By Mary Reitano
Colors often are used to symbolize feelings. “Feeling blue” means to be sad. “Tickled pink” indicates someone is glowing with pleasure. One might be “green with envy” or “white with fear.” When angry, a person is “seeing red.” Emotions make life vivid and congruent with day-to-day experiences. Differing moods are normal–sadness at a funeral; anger over injustice; joy at a wedding or birth of a baby. Emotions can enrich our lives, connect us, and motivate us.
“The Blues” versus Serious Depression
So, when is a mood something to be concerned about? Several mood states fall outside healthy functioning. After writing on some lighter subjects over the past few months, let’s touch on a more serious issue—depression. When depressed, life tends to lose all color–every day feels “gray.” If this lasts a few days, there is usually no reason to worry. Such moods are often tied to minor disappointments like arguments, illness, or cancelled vacation. You regroup and cheer up quickly. But sometimes, depression lingers. Brain chemical imbalance may contribute to depression, even in good circumstances. For others, depressed mood may be tied to unemployment, failed romance, chronic illness, burnout, or negative “self-talk.” Depression is different than grief, but sometimes happens concurrently. For some, depression is a single occurrence; for others, a chronic condition.
When to Seek Professional Help
When depression lasts two weeks or more, encourage the depressed person to seek help from a doctor or counselor. They may lose perspective on how depressed they are and have trouble taking action. Worrisome symptoms include: depressed mood; neglecting grooming; insomnia or sleeping too much; poor appetite or over-eating; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; low energy; trouble concentrating; lack of pleasure from enjoyable activities; and suicidal thoughts.
Any expression of suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously. Many people have fleeting thoughts about suicide. But, if someone has intent, a plan or the means, seek immediate help. See a doctor or counselor, call 911, go to the emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Tips to Reduce Depression
Several things help overcome a depressed mood. It may be hard to get started, but most people feel better afterwards. Setting simple goals and building on small achievements leads to greater success.
Physical – Exercise and healthy diet improve mood. Avoid alcohol misuse; it is a depressant. Consider prescription medication. Get a physical to rule out illnesses.
Cognitive – Other people and events in our lives affect us, but do not automatically cause depression. What we tell ourselves about them is an important variable. Cognitive Behavior Therapy examines how thoughts affect mood and teaches healthier thinking.
Social – Avoid isolation. Stay connected in community. Find roles where you feel valued. Resolve conflicts. Do things for others, especially those less fortunate. Engage in fun, pleasurable activities.
Spiritual – Actively exercise gratitude. Practice acceptance. Beliefs can provide hope and higher purpose in life, even in difficult circumstances.
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Christopher Reeve
Resources for further encouragement
In Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, by Ben Martin, Psy.D.
Ten Inspiring Quotes for a Depressed Heart, from Beliefnet.com
How to Defy Your Genes: Improving your health odds may be easier than you think by Sarah Mahoney, (2nd vignette on Daniel Lukasik) http://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2016/family-genetics-depression-dna.html