Over the years I’ve had many people who were suffering from worry and depression how to get out of their hole. They would say things like, “You never seem to let things get you down. How do you do it? Is it just an act?” Well, the truth of the matter is I’ve had very down days too. I’ve had periods of down days so intense that I’ve sought help and taken antidepressants for the really hard times. In the past admitting this to people was risky. I remember the first time I was diagnosed with “major chronic depression.” I was stunned! Me? Major chronic depression? They had to be joking or had put someone else’s diagnosis on my chart. They weren’t joking and it was no mistake. It runs in my family on both sides, paternal and maternal. Fortunately for me, I was born an optimist who always believes “the sun will come out tomorrow,” so I’ve only once felt like totally giving up. That one time, many years ago now seems almost like a bad dream. I had spiraled down from, “what is wrong with me?” to “no one will ever love me or understand the true me” to “I can never make it! I’m completely incapable of dealing with all these challenges in my life right now” to “I wish I could just lay down, go to sleep and never wake up.” Hello!! That last thought was a warning sign in my brain. It was as if a dozen bells of alarm went off inside my head and all of them were LOUD!! This was about 3:00 AM one night when I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t write, couldn’t do anything. I was spiraling down too fast. Just as all those warning bells went off, one of my small sons stumbled into the bathroom and then into my bedroom. “Mama, what are you doing up so late? Why are you crying?” As I hugged his little body close to mine, I suddenly realized that I had so many blessings and so much love in my life and couldn’t afford to do anything stupid like give up. I told my son, “Sometimes grownups get sad too, but it will be ok. Mama is going to get some help. Now give me a kiss and go back to bed.”
The next morning, I called in sick and as soon as the Psychiatry Clinic opened at the Medical School where I worked, I called them and begged for an appointment. I saw a psychiatry resident that day. He prescribed an antidepressant and asked me about my coping skills. (He’s the guy who diagnosed me with major chronic depression.) Coping skills? At first I was at a loss about how to respond. He then said, “What do you do when you’re feeling down? What do you do to perk yourself up?” Oh! Well, I had many things I did for that and usually they worked quite well. My problem this time around was a little more serious because I was going through a divorce, my mother was very sick, and I was trying to work, take care of my little sons and take care of my parents. Anyway, I told him what I usually did and although they sound funny, they work nine times out of ten! I call them my happiness tools and I’ve added more as the years have passed and I’ve gone through more of life’s challenges. I thought I would share a few of my tools to perhaps give you some inspiration for finding your own happiness tools so here goes!
- Have an attitude of gratitude! Even on the worst days, if you’ll give yourself a few moments at the end of the day to reflect and think on it, you can usually find at least one thing to be grateful for during that day. Usually, once you get started, you can find many things to be thankful and happy about. As an example, one day, during a huge rain storm on the way to work, my car flooded out in the middle of the busiest road in town. My car died in the middle lane of this road and cars were bumper to bumper. Why my car bit the dust, I was completely at a loss! This was before cell phones so I couldn’t just call someone to come help me. My car wasn’t big, but I didn’t want to get out in a foot of water and try to push it to the side by myself. Fortunately, I lived in Texas, where people help one another and suddenly a cowboy (I swear to God, a real cowboy), knocked on my window and said, “Ma’am, do you need some help? I can push you over to the side with my truck if you put your car in neutral and steer!” I was never so happy to see anyone in my life! I put my car in neutral, he positioned his truck behind my little white car and within minutes my car was safely on the parking lot at the side of the road. He didn’t stop there, however! He asked if I needed a ride to work and gave it to me! He wouldn’t let me pay him anything for helping me. He just gave me a big ol’ cowboy smile and said, “Maybe someday you can help someone similarly and we’ll be even!” With that he drove off and I went to work. Point of this story? Yes, it was awful that my car bit the dust in a rainstorm, but I was very grateful for the young man’s help AND the reminder that there are many good people in the world doing good things just because.
- Journal. I’ve journaled for years and years and I can tell you right now that it is some of the best therapy you can undergo for the cost of one journal and a pen or pencil. Often I’ve started journaling, feeling lost and overwhelmed, having no idea what I was going to write, and by the time I finished, I had expressed all my emotions, sorted out in my head exactly what was bothering me, and how to overcome it! At the very least, getting all those negative thoughts and emotions out of your head onto paper tends to remove them from their neverending cycle in your head and helps you feel better. I’m a Christian, so often I end my journal entries in gratitude prayers, thanking God for helping me see things more clearly and objectively. I also thank Him for always being there with me to give me strength.
