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We’ve all had those days.
The days when we are just down.
Call it what you want. The doldrums. A funk. The blues. A state of melancholy. Down in the dumps. Glum. Downcast. Moody. Or as Anne of Green Gables aptly puts it, “in the depths of despair.”
Sure, your life is pretty good. So why are you feeling down? Hey, we all have our personal battles, some more daunting than others. But everyone hurts sometimes. Part of being fierce is learning how to deal with those challenges and find the good.
For me, a lot of my negative feelings stem from the stress that accompanies book deadlines, or a plate that’s sometimes too full, or finding my place in a new community that I’m still getting used to.
I want to be very clear here that occasional anxiety and feeling down is very different than depression, a medical illness. If your negative feeling last for more than a couple of weeks or are interfering with your normal activities, I urge you to seek professional help. The stigma surrounding mental health has been here long enough, if you ask me. I’m not a doctor; just a friend who has been there.
Why is this happening?
Women over fifty face many things that can spur these type of negative feelings. Hormone changes. Life changes. Maybe you’re adjusting to a newly empty nest. Or the stress of caring for your aging parents. Maybe you’ve lost someone you love. Or you’re on the job hunt after an untimely layoff. Maybe your health isn’t what it used to be.
According to a study by Johns Hopkins, women are about twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, and you’re also more likely to develop symptoms if you’re between ages 45 and 64, nonwhite, or divorced, or if you never graduated high school, can’t work or are unemployed, or don’t have health insurance.
I’m not throwing statistics at you to stress you out. The point is that it’s important to take a deep look in the mirror and notice when you have negative feelings. Be in tune with your emotions. Do what you can to curtail the stress, the anxiety, the worries and the blues. And if you can’t overcome it alone, get help.
Natural Ways to Combat Stress, Anxiety, and Mild Depression
I realize this one might not be for everyone. But it works for me. Every day begins prayer. I pray when I’m happy as well as when I’m hurting. And I pray when I am stressed or filled with worry. Our lives tend to track in the direction of our strongest thought and when they are negative, we can’t see the forest for the trees. Replacing negative self talk with positive spiritual truth has had a profound impact on my life.
Three times a week for at least 30 minutes is the generally agreed upon amount. Yoga is known for its stress-relieving capabilities but any exercise will do. Low impact activities are probably a safe bet if your knees are anything like mine. Walk around the block. Run a mile. Break a sweat. Break out your old Jane Fonda VHS tape. Just get moving. Aside from the endorphins and energy you get from exercise, there’s an element of pride that comes from finishing something you didn’t think you could do. Case in point: I’m training for my first triathlon and it’s already done wonders to my outlook.
Spend Time with Girlfriends.
Sometimes the best medicine is a round of side-busting laughs with those who know you best. Share a glass of wine on your front porch, go see a chick flick together, pull out a few boardgames and turn on some of your favorite oldies. Your girlfriends are your tribe. They are likely going through similar things as you are and share in your struggles. Lean on them. Let them lean on you. Share. Cry. Laugh. Listen.
Plant Something and Watch it Grow.
Sometimes we just need to get outdoors and get our hands in the dirt. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, adding flowers to a pretty planter, tossing wildflower seeds on the roadside, or, for the more adventurous, sewing a proper vegetable patch, helps connect us with nature, with the earth, with our heritage. There’s just something inherently good about spending time in the garden.
Do Something Nice for Someone Else.
Random acts of kindness help us feel better too. In my recent blog, we cover how doing something nice for someone else actually makes you happier over time. Bake some banana bread and bring it to an elderly neighbor. Send a letter of encouragement to someone who’s hurting. Bring a welcome basket to a new neighbor. Shift your focus from your worries to someone else.
Read a Book.
