Monday, January 9, 2012

Avoiding the January Blues (and Beyond)

I don't have much time this morning, which of course means that I have something huge and important (to me) in my brain that I absolutely MUST write, IMMEDIATELY. So I am going to try to be concise.

Stop laughing.

I've been thinking quite a bit over the last 18 months about the cyclical patterns of my moods. And I'm not necessarily talking about hormones, though they do play a role for sure. I'm talking about just seemingly natural ebb and flow of my energy and vitality and positivity, and how it (of course) impacts my entire existence and (for good and for bad) the lives and feeling f other people. Because the sometimes painful truth to face is that my mental and emotional state set the tone for my home and the rest of the people in it, not solely of course, but in large part. That's certainly a tough responsibility t to bear, but also such an amazing honor, don't you think?

So as I watch and learn (I'm still relatively new at this mother- and wife-hood role, remember, even though I'm a bit long of tooth) my role as the emotional pace-setter, I've noticed patterns and trigger and influencers that I can actually control (there ARE things that I can't control, for sure) to make sure that my lower-energy, vitality-diminished, less-positive times are fewer and farther in between and that I'm able to bring them to an end rather than letting them spiral down, down, and down into a place out of which I can take weeks to burrow myself.

(I just want to point out that I'm going to avoid using the word "depression" here, and of course it's important for me not to oversimplify the whole idea of cyclical moods to the point that I'm ignoring the actual, real kinds of depression and mood cycles that require more intervention than a few lifestyle tweaks. I know people deal with real illness in this area and often require much more than just a watchful eye and a quick personal response to avoid clinical depression.)

So here are a few of the things I'm finding keep me (and the rest of the family) on the positive end of the emotional spectrum as much as possible.

I get plenty of sleep.

Sleep and I don't the most solid relationship. Since college, I've battled off and on with insomnia (it runs in my family), and unfortunately, when I'm not sleeping well, my mood plummets quickly. Two nights of poor sleep and my outlook of life goes from positive and forward-looking to bleak and hopeless. The interrupted nights of baby and toddlerhoods of two kids on top of my progression into my forties wreaked absolute havoc with my mental state, and the worse my mood got, the worse my sleep became, and the cycle became pretty brutal. I've solved that problem by growing my children into mostly good sleepers and treating my chronic insomnia with a very tiny amount (1/3 of the recommended adult dosage) of a safe, effective over the counter sleep aid. Choosing to take a drug for this, even this teeny amount, took literally years of deliberation, but in the end I feel like the benefits I'm reaping far outweigh the risks.

I eat less junk.

Eating healthy(er) does two things. Well, more than two things, but I'll give you my two top benefits of eating mostly healthy, wholesome (unprocessed, nutrient-rich) foods. Number one, it just protects me from feeling awful about myself for caving in to garbage food, while replacing that feeling with the mood-lifting knowledge that I'm taking good care of my body and those of my children and husband. And two, I KNOW that the right foods (or at least avoiding the really bad foods) make my body and mind function at optimal levels, vs. their being bogged down trying to process chemicals and sugar and starchy yuckies. I've actually learned over time to sort of summon up that sluggish, bloated, icky feeling I get after I indulge my tastes for junk-food or sugar (and sugar also makes me CRABBY) when I feel tempted, and getting a little glimpse of the after effects certainly goes a long way toward keeping my hands and mouth away from unhealthy foods.

I am learning to surround myself with positive people.

Only you can't just do a major relational closet-cleaning, can you? People have feelings and I truly love and want to connect with everyone in my life, but I'm learning to limit my exposure to personalities that tend to bring out the negative thinking in me. I used to actually be drawn to negativity, as it pleased my innate desire to help and fix and made me feel less alone in my own struggles. But the whole "misery loves company" platitude is often just an invitation to wallow or dig further into misery vs. venting negative feelings and then finding solutions. And often in the process of just trying to help and fix, unless I'm at my utmost peak, mood cycle-wise, when I spend too much time with people who are prone to a negative outlook, I can quickly lose my ability to see life in a mostly positive light. Perhaps that sounds selfish, but I think it's necessary, at least for now. Perhaps one day I'll become so deeply and innately positive that external influences won't be an issue.

I turn my focus outward.

