Five Myths About Fighting the Blues.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.

This Wednesday: 5 myths about fighting the blues.

We all have a few tricks for beating the blues—things we do when we’re feeling down. It turns out, however, that several popular strategies don’t actually work very well in the long term. Beware if you’re tempted to try any of the following (all of which I often, and unsuccessfully, have tried):

1. Comforting yourself with a “treat.” Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few beers…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself—will it really make you feel better? It might make you feel worse. In particular, beware of…

2. Letting yourself off the hook. I’ve found that I sometimes get a real happiness boost from giving something up, quitting something, or breaking a bad habit. When you’re feeling down, you might be tempted to let yourself off the hook, to think, “I’ll allow myself to skip my run today, I need a break” or “I’m not going to put away the dirty dishes, I deserve a day off.” In fact, sticking to a resolution will boost your sense of self-esteem and self-control. So not letting yourself off the hook might do more to boost your happiness.

3. Turning off your phone. Studies show that extroverts and introverts alike get a mood boost from connecting with other people. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re feeling unhappy, you’re better off making pleasant plans with friends or family. Restorative solitude can boost happiness, but that’s not the same thing as shutting yourself away from other people because you don’t feel like dealing.

4. Aggressively expressing your negative emotions. Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that vociferously expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger often only aggravates it; as Plutarch observed, “Anger, while in its beginning, often can be ended by silence, or neglect.” I’ve certainly found this to be true; once I get going, I can whip myself into a fury. Once I’m in a more composed state of mind, I can express my reasons for anger, resentment, or other concerns in a straightforward, calm way, which is far more constructive.

5. Staying in your pajamas all day. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my happiness research is that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. As improbable as this sounds, it really works. Sometimes it can be fun to hang out in your sweats all day, but if you’re feeling lethargic, powerless, or directionless, not getting dressed may make you feel worse. Put on your clothes—including your shoes—so you feel prepared for whatever the day might offer. While you’re at it, make your bed. Yes, making your bed, as insignificant as it seems, can give a real happiness boost.

Have you ever tried to cheer yourself up using a strategy that just made you feel worse, in the end? Or what are more effective ways to beat the blues?

  • Isa Pelle

    These are very useful reminders !
    I would add 3 more hints : go  out and get some fresh air and exercise, which is the best anti blues strategy. I go for a nice brisk walk  even though I don’t feel like it , and it works; get enough sleep (though I know there can well be a vicious circle there) ; just be patient and wait, it’s just one of these things and your feeling blue  will go away spontaneously after a while (but don’t hesitate to go and see a doctor if it lasts…)

  • a sheila

    Sometimes when I’m blue, I feel so bad that I don’t know what to do. 

    At those times, I take a list out of my wallet that has ten things I like to do that help me feel better. My “ten things” include walking in the park, playing with a neighbor’s dog, and getting a haircut or a massage. I pull out my list and pick one thing and try to do it on the spot. 

    Typically, I will feel better after that one thing and it gets me going again, and I find I don’t need to go back and pick a second item off the list.

    • Drpauladurlofsky

      Hi Shelia,
      I actually just posted an article about the good news about the blues on my blog,
      Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.
      Dr. Paula Durlofsky

  • Liz

    If you’re the kind of person who beats yourself up over everything you do, then yes, having a treat is not going to help you. But if you treat a treat as just that — a treat — then it can be a huge boost.

    Also, sometimes it’s good to just vent. People who live with depression tend to bottle things up, which leads to more negative feelings. Sometimes you just need to rant.

    I do agree that getting dressed and out of those pajamas is good, though.

    When I’m feeling down, I like reading, playing video games, or listening to music. Sometimes I just need to step away from whatever’s bothering me and hang out for a little while.

  • on my journey I am learning that turning the phone off & staying in my pj’s ends up making me feel worse! Get up & give yourself something to accomplish for the day you’ve got a much better chance of chasing away the funk!

  • All great points here, Gretchen.  Love your fourth point, as it reminds me of reading the book “A General Theory of Love” (misleading title a bit) which is all about our emotions and how we approach them. 

    I totally agree about catharsis activating that emotional response more and more, and wanted to add the importance of acknowledging the negative emotion when it hits and not just try to “be positive” over the top of it, otherwise repression can ensue.   The old “sugar over shit” metaphor – to be blunt.  I know that’s not what you’re saying, but though I’d bring it up, as it’s something I’ve learned in the last year, that has helped me greatly.  Pema Chodron speaks a lot about this in her books, and I imagine you’re probably familiar with her work, too.

    I call it “don’t fight it, don’t follow it” when it comes to negative thoughts and emotions.  Of course, easier said that done and requires practice, usually in some form of meditation to get the hang of it, as I’m sure you know!  😉

  • Cottergirls

    Totally agree about making the bed. Always works for me!!

  • I just wrote an article on my blog,,”The Good News About The Blues”. Sometimes having the blues is not all bad news. Would love to hear people’s comments too. Thanks.

    Dr. Paula Durlofsky