- Rearrange your furniture! Ok, maybe rearranging your furniture isn’t your cup of tea, but when I would get really stressed out, I’d start deep cleaning my house or apartment and figuring out an entirely new furniture arranagement and moving furniture. I can’t tell you how much better I always felt afterwards. It was like a new beginning. What really was at work here, however, was physical movement and exercise. You can’t sit in the same place, grousing over your misfortunes, and expect to feel any better. You’ve got to get up, move, exercise, and get those feel good endorphins going that come about as the result of that. Sweat, get your heart rate up, and it’s amazing how much better you’ll feel! Many people swear by taking walks (I’ve done that too), jogging, yoga, weight training, or crossfit. For me, now at my age, I tend to take walks and do yoga or dance! I jump up out of that comfy chair, turn on Pandora to some happy, jazzy dance music, grab up my dog and dance my heart out! My dog thinks I’m crazy, but we have a blast and I always feel better afterwards! I don’t move much furniture any longer, but vacuuming and housecleaning offers good therapeutic effects too.
- Color or cut my hair. I’m a woman. It’s what we do. Hahaha! In all seriousness, if you’re feeling negatively about your appearance, do something positive to change it. Sometimes we all need a little beauty maintenance and/or cleaning up. Hair was my personal obsession, but for others it might be as simple as going for a mani/pedi, shaving one’s legs or beard (depending on gender), or taking a long warm bubble bath. Perhaps it means buying some new clothes that fit your body and style better. A change in your personal hygiene and appearance can work wonders for your self-esteem and mood.
- Use essential lavender or vanilla oils or scents. It has been proven that both of these scents improve mood and overall feelings of well-being. Lavender oil is also good for migraines and other aches and pains. Google it for all the therapeutic uses it can provide. Perhaps you don’t have lavender oil, but you can find lavender scented candles, perfumes, air deodorants, and a dozen other products that have lavender in them. If all else fails, sniffing vanilla extract or baking something with vanilla in it works wonders too!
- Talk! Talk to a friend, a counselor, life coach, clergyman, or stranger at the grocery store! It is essential that we communicate with others how we are feeling and get feedback on that. To be honest, sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger at the grocery store than someone we know because we know the likelihood of ever seeing them again is slim and therefore anything we say is truly “safe.” Friends we trust, counselors, life coaches and clergymen are also excellent choices too! As a transitional life coach, I feel the primary core of my job is to listen and then pray for my clients. Most of the time people know what their goals are and how to achieve them, but need to talk to someone about them and get validation that they are on the right track.
- Pray, talk to God, meditate and b-r-e-a-t-h-e. As a person of faith, I have learned that if I will pray and ask for strength, courage and wisdom on handling problems or situations, God provides those things in spades, often before I’ve even finished praying. God wants to hear from us and have an intimate relationship with us. He’s like the anxious father, just wishing and waiting that his child will ask for help and include him in their problems. Jesus said, “I assure you: Anything you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” John 16:24b-25 I don’t think Jesus was talking about asking for a million dollars and getting it here. I think He is saying that if you ask for help, you will receive it. I’ve had these kinds of prayers answered in a thousand different unexpected ways. God has always provided what I needed. He hasn’t provided everything I wanted, but my and my family’s needs have always been met. Honestly, this happiness tool should be at the top of the list rather than at the bottom because I believe it is the most important. Meditation and deep breathing are other tools that are very effective too. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, hide out in the bathroom for five minutes, get very quiet, let your mind slow down and empty itself of all stresses, and take 4 or 5 deep cleansing breaths. Breathe in hope, life and joy. Breathe out stress, anxiety, and fears.
This has turned into a long piece and I truly didn’t intend for it to do so. I feel it is so important to have some tools in our toolbelt to deal with depression and self-doubt and find happiness and equilibrium. Sometimes we need professional help, as mentioned above. Sometimes we can use these tools and they help us achieve our goal of happiness as well.
“Happy is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding, for she (wisdom) is more profitable than silver, and her revenue is better than gold. She is more precious than jewels; nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left, riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant, and all her paths, peaceful. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her, and those who hold on to her are happy.” Proverbs 3:13-18
I pray that your day will be blessed with wisdom and happiness!