Treating Blues like the Flu

February 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately.

This isn’t unusual for me. I’ve suffered from depression and generalized anxiety disorder for most of my adult life (who doesn’t, I always wonder), so I occasionally find myself in the doldrums, the horse latitudes, under the weather…

I have learned to master these hiccups mostly without medication over the years through a combination of exercise, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, organization and, of late, through diet and de-cluttering.

But the pillar of my depression and anxiety management has always been exercise. I must move by body every day in order to maintain a level of calm, vitality and motivation. Unfortunately, I injured my knee while skating last month, and then I continued to run on it because it doesn’t hurt while I am moving, it hurts after. So now I have this knee problem that keeps me from being as active as I need to be to feel my best.

Combine this with a pretty hefty tax bill due in April that ensures that all of my family’s extra income for the next two months is already spent on something decidedly un-fun, and you have yourself a recipe for the Type-A blues.

When you have a chronic condition like depression or anxiety, it’s important to remember that it is, in fact, an illness. When I have a blues blowup I treat it as such and I adhere to a regimen very close to what I would do if I had the flu.  I highly recommend this course of action when you are dealing with any sort of situation that has you feeling down in the dumps.

The Type-A Blues Prescription* is as follows:

Get lots of rest. I don’t mean loll around in bed all day feeling sorry for yourself (although one day of this is absolutely allowed). I mean set a reasonable bedtime every night and stick to it. I like to be asleep by 10 p.m., so I start winding down around 8, dimming lights, cutting out the liquids, reading, taking a hot bath. Without adequate rest, the blues can really do a number on my ability to get even the most minor things done.

Cancel social events and appointments. Even though being around others can sometimes lift my spirits, I more often find that the blues make me very anxious about bringing my best self to interactions. At parties, this sometimes makes me drink too much or say something I regret (those two often go hand in hand). In meetings, my mind wanders or I just don’t feel on. I have found that by just saying I’m not feeling well or postponing an important meeting for a later date, I give myself a little space to feel calm and, in the case of meetings, prepare myself to be fully functional the next time.

Drink lots of hot liquids. A psychologist once explained to me that we drink hot beverages in the morning not only to give ourselves a caffeine boost, but also because humans crave a warm feeling around our hearts. I like this idea. When I’m blue, I drink lots of warm tea to elevate my spirit and warm my heart. It’s like a moment of therapy in a mug.

Wear comfy clothes. I subscribe to this most of the time, but especially when I’m down. Comfy clothes make it easy to move, bend and breathe, and are especially nice when cuddling on the couch.

Watch movies or read books that make you smile. One of my go-to blues books is An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It’s not a front-to-back read, so when my attention span is compromised it’s nice to be able to flip to a random page and read her warm, sweet observations about normal life. For movies, I love I Capture the Castle (Free on Netflix! It’s based on a book written by the same woman who wrote 101 Dalmations. How cool is that?), Role Models (my favorite raunchy comedy of all time) and re-runs of Friends (sentimental entry).

Stop drinking. I must cut out all alcohol when I have the blues or I will spiral down into oblivion. There’s no negotiating this for me. Alcohol affects my ability to get a good night’s sleep, it makes me feel anxious and jittery, and, despite the calming effect one or two glasses of wine seems to have on my system, it’s actually just depressing me more. You wouldn’t have a cocktail when you have the flu, so trade it for a mug of chamomile tea instead.

Walk meditatively. Being a bit of an exercise junkie, my normal walking speed is faster than many people jog. When I am feeling down and out, I remind myself to slow down, breathe deeply, and take in the images around me. This week, I was delighted by the beauty of the Western Bluebirds flitting around in the pink blossoms of the cherry trees, and I was charmed by the bright red English phone booth outside of our local pub. I normally zoom past these things, but in my slower state I was able to really enjoy the pleasures of my small town. My heart felt happy again.

Treat yourself like you would treat a friend who feels the same way. If your friend had a case of the sads, you wouldn’t berate her for not getting through that pile of laundry. You wouldn’t scold her for oversalting the pasta. You would never tell her to “pull herself up by her bootstraps” and jump back into life. You’d pour her a cup of tea, tuck her into bed and tell her that you’ll call her 3:00 and say she’s not feeling well enough to meet. Do this for yourself.

What about can’t-get-out-of obligations? Many of us have things that we must do every day: Go to work, get the kids ready for school, fight the galactic menace… These things can’t be put off, but you can take it easy on yourself. Have your tea while you’re doing these things. Stop for 15 seconds when things get hectic and breathe deeply. When you finally get your time, baby yourself mercilessly and unconditionally to re-charge your batteries for the next day. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your spouse or friends for help.

Our society rewards those of us who buck up, get on with it and soldier on. I certainly agree that there is a time and a place for this type of attitude, but for now, if life has you feeling down, it’s probably because you need a short time out. Take it. Make yourself feel better. The best way to chase the blues away is to take excellent care of yourself today.


*For mild blues take a few of these and call a friend in the morning. If you’re experiencing panic attacks or a major depressive episode, contact your physician as soon as possible. There’s no need to suffer in silence.


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§ 2 Responses to Treating Blues like the Flu

  • EcoCatLady says:

    Have you ever read Dr. Christiane Northrup? She shows up on PBS now and then and I’ve read a few of her books. One of the things she says is that in our culture, illness is the only socially acceptable form of meditation… meaning that the only time we allow ourselves to really take care of ourselves is when we’re sick.

    I used to be a real expert at “pushing through” and it’s taken my a long time to learn how to slow down and take care of myself. Deciding that it was OK to stop trying to “fight the galactic menace” helped. I’m generally pretty good about it these days, but there are times I have to remind my inner voice to stop yelling things like “get off your fat ass you stupid idiot” at myself.

    Take good care of yourself, and I hope you’re feeling better soon!

  • Elle says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I tend to be too hard on myself, which in the end just makes me feel worse.

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