Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Health: What to Do When You're Feeling Blue

      It’s rainy today. Sigh. 

I’ve been staying at the lake this week with family, and had grandiose plans of kayaking for miles this morning. However, as the sun peeked over the coniferous-plant covered hills and I paddled towards an island I’ve been wanting to explore, I began to feel drops of rain pelt my head and legs. Not wanting to be the tallest object in the middle of a lake during a thunderstorm, I quickly paddled back to the beach, lugging the kayak onto shore before booking it inside. With the clouds now blocking out any early morning sunlight, and my plan foiled,  I felt a hint of sadness rise to the surface of my consciousness. 

Decision time. To be sad or not to be? 

It’s a decision every human being is faced with countless times throughout life, due to emotions, circumstances, and attitudes, and one that really affects how we proceed in action. Recognizing that living joyfully is generally more enjoyable, how do we then proceed when faced with temptation to despair? 
     In a book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, the authors* discuss how people who are able to think through their emotions act more effectively. That in mind, I’ve made a checklist* of things to consider before your emotions negatively affect the rest of your day….week…(life…) ;)

1. Check the basics: How much sleep did I get last night? Have I continued in my healthy eating habits? How much time have I spent exercising? These things seem obvious, but sometimes getting yourself out of a slump only requires an energizing run outside or a good night’s sleep to correct. Get back on track with these things before proceeding. 

2. Check your schedule: Did something stressful occur recently that is still affecting me? Am I nervous or stressed about something coming up soon? I’ve learned to not trust a lot of the things I feel for the first week or so after traveling, because of the effects of jet lag. Look outside of today, and see if there are deadlines, events, meetings,  conversations, etcetera that are affecting you. Recognize their effect on you, then move on, either by putting it aside or by planning practical steps to work on it.  

3. Check your calendar: What are you looking forward to? Do you have enough margin in your schedule for things and people that bring you life and refreshment? If the answer is no, maybe its time to rearrange some things, call up a friend, and just have fun!

4. Check around you: After you've considered why you feel the way you do, take a moment to look around. Do you know of anyone who could use your help or company? Is there some way you could bring a friend (or stranger!) a bit of joy as you go throughout your day? Maybe a friend is going through a hard time and could use a lunch date, or maybe your aunt across town could use help with her garden. Looking for ways to be kind to others not only helps them, but can bring joy to you as well. It’s really a win-win! 

This is not an exhaustive check list, of course, but just a few basic things to consider (and not agonize over!) before plunging in to the depths of despair. Emotions are not bad in and of themselves; they are a normal part of human existence. The trouble lies in believing that you are victim to what you feel. We are not ruled by our emotions—we choose to act on them. By thinking through what you feel and why you feel it, you can make better, more intentional choices about what to do next. 

And now, as I sit contentedly sipping my favorite black coffee and watching the raindrops, my dreary mood begins to dissipate as I remember just how peaceful, productive, and cozy rainy days can be. 

It’s rainy today. Sigh. 

* Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High. Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. 2011

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