“I feel like I’m just in a slump,” says Miriam. “Nothing exciting happened recently. Nothing exciting is going to happen. After the holiday break, we went straight back into school, and it’s like every teacher couldn’t wait to pounce on us with tons of work. It’s just work, work, work. There’s nothing to look forward to. And it keeps RAINING!”
Malaise is a persistent sense of dullness and lack of inspiration that can sometimes set in during routine periods of life. The “blues” is a catch-all term for when we’re feeling down and not terribly excited about life. It’s not depression, which is a clinical condition that can make a person feel extremely sad, bitter, angry, and hopeless for no apparent reason. It’s not an adjustment reaction, which can happen after something truly sad happens, like the loss of a loved one or another really traumatic life event. It’s just a persistent case of “the blahs.”
So, what can we do to combat malaise? The problem with any emotion that makes us feel down and sad is that it also saps our energy, making it harder to change. We’d rather dull our emotions with things like chocolate chip cookies and losing ourselves in a favorite book.
* The problem with any emotion that makes us feel down and sad is that it also saps our energy making it harder to change. *
The problem with noxious emotions, like malaise, is that they are contagious. Moods spread as rapidly as colds do during this season, so chances are you’re not alone. Which means you have an entire group of people who can be potential allies in fighting “the blues” together.
* Noxious emotions are contagious. Moods spread as rapidly as colds do. *
The first thing to do is to get moving. Research shows that when we move energetically, our brains release the “feel-good” chemicals serotonin and dopamine, as well as hormones called endorphins. Endorphins are like nature’s Tylenol – they take pain away. The pain of “the blues” is one pain they are especially good at dealing with. So do something active. Go to a dance class. Get to a gym. Go walking. Just blast the music and dance around the room with your little sisters, or play a game of basketball
Being active can also be combined with another tactic, which is going back to childhood. Remember the things that were fun when you were a little kid? Finger-painting, jumping rope, playing catch, or just jumping on the bed? Engaging in active childish activities can have a cheering effect. So go on, break out the jump rope and the bouncy ball. Find your old trampoline and bounce on it! The idea is to consciously be babyish for a while, as a way to cheer yourself up.
The next quick fix for this kind of mood is to make a list of pleasurable activities, simple pleasures, like baking cookies or doing an art project, to bigger pleasures, like a fun trip. Brainstorm with your friends about all the fun things you could be doing. Just making the list should have a cheering effect.
Of course, one of the best ways to cheer ourselves up is to cheer up others. So invite your friends who are most likely feeling the same way, for a “revert to childhood” day. Take a break from studying for an hour or two, and go have some fun. The fun will energize you and get you ready for more work. If you’re in school, and the G.O. is trying out some lame activity, instead of rolling your eyes, try to make it fun by participating enthusiastically. You’ll be helping the G.O. girls, and making your own fun with your friends.
Next, make a list of things in your life that you are grateful for. I know it’s a hard thing to do when you’re feeling down, but make a list and give yourself credit for the length of the list. See how many things you can come up with, everything from having pretty hair to an adorable baby brother to the fact that you’re really good at math. Any random thing about which you can say. “Wow, that makes my life better, and I’m grateful that I have it.” Do you have a knack for singing? A really pretty painting in your room? An English teacher who is interesting and inspiring? An older sister who is sometimes really nice to you? What are some of the bright spots in your life? As silly as this sounds, in order for it to work, you have to write your list down.
- Get moving
- Do a childhood activity
- Make a list of pleasurable activities
- Cheer up others
- Make a list of things you’re grateful for
Going back to Miriam, she decided to organize an ice-skating party to raise money for charity. Getting her friends involved in collecting money, painting signs, and all the logistics of renting the rink gave Mirian a lot of time to spend with her friends. They had a night of designing posters, another fun night organizing all the logistics, and tons of fun at the ice-skating rink.
“I think the thing that broke my blues the most was that I had something to look forward to again,” said Mirian. But if we think about it, there are so many more things that really changed her mood. There was the time spent with friends preparing for the event, the silliness of sign painting, and just spending time together. There was the actual ice skating, which is both active and a return to a childhood pursuit. Plus there was the added benefit of being involved in a good cause.
Sometimes, the best way to break the blues is not to focus on them, but rather to focus on the needs of others. Thinking about how we can make a contribution to the world helps us look away from our own emotional state. “I’m so glad I decided to do something about how we were all feeling,” said Miriam. “Nothing has really changed – we still have tests and the weather’s awful, but at least I feel cheerful again,”
* Sometimes, the best way to break the blues is not to focus on them, but rather to focus on the needs of others. *