“This is my ‘depressed stance.’ When you’re depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better. If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.” — Charlie Brown
After Kate Spade’s recent death and the surprising revelation that this bright, peppy, seemingly-happy person struggled with deep demons, I’ve been thinking about depression and mental illness. Life comes in waves. We take the good with the bad. But it appears Ms. Spade had a mental illness that took her well beyond the normal ups and downs of life.
For those of us on the typical wave of life (that is to say, those of us not currently struggling with a serious mental illness), understand that good things and bad things will continue to happen daily. Still, how do we maintain an emotional equilibrium that allows us to go through life with more grins than grimaces? Everyone has down times and challenges to overcome. We all walk the path of life’s ups and downs and sometimes the “up” path can be quite steep. This is where we learn to turn to friends, family, and community for support. People with close friends, family, and a strong community recover faster from down times, failures, and sadness. Studies show that isolation exacerbates unhappiness, whereas friends and family and community lift our spirits.
“The ‘i’ in illness is isolation, and the crucial letters in wellness are ‘we.’” – Author unknown, as quoted in Mimi Guarneri, The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing
With friends, we share our achievements, failures, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Good friends are there in good times and bad. We participate in each other’s lives. We share our feelings. We don’t go it alone. One of the glorious parts of life is sharing your innermost thoughts with a friend and having them still like you, still love you and want to be around you, even when you don’t feel good about yourself.
With a plan, we don’t have to think about all our decisions because we’ve done the roadmap: our goals and our vision for our lives and the daily things that need to happen to move forward, even through tough times.CLICK TO TWEET
I recently talked to a team member whose mother had a terminal cancer diagnosis. She mentioned that she really needed to still come to work, to keep busy, as part of her coping. This makes sense. When we’re going through troubled times, it’s important that we have a daily plan. With a plan, we don’t have to think about all our decisions because we’ve done the roadmap: our goals and our vision for our lives and the daily things that need to happen to move forward, even through tough times. So, it’s easier to eat well, exercise, spend time in nature, write in our gratitude journal, and spend time with positive friends. All these things nourish us and we recover faster.
Finally, there’s laughter. Laughter sends endorphins into the bloodstream and relieves pain, both physical and mental. Laughter has been described as “inner jogging,” “respiratory gymnastics,” “the stress fighter,” and “a tranquilizer with no side effects.” Well, that all sounds good! Hurray for those great giggles we’ve had at the craziest times and hurray for our friends and the movies that make us laugh.
Sure, we find ourselves in the doldrums sometimes, but we don’t have to dwell there. We can just choose to shift gears. Helen Keller said, “When one door closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Happiness tips for the doldrums:
- Smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Smiling automatically triggers your endorphins. And if someone smiles back at you – presto! More endorphins.
- Help someone else who’s having a difficult time.
- Do something productive to take your mind off your problem.
- Decide to stop worrying and stay so busy it’s impossible to worry.
- Make lists of the things you’re grateful for in your life.
- Count in for five, count out for five as you breathe. When you’re counting, you won’t be able to think of your negative or worrisome thoughts
- Remember, barring a mental illness or chemical imbalance, happiness is a choice. Look in the mirror and say, with enthusiasm, “Happiness is a choice and I choose to be happy!” with a big grin. Do this five times and I guarantee, though you may feel silly, you’ll also improve your mood.
Everyone goes through ups and downs and daily challenges. How you choose to handle those challenges is up to you. With thoughtful, intentional attitude and action adjustments, you can get back to equilibrium.
PS – This overview post above is meant for those of us that have normal bouts of anxiety or sadness. If you are clinically depressed, these are good and helpful tips to consider in conjunction with visiting your doctor for a more serious chat. The anti-suicide prevention hotline number is another good resource to call if you are down. 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
First posted on ForbesBooks.com