yourself, but also don’t stop asking until your brain throws its hands up in exasperation and spills the beans.
Take yourself on a date
While you’re figuring out what’s lurking behind your funk, try doing something to shake yourself out of your routine. Sometimes, that itchy, uncomfortable feeling is just your brain’s way of saying that you’ve been you haven’t taken it out anywhere nice recently and that you used to be more romantic when you first started seeing each other.
It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic. Try something which gets you out of the house more often, or encourages you to interact with new human beings, or just puts a smile on your face. Take up a new hobby, change up (or start) your exercise routine, read a book. When I’m having a bad day, I fire up YouTube, pick a random line-dancing or Morris dancing video, and follow along. Never fails. It’s amazing how often sadness is just boredom in dark glasses and a fake moustache.
Give yourself time
This is an incredibly unsatisfying answer when you want to feel better, and it’s also the truest answer whether you like it or not. Sometimes you’re going to feel sad. Then you won’t. The change will take time.
We’ve bought into this idea that we should be happy all the time. That such a state of affairs is possible or even desirable. But sometimes you just need to take things slowly and feel your feelings, and as long as “sometimes” doesn’t become “most of the time”, you’re probably better off resisting the temptation to add “worrying about feeling sad” to your list of problems.
See your feelings for what they are, which is temporary, and do your best until it passes. Sadness is like a headache or a rainy day. There’s not a lot you can do about it, especially right at the moment it’s happening. So instead, do what you can under the circumstances, and remind yourself that this too shall pass. Because it will.