“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” — Caroline Myss
There are times when just getting out of bed feels like a chore. A bad night’s sleep or feeling inexplicably irritable can make the day feel wobbly. It’s not ill health (in which case I always say: please slow down), but just blah. Some meditate, some sing, some volunteer at their local shelter. Here are more suggestions.
Music. Only the cheery stuff that makes you want to sing or dance. For me, it’s Motown and the Beatles. You can even take your iPod into the loo at work and faux-sing it out for three minutes. Music snaps us out and charges us up.
Comedy. Watch or listen to your favourite sitcom or stand-up comedians. I turn to podcasts – Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4, and NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me are my favourites.
Film. Ah, to get lost in another universe. But if I’m already fragile then I feel worse after watching something gruesome. For this reason, I stick to old trusted favourites (witty 1930s Hollywood), or ones guaranteed by friends to not make me wring my hands in despair.
As long as possible:
Novel. I read constantly, but when I’m blue, it really has to be a novel. Either an old favourite or something new that I can sink my teeth into, ideally with a woman protagonist and a captivating storyline. It’s an opportunity to slip under the skin of someone else.
More than the blahs
Then there are times when our souls feel heavy or weary, often because there’s something niggling at us – an argument, a decision that needs to be made, a dilemma of some sort. Distractions don’t work here, yet it’s not easy to face things head on.
Breathe. I learnt this one from Prieti at The Health Awareness Centre: lie on your back with your legs up on a chair or bed (lower legs parallel to the floor) and close your eyes. This position really helps to relax. Prieti also recommends putting cotton pads dipped in rose water over the eyes. Breathe deeply in through the nose, feel your belly expand, and exhale through the mouth. Do this at least three times. Then visualise your seven chakra points in turn (root, abdomen, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, crown) and breathe out from each of these, saying “om” or simply hum on the exhale. The vibrations resonate deeply inside. When I’m feeling sluggish/down/muddled, this clears me out on various levels.
Declutter. Pick a drawer. Take everything out. Clean the drawer. From the items, recycle/discard everything that you never use/brings back bad memories/doesn’t work/doesn’t suit you/annoys you/already have duplicates of. Put everything back into the drawer in an organised fashion. If there is nothing left to declutter (hello me!) then clean your favourite possession, like a laptop. According to Karen Kingston, clearing up our outer life can help sort out our inner life.
Move. A tough workout that breaks out the sweat is a favourite. Yoga also works. Or dancing alone in the bedroom to cheesy 1980s pop. By the end of it our muscles are nicely fatigued and we’ve had a chance to think through whatever’s troubling us.
Before the mean reds
Then there are the days when existential crises loom large. There are no obvious answers to questions like: what is the point? Why bother? What does it all mean? When these sentiments are persistent and continuous, it’s going into depression, in which case I urge you to please seek help.
But for the days when the storm clouds are gathering, I believe this is fear rising to the surface. This is not the time to suppress it down with cake or cookies – or cocaine or alcohol, whatever’s your poison. This is not the time to spend money (I class “retail therapy” with other addictions when it’s compulsive or results in debt). Nor is this the time to chat up attractive strangers hoping they’ll make us feel better. We may clutch at various vices when we’re freaking out, but they end up making us feel worse afterwards (but you knew that already). Instead, try the following.
Holistic therapy. This is an excellent time to go for acupuncture or Reiki or some other body therapy if you have someone you like working with. If I am on the road, I seek out a massage therapist for a Balinese, Swedish, shiatsu, lymphatic drainage or whatever I instinctively feel I need the most. Fear usually strikes us below the neck. It shows up as a gnawing ache in the stomach, a restless leg or a tightening in the chest. I’d rather deal with it on this level before it reaches the head where it can stay circling indefinitely. This is why I think bodywork treatment is more effective (and a lot faster) than traditional psychotherapy. Swimming or yoga are also beneficial, but it’s helpful to have someone working with you as the issues rise to the surface.
As long as possible:
Meet. This is for my fellow single people out there. I like being alone but it can occasionally feel bleak. While there’s nothing like a heart-to-heart with a bestie, it’s bolstering to connect with anyone who is genuine and doesn’t play games. (These are the times we realise how exhausted some folks make us.) It doesn’t have to be a me-me-me episode; we can listen to them and help where we can. Bonus points: hang out with small children. Their simple honesty always provides a refreshing perspective on life. Plus, they’re bloody tiring. You’ll stagger to bed and sleep like a baby.
As long as a piece of string:
Write. This is also (and maybe even especially) for the non-writers out there. Write a letter to someone – your late father, Buddha, the Universe – and tell them all the things that are worrying you. Describe your fears; put down every tiny thing that is clawing at you that you’re afraid to usually even think about. Ask for help. Ask for an answer. You can then do one of two things: go to sleep and wait for the answer to present itself over the coming few days. Or you can switch the pen to your non-dominant hand and write whatever comes to you then and there.
There is a crack, a crack in everything*
I used to be terrified of bad days, thinking it was the start of a massive downward spiral. I know all too well the long stretches of feeling disconnected, despondent and hopeless. Now, more and more, I see the first few low days as an opportunity. It means I need to slow down, centre myself, and see if there’s something I need to address.
I also believe there’s a far stronger mind-body connection than I may have considered before. What I eat and how I treat my body can shift how I feel more than I’d imagined. (See this intriguing article by Caroline Williams, Is Depression a Kind of Allergic Reaction? in the Guardian.) I’m feeling less powerless by it.
Our challenging days are a chance to clean out the debris and address the changes we need to make. Our bad days remind us that we’re not invincible and need to take care of ourselves. These times help us become stronger. There’s no need to dread them. We can handle them.
*It’s how the light gets in. (Thank you, Leonard Cohen.)
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” — Maya Angelou
A young aspiring dancer in New York who doesn’t want much, but is losing everything anyway. Directed by Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha handles uncomfortable realities with grace. Greta Gerwig co-wrote the screenplay and shines as its star.
One of my favourite recent reads: We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize. I’m so happy I didn’t read any reviews before diving in; each chapter offers a thrilling surprise.
My goal in life is to grow my arms long enough to use them as a jump-rope, like King Louie. This is the one song guaranteed to put a spring in my step: Louis Prima singing I Want To Be Like You from my favourite animated movie, Jungle Book.