Q: I’d like some helpful hints about the blues. I’ve been feeling very depressed. I’ve seen a psychiatrist, who says my depression is not the kind that can be helped with medication. He says I have “the blues” and not a “clinical depression,” and that I have to cope more effectively with the kind of depression I have. Can you describe some ways to cope with a typical, run-of-the-mill depression? I need some ideas. -L.
A: First, it is fairly common for us to have periods of time in which we lose our usual energy, our response to humor, confidence, optimism, and our normal zest for life. These feelings may last a few hours or days, or even a week. For most of us, we can turn to tasks, leisure activities, or friends to help restore our feelings of confidence and well-being. We refer to this condition as depressed mood or “the blues.”
For many people the condition deepens, and becomes a biologically self-perpetuating condition. That’s what your psychiatrist was referring to as “clinical depression.” This type of experience, in which depression is a syndrome and not just a symptom, is signaled by a variety of symptoms, including major changes in our patterns of energy, appetite, and sleep.
Assuming that you are not suffering from the syndrome of depression, but just from “the blues,” you may help it lift by following a few suggestions. But, it is important to note that my suggestions do not necessarily apply to any particular person or situation.
1. Don’t fight the depression. Try to see it as an opportunity to get a little rest from your usual energy state.
2. Let yourself run on “slow,” but avoid “stop.” Whatever your normal list of activities or tasks looks like, cut it down to a size you can do in your lower energy state. But don’t, under most circumstances, abandon your usual activities or tasks completely.
3. Think about the persons and activities that typically make you feel good, smile, or laugh. Try to arrange visits with those persons, participation in those activities, etcetera. If this doesn’t work, tell yourself that it will work again at a later time.
4. Avoid medicating yourself with alcohol to alleviate the depression. This will only deepen it.
5. At whatever level you can handle it, get some moderate exercise. If this means going for a walk, go. If it means lying on the floor and doing stretching exercises, do them. Don’t exceed your physical capabilities, and remember that you will probably not exercise as vigorously as when you are not depressed. But, exercise.
6. Don’t forget: there is an out-of-doors. Even if you don’t really feel like it, consider going outside. You may be glad you did.
7. Convince yourself that no human being can judge the worth of any human being. Therefore, your worth cannot be judged. So, it’s not at stake. A lot of things may be at stake, but convince yourself that your worth as a human being is not one of them. You may just as well accept the idea that you’re worthy because you exist.
8. Try to get your personal habits stabilized. Use your best knowledge and judgment to eat healthy foods, and try to go to bed and to rise at regular times.
9. Figure out which people in your life criticize you the most and, if possible, avoid them.
10. Seek help and support from others. If you have friends, neighbors, and relatives who can help, let them. If not, or if you think you’re overburdening them, seek professional help. It doesn’t make you weak to seek help with your emotions any more than it makes you weak to seek help with your car repair, medical illness, or your taxes.
A final note: If you stay blue for a week or more, or if you experience changes in your appetite, sleep, energy or concentration, then please get professional help. Seeking help will make you a willing problem-solver and will speed your recovery.
Michael R. Slavit, Ph.D., ABPP, is Board Certified in Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. This column is not intended to be a substitute for help from a qualified professional.