Peace and Joy for the Long Haul – a Gentler Daily Rhythm

(Seventh in a series on fighting depression. Click here for the first post.)

There’s no quick fix for depression.

Which isn’t to say we’re helpless to do anything about it. It’s something we have to fight. We come at it from many angles, pruning away at it, putting up boudaries so it can’t take over. Think of it as a vine that creeps over everything if it’s not dealt with.

True, when we’re in the trap of major depression, we may be helpless for a while. But as we start to climb out, with therapy or rest or antidepressants or all of the above, it’s time to start caring for ourselves in ways that will keep it from creeping back.

Because of the reality that most of us need to work, and all of us are less depressed when we accomplish something, this self-care needs to take turns with working.

The previous posts have covered six ways to do this. In this post I share another way I cut back depression – by paying attention to nature’s rhythms and getting my schedule in sync with them.

Some of us push ourselves too hard and crash after the burn. Some of us have trouble being motivated even to get out of bed. Both extremes can be softened by pacing ourselves in harmony with the natural world, pausing regularly to rest and recharge.

Monks are ninjas at this lifestyle. People who live communally in monestaries have honed the art of moving peacefully through the day as a way to stay near to God and honor God with their work. They even have vocabulary for it – they call it the Liturgy of the Hours.

It invites us into a lifestyle where we become aware that there’s a lot more to it than getting stuff done, a way of being that faces the reality that life waxes and wanes (like the moon, right?) It involves breaking the day into segments, and pausing between them to catch our breath and reflect.

Without going into lots of ancient monastic detail, I’ll take you through a sample of how you can put this into practice:

  1. The day begins with early morning when the demands of work and people haven’t kicked in. This is a good time to breathe in the quiet, to imagine all the day’s possibilities before you lock yourself into a schedule. Remind yourself that with each new day, you can start again and do things differently if you want. Out of this sense of possibility, you plan your day and get going.

2. Pause mid-morning when you’ve done a few hours of work. Remind yourself that the best work is done when you’re not in a hurry. Consider how your work can be a gift to other people. Drink some water. Take a few deep breaths before you get back to it.

3. Midday – This is noon for monks, who’ve been up since before dawn. Getting up before dawn is depressing in itself to me, so I skip it, and do a midday pause anywhere between noon and 2 pm, when I’m hungry and want a break. A this high point in the day when the sun is at its brightest, pat yourself on the back for what you’ve already done, and consider what you’ll do in the afternoon to build on it. If morning didn’t go so well, put it behind you, eat good food and start again. Try to look at something beautiful – the sky if nothing else. Think about how vast the world is so you don’t get swallowed up by the day’s troubles.

4. Mid to Late Afternoon – a few hours later, pause again. This is when we face our mortality. We may be losing steam, focus and interest. We may realize we’re not going to get as much done as we’d hoped. Here’s where I’m tempted to give up and take a nap, or eat a large bowl of M&Ms. But another choice is to pause, feel the weariness, stretch or take a walk, and think about what can be done in the time left.

5. As evening falls, put things away and tell yourself it’s time to stop working. You are worth a great deal more than what you get done, and it’s time to unwind. Evening is a great time to shift from doing to being. For some, this seems out of reach. Many people have to work two jobs or have toddlers to get to bed, or have chores to do after work. But as muich as possible, slow your pace and take care of yourself.

Let go of the day’s frustrations, switching to something else, like eating a good dinner, talking to a friend, doing a hobby you enjoy, or watching a show that lifts your spirits.

6. Bed Time – Pause at your ideal bedtime – even if you are in the middle of a game of Fortnight. Feel your tiredness. Look outside into the dark. Remind yourslef it’s time to shut down. Let yourself settle into the darkness and quiet of night. If your thoughts start to spin, tell yourself, “Night is for sleeping.” No problem-solving, no replays. You may need a habit to calm you in this pause – journaling what you’re graterful for, playing a meditation app, praying surrender of everything on your mind to God. Night is for sleeping. This is when your body heals, when your mind processes its hidden issues, when you sink into that wonderful oblivion that gets you ready for the new day.

