Mar 082010

The shriek of your alarm clock jolts your brain. You groan. You don’t want to get up. Not now, possibly not ever. You want to go back to sleep because not only are you exhausted and your muscles achy, but because you want to forget about everything that isn’t going right with your life. Then all at once you remember today’s triathlon. You shrug. It will be a disaster, you know, but so is everything else lately so you might as well go ahead and get up. You stagger out of bed and go through the motions…

Most of us have had these kinds of days at some point during our lives. I certainly have. One of the reasons it took so long for me to post on this topic is that I fell into a sinkhole of misery about a month ago when our dear dog Sammy died suddenly. The last thing I wanted to do then was post. For almost two weeks, I ran through the scenario in my head, repeatedly, telling myself that if only I had gotten him in the car more quickly or driven faster to the emergency clinic, he might have lived. Maybe he didn’t really have cancer. Maybe he got stung by a bee or a scorpion or someone poisoned him or…This chatter in my head never ceased. I cried for hours, had trouble sleeping, didn’t write well, missed workouts, and just generally didn’t want to get up in the morning.

When my father died of cancer in 2008, I didn’t feel depressed at first, just shocked. I didn’t live with him all the time like I did with my dog, so somehow his passing didn’t seem real. I cried myself to sleep at night and when I awoke, I buried myself in work and tried not to think about it. Depression moved in like a sudden fog when I kept calling home and never spoke to my dad. Snippets of my childhood streamed through my head. Then it really hit me that I’d never see him again. Although I drew closer to my family, I grew distanced from my desire to achieve goals set for myself and started making excuses for my lack of motivation. I trained less, slept much more, and started feeling sick often. My performance quickly went down the tubes.

I share my tales of woe so that you won’t imagine me to be some high-and-mighty person saying “don’t worry be happy” as if its so easy to run around every day with a big smile on my face. I’m not chronically depressed, either. I have a wonderful life. Like many people, I have highs and my lows and when I am overwhelmed by depression and pessimism, not only am I not happy, but I DO NOT PERFORM WELL. I think its safe to say most of us don’t. It is endeavor enough to swim a mile or run a half marathon well and if you have to try to do it carrying a burden of sadness along for the ride, the journey will be much harder than it would be if you dropped that load!

I have also found that if I work at it, I can change my negative outlook. It takes effort, time and patience. Start by forgiving yourself for less-than-stellar performances. It happens to everyone and better days lie ahead. Then, arm yourself with some tools that will lift you out of that trough and land you back on solid ground again. Below are some suggestions, many of which have helped me greatly on my darkest days:

1 – Get sufficient sleep (but not too much, which can leave you feeling sluggish).
2 – Improve the quality of your diet (avoid processed foods, skipping meals, excessive caffeine and alcohol). Try mood enhancing foods such as spinach and salmon.
3 – Increase or reduce exercise (if you stopped, start; if you are overtraining, back off for a few days)
4- Talk to an understanding friend or family member (if they don’t get it, end the call quickly, though)
5 – Shut down the negative chatter in your head that says “I’m so depressed, lazy, I suck, etc.(if it hits you when you are driving to work, put on relaxing music or an upbeat book on CD).
6 – Watch a really funny movie.
7 – Read a favorite book again.
8 – (Ladies) Take a long soaky bath and put in your favorite aromatherapy oil or bath crystals.
9 – Write down 5 things that you are really grateful for in your life.
10- Write your feelings down in a journal to get the weight off of your chest.
11 – Enjoy the great outdoors. A walk or picnic in the park where you hear birds and wind in the trees instead of horns honking and phones ringing can help you relax. Enjoy the company of nature…and yourself!
12 – Take mindful classes like meditation or yoga to help you relax and feel more in synch with yourself. Just breathe!
11 – Seek counseling or consult with your doctor about depression medication if your condition doesn’t improve.

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