You have probably seen some sort of TV or cartoon depiction of a little angel sitting on a person’s shoulder, and a tiny devil with pitchfork on the opposite shoulder. They are both whispering advice as the person tries to make a decision. Usually it’s about whether to get the fries or a salad. I don’t think that angels and devils interact with us quite like that, but we all do have some internal conversations going on throughout the day. I have noticed in myself that sometimes the loudest and most insistent voice is absolutely the wrong one.
Bad ideas from the loud voice:
- Take another shot of tequila!
- Eat all the chocolate!
- Ask him out for drinks!
- Avoid people today!
Okay, there are times and places where all these things are fine, but in the particular situations I’m thinking of in my life, each of these loud-voice-influenced decisions began a series of unfortunate events.
Sometimes, when we’re feeling depressed, the absolutely last thing we want to do is crawl out of bed. If we make it to the bathroom, we think we’ve made some great progress. The idea of being around other people at times like that is nearly impossible to imagine. All we want to do is curl up in bed, maybe sit in the dark and ruminate about the unfortunate circumstance that is life. If there is chocolate (or whatever binge food you prefer) in the house, so much the better. The loud voice tells you to eat it. Eat it all. Stay in bed. Drink the booze. Take the pills. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t call your friends.
Somewhere inside, there is a quiet voice telling us this course of action will only make things worse, but the idea of going outside and taking a walk or calling friends to come over is just too much. So I have put together a list of achievable goals for days when we’re feeling really down. If you can accomplish some of the things, you might be able to feel a little better tomorrow, instead of making the situation worse.
Things to Do:
Things to Do:
- Take a bath. Put your body in the tub. Run some hot water. Bath salts and bubble bath are awesome, but if you don’t have that, at least your body will be clean, and this is something relaxing and restorative to do for about 20 minutes.
- Lay on the floor with your feet up on a wall for 5-10 minutes. This is very low effort. It’s more comfortable on a carpeted floor, but if you don’t have carpet, you can put a blanket under yourself.
- Listen to some classical music. You’re probably online: you can go on YouTube and find whole channels of free music that will play for extended periods of time. You can look up “music for depression” or “uplifting music.” Try to avoid any music that makes you depressed or anxious.
- Eat something that grew out of the earth. Whatever you like: banana, apple, nuts, oranges. These items take zero work to prepare, and will help your body repair itself. Find a simple thing in your kitchen. If you don’t have a fruit or a vegetable in the kitchen, this is a great time to call up a friend and say, “I am feeling down. Could you bring me a banana?” The banana will be nicer to you than the quart of ice cream.
o On a side note, if you really don’t have any plant-based foods in your kitchen, the next time you feel well enough to get to the store, buy a stash of healthy things that last a while, like frozen fruits. You can make them into a smoothie or just take them out, let them thaw, and eat them.
- Call a nice friend. You don’t have to tell them you’re feeling down. Just tell them you called to check on them and ask them how their day is going. Maybe their talk will distract you for a while. At times like this, be sure to think about who you are calling—someone who is interested in your well-being and who doesn’t make you feel worse. You might want to call your ex or that frenemy who always puts you down—instead, call someone kind and upbeat who generally makes you feel better.
The goal here is to avoid making things worse by drinking, overeating, or talking to people who affect you negatively. As you start to feel a little more together, maybe in a day or two, take stronger actions, like taking a walk outside. Go in person to a restorative/gentle yoga class. Take any exercise class, or go to a gym with people in it. By moving, we get ourselves out of our heads and into our bodies. If we can find a place with people, it also helps alleviate that sense of isolation that compounds depression.
Once you’re really feeling energetic, plan out a week’s worth of healthy meals and go shopping.
Find a group or organization that needs your help, like a homeless shelter or animal shelter. Volunteer your time to take some of your focus away from your internal dialogue.
When you’re feeling good, try spending a few minutes a day in meditation. I didn’t recommend this at the beginning because, at least in my own head, my meditation gets very melancholy when I’m feeling down, so that’s not really the place I want to start. But when you are feeling well, you can try setting aside a few minutes of quiet time a day to take a mental inventory of your life. Focus, one-by-one, on things for which you are thankful. Mentally reach out to people you care about, sending positive thoughts their way for a moment or two. Try to cultivate a sense of gratitude. If you start the practice when you are feeling well, it can become a healthy and grounding practice even when you’re feeling down. The next time you feel depressed, you might even be able to think of a few things you are grateful for. Some days, that list might be very short. For example, “I am thankful I am not on fire.” However short the list, it is a place to start.
Remember, no matter how bad you feel, tomorrow is another day.