So, what does this Liturgy of the Hours have to do with depression? Everything. As we take life in managable segments, grounding ourselves between tasks, we enjoy ourselves more and feel less overwhelmed. We are more interested in the world and other people, realizing it all doesn’t revolve around us. We feel more grateful and less burnt-out.

As we look over the other topics we’ve covered on fighting depression – affirming ourselves, staying in the moment, processing our emotions, seeking connection, caring for our bodies – we can see that all of them are made easier by living in tune with the rhythms of nature.

Anything helpful to add? Comment below, after you click on the title.

Happiness Needs to be Fed and Watered

(Sixth in a series on fighting depression. Click here for the first post.)

So far in this series on fighting depression, we’ve covered:

  • The need to affirm yourself, to speak kindly to yourself.
  • The habit of staying in the moment, using your senses to focus on now.
  • The need to process and heal past trauma.
  • Choosing connection instead of isolation.
  • Addressing anxiety by working against avoidance, since that feeds depression.

Foods that Help Depression

While we’re on the topic of what feeds depression, let’s talk about actual food. This is my least favorite of these posts, since I’m super fond of desserts, breads, sweets and chocolate in any form. I don’t want to face that what I put in my mouth can bring down my mood, but it does.

Ironically, when we’re down, that’s when we have least energy to prepare good food. We tend to grab what’s easy and gives us a little comfort.So here’s the dare: journal what you eat and drink for three days. Face up to it (no avoiding, right?) Note what you eat, and also write how you feel in the hours after until you eat again.

Nutrition blogs abound, so I won’t go over how to eat, but here are some tips I’ve made into habits that help give my body and brain what it needs to function and have a fighting chance at happiness:

Food Habits that Fight and Heal Depression

  1. Don’t skip breakfast. Include something with protein like eggs, meats, nuts or seeds, so your energy doesn’t dip mid-morning. That helps focus and get me into the day’s work. (And we generally feel better after we’ve gotten some work done.)
  2. Don’t pig out on lunch, or skip it. Both options are bound to lead to a long afternoon nap, at least for me. Work some fruit or vegetables into your meal. If you can’t do without the fries that go with a burger, add a small salad and eat it first. Put some lettuce and a tomato slice on a ham or turkey sandwich. Finish with a few strawberrries. You get the idea.
  3. Make yourself a decent dinner. Frozen meals heated in a microwave every day are a sure recipe for depression in my book. If you’re a meat eater, focus on fish and chicken instead of beef and pork. Fill half your plate with veggies.
  4. Buy stuff that’s easy to prep, especially snacks. If I have a choice between a salad with five ingeredients that all need preparing, and a nice little peel-top container of pudding, guess what I’ll go with! It helps me to buy individual yogurts, protein bars with natural ingredients, and nuts that go in little bags or an easy cannister. Baby carrots and celery sticks can be pre-washed and stored in jars, and most fruits can be washed and ready to eat.

Dehydration is Such a Downer

I think the single biggest difference I can make to my mood and energy levels is to drink enough water. Buy yourself a boujee water bottle, and make it your best friend. (Wash it well every night, you don’t want a stomach ache from bacteria in your water on top of depression!)

Changing how you eat and drink can’t all happen at once. If you don’t get close to eight glasses of water a day, start with that. Get used to one extra before you add a second, and so on. And remember the first post, speak kindly to yourself. “I’ll feel better if I go drink some water now,” is much more effective, and feels a lot better, than, “I’m such a moron. I can’t even remember to drink water.”

Homework

Pick one food or water habit to start working on. If you don’t get close to eight cups of water a day, start with that. Start small and add a cup every day or two. If you get down or stressed and forget all about it, start again.

Anything helpful to add? Comment below, after you click on the title.