So you woke up this morning feeling gloomy or blue. You were having the blahs, down in the dumps. Maybe you were bummed out, despondent, discouraged or in a funk! You just wanted to cover your head and go back to sleep. Maybe your mom greeted you with a chipper “Good morning,” but you ignored her because you didn’t want to be happy today: You were having the blues! (see the top of the next page if your gloom feels worse than this).
This feeling may come on without warning. After all, being down in the dumps happens to everyone. Even if you’re generally a happy and positive person who enjoys life, there will be times when you’re discouraged. What causes this, and what can you do about it?
How you feel is influenced by many types of neurological chemicals. These chemicals control and regulate your body functions, moods and emotions. “With proper levels of mood chemicals, people experience healthy and positive emotional states, but a chemical imbalance can produce mood disorders like depression and anxiety” (Mood Chemicals and Their Effect on the Brain, PTSD Treatment Help, www.ptsdtreatmenthelp.com/mood-chemicals-and-their-effect-on-the-brain). Too much or too little of any one chemical can make you feel blue. These chemical imbalances can be felt or reveal themselves in outward signs. Let’s explore some general causes of discouragement.
- Negative thought patterns
- Lack of vision or goals
- Fear of failure
- Hardships and heartbreak
- Poor choices in friends
- Junk food
Negative thought patterns
When you’re feeling down, you are in a mode of negative thought patterns that keeps you from having a positive perspective. You may dwell on life’s “doom and gloom,” or feel that no one likes you, that you’re not good at anything or that you’re a failure. Your life might seem boring compared to other people’s lives.
Thinking more positively about yourself will help. Assess your life and your attitude, then take action. First and foremost, turn your blues over to God. Notice the encouragement in Proverbs 16:1-3: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the spirits. Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.”
Do just that—pray to God to heal your emotional confusion and discouragement. There is nothing too hard for God to heal. Ask God to solve the issues before you and to get to the source of your emotional challenges. God is truly the best “blues buster” there is. Commit it to God. God also expects us to do our part, so let’s continue to look at what may be causing them in your life.
Don’t try to compare yourself to others; just be grateful for the life you have. Keeping a gratitude journal and recording something that you’re grateful for each day will help keep your mind focused on good things. Expressing positive affirmations can also remind you that life is not all bad. For example, you can say: “I am cheerful. Today I will be a bright spot in someone’s day.”
Since so many scriptures offer encouragement, reading the Bible is an excellent way to focus on the positive. As you read, make a list of verses that lift your spirits. Review them later when you’re feeling down. Here’s one to get you started: “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22, New International Version).
Stress can manifest in many ways, such as a too-busy schedule. Getting a grip on stress can help lessen the blues. Try making a to-do list and prioritizing your most important jobs. You might buy a planner, or download a calendar app on your phone. Seeing your schedule in black and white will make it more obvious if you have overscheduled yourself, or if your time-management could use improvement.
Remember to leave time for yourself each day. “Me time” is important to your mental, physical and spiritual health. Choose an activity to do from the “Blues Busters” list below. Taking time to talk to God through prayer will also keep things in perspective.
Lack of vision or goals
The opposite of having too much to do is boredom. Feeling like you’re going nowhere, or that there’s no excitement in your life, can be discouraging.
If you’re experiencing boredom, create a bucket list of everything you want to do in life. List some items that are must-dos, such as “graduate from high school,” then include some that are fun or crazy, like “hike the Appalachian Trail.” Writing them down doesn’t mean you’re bound to do them all, but it will help you set some goals you can aim and plan for. Having something to look forward to builds excitement, which counteracts discouragement.
Fear of failure
Maybe you’ve already tried something on your bucket list, and it didn’t work out. It’s important to realize that everyone experiences failures, even geniuses and pros. Try to use failure and negative feedback to help you improve on your ideas, rather than give up on them. Read biographies of men and women who became great in spite of their weaknesses, or who struggled to achieve something challenging. One of my personal favorites is Endurance by F. A. Worsley. It’s about Ernest Shackleton’s fateful 1914-16 expedition to Antarctica and the incredible rescue. It’s a story of intense high adventure and a tribute to a most inspiring and courageous leader.
Don’t have time to read a book? I once asked a music professor in Colombia about calming my nerves before a music performance. He said to breathe deeply, stand tall and raise my arms up and over my head. Doing an exercise like this may help you get past that moment of dread.
Hardships and heartbreak
Sometimes just thinking about the past can be discouraging. Perhaps you or someone you love suffers from chronic illness, or you have experienced several deaths in your family. Maybe you made a series of poor choices that led to negative circumstances in your life. Enduring persistent and unpleasant events can be discouraging. However, even though we suffer, God promises to restore and strengthen us (1 Peter 5:10).
Try doing something kind or helpful for someone else, such as shoveling snow for a homebound neighbor, or visiting an elderly widow in assisted living. These types of activities can build positive, encouraging memories, and they will help to direct your thoughts away from your own suffering.
Poor choices in friends
Occasionally your choice of friends can be the cause of a gloomy mood. Choose friends who will lift you up, not tear you down (Proverbs 13:20). Spend time with people who make you smile and help you aim for higher goals. One way to meet positive new friends is to join a club or an athletic team. Exercise releases powerful endorphins that relieve discouragement, and working together with like-minded people to achieve a common goal builds positive relationships.
Having poor eating habits is another cause of the blahs. Eating junk food while watching TV can make you sluggish the next morning, and grabbing a snack bar as you rush out the door may leave you despondent during your morning classes. Poor food choices mean that your body doesn’t receive the nutrition it needs, and without adequate nutrition, your hormone system can quickly get out of whack.
Learn to cook. You don’t have to be a master chef; just learn how to make simple, healthy food that is quick to prepare. Apple slices with peanut butter for a movie snack, or a sandwich prepared at night that can be eaten on-the-go the next morning. A handful of nuts make a high-energy after-school snack. But don’t stop with snack food—learn how to prepare a whole meal. Your family will enjoy it, and you will be encouraged by their praise.
Everyone has the blues from time to time; it’s a normal part of life. But usually that down-in-the-dumps feeling won’t stick around for long, especially if you use some of the tips offered in this article. If discouragement continues to plague you and you can’t seem to shake it, there may be something more serious going on. In that case, have a chat with your minister or another trusted adult.
“The blues are different from a heavy or dark mood that goes unchanged for weeks at a time. That could be a sign of clinical depression, in which case you should consider seeking the advice of a counselor.”
(“Six Strategies for Coping with the Blues,” Toni Bernhard J.D., Psychology Today, Jan. 12, 2012)
- Prayer (before anything, ask God to direct your steps—Proverbs 16:1-3)
- Read and apply Proverbs 3:5-8 (verse 8: “It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones”)
- Meditate—recall positive experiences and meditate on God’s Word (Joshua 1:8)
- Spend time in the sunshine
- Cook something new from scratch
- Take time out for yourself
- Do something kind for someone else (Luke 6:38)
- Break up your projects into smaller pieces; prioritize
- Use your failures to improve (Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life”)
- Learn a new skill
- Make new friends: join a club or sports team
- Start a gratitude journal
- Create a bucket list
- Stand up tall
- Watch a funny movie
- Call a friend
- Get moving; be active
- Read biographies of inspirational men and women