Earlier this month I wrote about my fear and sadness in the face of turning 45. As you can imagine, dealing with those realities and their corresponding emotions had me in bit of a funk for a while, but then October (one of my favorite months every year) came along to remind me of life’s amazing beauty and joy and still-freshness, and I realized it was time to pack up my blues (after having given myself time to deal with them the right way, of course) and get back to my happy place again.
One of the benefits of getting older is that I’ve learned what it takes to get me back to my happy place after a stint in the doldrums. For humans, and I’d argue even more especially for us women, who tend to live a bit more in the realm of the heart, life flows in cycles of hard times and good times and hard times again - up, down, up, down, up. Hormones flood in and leak out every month, creating a steady, breath-like pattern of harmony and empowerment vs. conflict and struggle.
In the face of this constant ebb and flow we can adapt and figure out secrets to gutting out and climbing up from the inevitable downs. Observing our own patterns and being cognizant of our own successful mechanisms for returning to joy makes so much sense, because understanding these things about ourselves gives us the security of knowing, even in the most difficult times, that we won’t be down forever. It also lays out a clear path back to our happy place when we’re finally feeling strong enough to take that first step.
Here are five of the strategies that I use to bring myself out of a period of sadness or anxiety:
1. I learn something new.
The hardest part of the journey out of a pit is climbing that first ladder rung, which in my case is getting my mind off of whatever has me down. Focusing on something new and interesting usually helps me regain perspective on life and my own issues. This time I went and checked out a few books and DVDs from the library about France and French culture. I didn’t pay much attention in geography or history classes in school, so it’s pretty much all new to me, and I’m loving it. Hey, if I have to be an old lady, at least I can be smart old lady with a little French elegance and style, right?
2. I listen to music.
Nothing livens me up like good music. Sometimes I need music with uplifting lyrics, and other times I need music that lifts me just with its beauty or rhythms. Right now I am absolutely loving the classical guitar and piano jazz stations on Pandora. I think lyrics would only further clutter my frantically busy mind at this point. In the past, I’ve sworn by my old standby “we feel all of your pain and angst and write amazing music that feels as if it came out of your own brain” band, the Indigo Girls, and of course nothing beats a mix of my favorite dance tunes, both oldies and current hits. Whatever I’m in the mood for, unless it’s brooding or sad, I just go for it. The point is to turn on something that lifts me up and out of my blues.
3. I get some exercise.
Good old happy-juice brain chemistry combined with the feeling of achievement never hurt anyone. Just going for a long walk outside or even on the treadmill in my basement definitely gets the endorphins flowing and gives me more energy and a feeling of well-being. Plus, it’s good for my body. I don’t know why I ever let myself go without exercise, but I do, and it never bodes well for my mental state. So when my mental state has tanked, I get back into my work-out routines.
4. I do things I’m good at.
I’m revitalized by the feeling of success. Who isn’t? It boosts my confidence and gives me momentum to keep moving forward. Cooking almost always rewards me with success (and delectable morsels to eat), so it’s my top go-to activity when I need to cheer myself up. The point is just to put a big old tick in the WIN column, have a positive experience, validate activity and effort by seeing it through to a final reward. For you, it might be sewing or building or crafting or playing tennis (just be sure choose your opponent wisely.) The key is that it’s guaranteed success that gets me back in the game again.
5. I take time to just be still.
I tend to get overwhelmed with life and all its crazy business. The toll trying to keep up with everyone and everything all the time takes on my mental and emotional state can throw me into a downward spiral. Sometimes, I just need to carve out time for simple peace and quiet.
A dear friend recently sent me an amazing little book by Lynne Hybels called nice girls don’t change the world. In it, Hybels tells the story of her own life and in particular her struggle with aging. At 50, she realizes that she’s spent her whole life trying to please others and earn God’s love by constantly serving them and Him, finally working herself into a state of total exhaustion. Tired and disillusioned, she questions who God really is, that He would work her nearly to death. Ultimately this leads her to just STOP. Everything. She spends two seasons just sitting quietly in her house, drinking tea, reading and looking out the window at nature, communing with herself and letting peace wash over her. And from that point, rested and rejuvenated, she rebuilds her understanding of God, and His love for her, and her true purpose in His kingdom.
I’m not at a point in my life that I need a long period of rest and solitude to get my head back on straight. But I find that just sitting still in quiet communion with myself for an hour makes a huge difference in my mental and emotional state. In that time, I pray or meditate or do absolutely nothing at all. The point is to create a quiet, peaceful space in my otherwise noisy and busy life to let my brain uncoil for a while and break out of its ruts, so that I can start to look at things in new ways.
These are just a few examples of my strategies for pulling myself out of the doldrums. They may or may not work for you, and that's okay. I just hope that if you tend to cycle into lows at times, you have or will begin to create your own version of this list. My main point here is that each of us should be aware of our own effective personal strategies for breathing new life into ourselves when we’re sunk in the mire, so we’ve always got a game plan for getting back out.
Do you know what works or has it always just been hit or miss for you? How do you pull yourself out of the pit when you’re worried or down?