There are no hard and fast rules about what should or shouldn’t be done when moods are low. In part it depends on the reasons for low mood as much as the depth and duration of the problem. There are however some general guidelines to fall back on, which might hopefully trigger some ideas about how to remedy your own situation.
Although we classify depression in a variety of different ways the fact that your mood feels low and stays low for a period is time is probably sufficient to consider yourself depressed. Depression affects reasoning and even though you may be holding down a job and doing all the things a hectic lifestyle requires of you, it doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by your mood.
An episode of low mood/depression, whether or not technically classified as clinical depression, can last for months. There are things you can do to protect yourself and possibly even shorten the time of your discomfort. I’ve listed a few here for you to consider:
Time off work is something easier said than done but it can sometimes pay dividends. A break from the stress of work can help to settle you emotionally but there are some issues to consider. The first, of course, is money. If you are employed in an organization where sick pay is part of the deal then you’ve crossed this worry off the list - for a time at least. Self-employed personnel often find taking time away from work an impossible situation, yet if you don’t take your mood seriously, you may find yourself in a position of enforced absence, depending on the severity of your condition. It’s all about balance of course. Too much time away from work and you may find yourself isolated and more miserable. As much as work can be stressful it can also prove a useful distraction and give some structure and purpose to your day. Sometimes all it needs is to take less on, spread the load more evenly, or work less during the week.
Eating regularly and healthily is important. You’ve no doubt heard about the qualities of a Mediterranean diet and some research does suggest that the fish and olive oil associated with this diet eases mood. Olive oil, for example is thought to increase levels of serotonin in the brain and omega-3, found especially in oily fish like sardines and mackerel, may also defend against depression. These days we often associate a glass of wine or a stiff drink after work as a relaxant. That’s partly because it’s true. Alcohol is a relaxant and a social lubricant but beyond a certain point it feeds negative thinking, especially if your mood is already low.
Low moods also help to fuel thoughts of avoidance or escape. This is a tricky one as if you’re in a situation that makes your miserable it makes sense to seek an alternative. However, major decision making during low moods can also backfire. What seems like problem-solving can be anything but. We have a tendency to look for external causes as the issues that fuel our moods. This is a default setting in the human condition for things we don’t understand. As a rule of thumb, put off any major decisions like moving area, giving up jobs or relationships until after your low moods have passed.
If your thoughts turn to suicide you need professional help. You’ve moved well beyond what might be described as a low mood or mild depression. Keeping things to yourself isn’t helpful, so even if your first step is to confide in a close friend or loved one, it’s a step in the right direction. In and amongst these thoughts you should try to remember that it’s your condition that is affecting your thinking. Your thoughts, no matter how rational they may seem to you, are manifestations of a disease process that can be changed with proper treatment.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.