You can count on it: Life will bring its share of disappointments and sorrows. As Scott Peck reminded us in his opening words to The Road Less Traveled, life is difficult. Accept it. Our task is not to retreat into denial about life's inherent difficulties or to rail interminably against them; it is to fortify ourselves, drawing largely on our natural strengths and those of others to respond more effectively to those difficulties. Toward that end, I offer my modest 7-Point Plan for Responding to the Blues:
1. Be kind to yourself.
Accept those times when you are feeling low as natural responses to life's difficulties. It's far from a perfect world out there; it certainly makes sense that we will experience the blues from time to time. Your sadness is most likely a normal, healthy response to life's difficulties. It doesn't help to depress over your depression and spiral ever downward. It's OK to be sad.
2. Ask what message those low points might have for you.
Neither deny nor wallow in your sadness. Instead, ask if you are being called to do something different in your life, or perhaps replace an ineffective habit with an effective one. See those low points as indicators that there might be something in the mind or body that needs attention. Then gently direct your attention to what the sadness is telling you and identify one thing you can do in response.
3. Talk it out.
Visit with a friend or family member who will listen with empathy and without judging .. . . and who will avoid offering unasked-for advice. Talking it out with an empathic listener activates the cortex, the thinking part of the brain, and correspondingly reduces activity in the emotional part of the brain. Talking it out is good for you.
4. Connect with those activities that bring you happiness.
What do you enjoy doing? What activities allow you to be caught up in the moment, so focused on the present that time passes by unnoticed? Perhaps it's a talent like music or painting, or reading a good novel, watching videos, puttering in the garden, walking the dog, or just hanging out with friends. The activities we enjoy are among the most effective tools we have for beating the blues. Immerse yourself in something that gives you pleasure and let the blues fade away.
5. Nurture the soul.
The world of the Spirit transcends the world we see around us. When we open ourselves to who we are at the soul level, who we are at the core of our being, we enter that spiritual domain. It is a world that does not guarantee elimination of our pain, but it does make it possible for us to see that pain as part of our shared human condition. It connects us to the other six billion people on the planet and reminds us that we are all sons and daughters of the same God. In short, it offers us the opportunity to view our challenges from a larger perspective.
6. Exercise the body.
There may be no more effective way to beat the blues than a good run—or any number of other aerobic style activities. The experts suggest about 40 minutes of sustained exercise four or so times a week. This needn't be strenuous; a brisk walk will do. Exercise burns off the stress chemicals (adrenaline and cortisol) and increases the availability of the positive mood chemicals (serotonin and dopamine). Exercise is our body's natural way of fighting the blues.
7. Feed the body right.
Say yes to a balanced diet of the foods God gave us (mostly stuff that grows) and no to processed foods (mostly stuff in cans and packages). A simple rule of thumb: The more additives and preservatives, the worse it is for you. Avoid nicotine and excess alcohol and caffeine. Consider natural supplements like vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids. Feeding the body right need not be complicated or onerous—and you'll look and feel better as a result.
What all of the above comes down to is a lifestyle committed to total health. That's our best defense against depression—an approach that includes the physical, spiritual, emotional, creative, and social/relational dimensions of life. Make it your New Year's resolution. To your health!