I’m not just saying this because I write for a living. Taking a journey through a work of fiction somehow helps us get away from the stress of the day while also grounding us. Some clever British researchers at the University of Sussex found that six minutes of reading reduces stress levels by 68%, and the University of Liverpool found that readers are 21 percent less likely to report feelings of depression. As a side note, a sad book might not do the trick. I tend to pick page-turning mysteries, historical fiction, or uplifting women’s fiction, perhaps one of the 15 books I’ve published? The trick is to find something that speaks to your soul. There’s something for everyone.
Quilting is therapeutic for me. When I’m feel stressed or anxious, tapping into my fabric stash and my imagination really helps. It’s not just quilting that can heal; working with your hands can do magic. Try crafting, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking. Try something new or lean on an old hobby.
Prepare a Beautiful Meal (and Enjoy It!).
Dust off your favorite cookbook. Fill your kitchen with the amazing smells, sounds, and colors that come with the whirl of cooking. Set a pretty table. Take pride in the presentation. This is the occasion to pull out the fine china. Invite neighbors over, or just enjoy a quiet meal with your family. Savor each bite. Savor the company. (And let somebody else do the dishes.)
Count Your Blessings.
I know, I know. If you’re having a bad day, this might make you roll. But it really works. Stop focusing on what’s wrong and start focusing on what’s right. Write them down if you can’t remember. I love journaling but some of my friends carry around post-its and mark it down the minute they think about it, leaving the blessing up on the wall as a constant reminder.
Check your Diet.
I don’t think there is any proven miracle food that just makes you happy (well, maybe ice cream or chocolate). Most agree that having a well balanced diet is the ticket here, complete with lots of colorful fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and plenty of lean protein.
A little sunshine (with plenty of sunscreen and sun protective accessories) can do wonders when you’re facing the blues. Gardening, dining al fresco, enjoying coffee on your porch, birding (I promise this isn’t as nerdy as it sounds), or even taking a short hike can help cheer you up.
Go get a mani pedi. Or a massage. Buy that fetching floral sunhat you’ve been eying or the pink paisley fabric that you don’t actually need but promises to bring your joy. Or simply take a nap and ignore the laundry. Whatever works for you.
Get Enough Sleep.
Days are simply darker when we haven’t gotten enough sleep. When stress is the culprit, it can be especially challenging. If I’m having trouble sleeping well, I try to exercise more, stick to a healthy diet (avoid those late night salty or sugary snacks), and read before bed. It usually does the trick.
Pet Your Dog.
I heard once that petting your dog was more therapeutic than an hour of therapy. This makes sense to me. They gaze at you with the most soulful eyes. You are the center of their universe and they worship you. Even an inkling of attention from you translates to the utmost joy for them. I think the joy is contagious. If you don’t have a dog, maybe your cat or pet hedgehog will have the same affect, but the research on this is a little murkier.
Stop checking social media nonstop. I mean it. There are numerous studies that support the link between aimless scrolling on social media and depression and other negative feelings. Same goes for screen time. You don’t need to binge watch 10 seasons of some mediocre show on Netflix. There are better things to do with your time. (Unless the new season of The Crown comes out, and then, by all means, hunker down and watch it from start to finish.)
Go the Extra Mile.
Score bonus points but doubling up on a few of these activities.
Here’s a few examples:
Grow strawberries, make jam, give to lonely neighbor.
Read a book outside while petting your dog.
Make your own body scrub, indulge in a DIY spa day, followed by a nap.
Spend time with girlfriends at an outside yoga class, followed by mani pedis.
See what I did there?
You’re Not Alone.
Did you know that 6.7% of the entire US population struggles with depression? Well, they do. That means if you have the blues, or if you suspect you have clinical depression, you aren’t alone. And there’s a world of resources designed to help you.
Disclaimer: I want to emphasize again that taking a walk probably won’t heal you of clinical depression. Real depression and anxiety calls for urgent professional help. Go see your doctor. Don’t wait it out.
If this is you, just know there is help for you, friend. Call your church or one of the 24 hour help lines like 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-662-HELP.