My New Years resolution two years ago was simply to do something nice and unexpected for someone else every single day, and I've renewed that resolution twice now. Oh, how this buoys my spirits. I usually do more than one thing these days because it's addictive, really, and it's becoming second nature. And if I am looking around every day for a friend or my kids' teachers, or just someone I run into in my daily meanderings, I'm so much less likely to be groaning internally about how things are not perfect for ME in my own little world. Y'all, regular old people just do not get a lot of attention these days. Do you agree? We are all about our own business, busy, busy, busy, and we just forget about one another and our craving to feel important or even existent amidst all the bustle. So send a sweet email to ask how a friend is doing. Mail a card, deliver a pot of soup, smile a smile right into the eyes of someone who seems lost or forgotten. Pay someone a sincere, direct, detailed compliment that shows you are paying attention to them and you KNOW them. Little to no money needed, just a bit of thought and a valuable piece of your heart. CARE, I suppose is what I mean. And make that caring felt in what often gets to be a rather cold and impersonal world.

I pray prayers of gratitude.

I should have put this first, probably, but honestly I'm a bit less apt to pray than I probably should be when I am slipping into a down phase, because I feel ashamed to take my petty, sometimes even undefined issues to God when I haven't first tried to stop the decline on my own. But now I'm learning to at least bring God in as my partner! (Wink.) Gratitude (focusing and being aware and thankful for what I have vs. what I don't have) combats the blahs so quickly, and it's hard for me to go to God without a heart full of that, no matter where I am, emotionally. He is so GOOD. And I also pray in happy times that God will help protect me from the things I know can bring me down. He knows as well as I do how important this is to the family with which He has blessed me.

Two more quick things and then I have to go!

I stay busy.

Not just super-busy, too-busy, relationship-and-peace-busting-busy, but productive. (This is actually developing into a problem in some areas of my life, but that's for a later discussion.) Though in some respects I consider myself a fairly lazy, lounge-y type of person, (I really love solitude and rest. A lot.), I find that allowing myself to rest on my laurels for longer than a day or two (now mostly reserved for times when I'm sick!), I get the blues. And worse, I have this tendency to avoid doing things that MUST BE DONE, (authority issues!) much more so than I avoid the things that I could do. I don't shirk responsibility by running off to play, but I do put of the compulsory stuff for work that I get to choose to do. So I'm (mostly) learning to just go ahead and check off the GOTTA DOs, so I don't feel the weight of guilt (and occasional problems) that accompany putting those off.

I stay active. (In theory, sigh.)

Well, this one is pretty simple, and relates to staying busy, and I'm not currently doing a great job at intentional action like working out, although I am certainly a rolling stone all day long and not in any danger of gathering much moss. I SHOULD be taking my daily walks, outside or on my treadmill, and believe me if I don't get started back on that I WILL feel the effects. There's the guilt factor here, of course, and no yummy endorphins to boost me, and also the saggy schlumpiness of my poor little old-woman body. I know I'll feel much more vital and happy in my own skin when I'm getting some regular healthy exercise again. I refuse to even go into my current set of excuses for this. They are pitiful!

So that's a quick summary of how I stand guard over my mood and protect my sweet family from the ill-effects of a blue-sy, blah-sy, irritable maternal unit. I'm just more alert to how I am and where I'm headed and I make sure to keep a majority of thse mood-boosting or -maintaining stopgaps in place.

What about you? Do y'all have these cycles of moods? A few weeks of positive, a few weeks of blues? Do you notice what it does to your family? How do you mitigate the factors that contribute to your ups and downs?

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  1. Good advice! I don't really cycle - I tend to say pretty even, however, I still have those days and many of the things you list are things that affect me. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. I am a pretty even-keeled person, too . . . but I notice that often when I am spending too much time doing stuff with people, I start a downward slide. I am a true-blue introvert -- but someone who recharges alone, with a good book or, say, Downton Abbey. :o)

    Never is this more clear than after the holiday season! I love seeing extended family, and spending time with friends, and I'm not a quiet, non-talker. But I definitely need a whole "down" day after Christmas vacation. Even if it's just an afternoon on my own, I have to have solitude to recharge.


    P.S. I'm so glad to be hearing more from you these past few weeks!

  3. Oh my, yes, although I would say it is happily usually just a few days of down. Most of the time. My mom is clinically depressed, and I believe my MIL is too, and so I am maybe extra paranoid about this. I lived what it did to our family for a long time when my mom was not getting help and I don't want to do that to my family. This also means that I am sometimes reluctant to acknowledge when I am down.

    Happily, my husband is really, really great at working with me through those times. He is so patient and understanding while still helping me see what is going on. I am generally a positive, optimistic person too, and I think that helps.

    Something that is really good for me when I am in that down space is to get away from the internet. Usually it is a place of encouragement and inspiration for me, but it can also be a place that leads me to feeling inadequate and unworthy and all those other things.

    Exercise is a big one too--when I have a positive attitude about it, anyway. Sometimes I can make that a source of sadness too, if I get caught in the trap of thinking I'm not doing enough.

    Thanks for sharing Megan!