Sometimes we're sad. Oftentimes when we're less than buoyant we say we're “depressed.” But real depression—clinical depression—is more than just being sad or not quite buoyant. It involves severe symptoms and biochemical changes.
Many minor episodes of depression are the result of disappointment. Hopes may fail to materialize, and frustration results. The writer of one of the books of the Bible realized this: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick …” (Proverbs 13:12 Proverbs 13:12Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
American King James Version×).
When hope is dashed, discouragement can grow. When this happens, it helps to think the situation through and pinpoint the cause. This can restore a positive perspective.
Some people's marginally “blue” feelings become a way of life. Such people seem unable to sustain an optimistic outlook. The roots of such feelings can run deep. Such a person may be modeling behavior he saw as a child in someone else.
Habitual harshness by parents can drive a child toward perpetual gloominess. The apostle Paul advises parents: “… Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21 Colossians 3:21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
American King James Version×).
An expert on depression, Peter Breggin, observes: “Many people go through life with what might be called a 'low-grade' depression. They are apathetic and life seems monotonous with nothing to look forward to. There are no highs anymore, nothing to delight the senses, the heart, or the mind. Life may not seem utterly dark, but it's gray. Lacking in energy, seemingly unable to find any brightness in life, life becomes a treadmill of boredom and bleakness” ( Talking Back to Prozac, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994, p. 201).
Here are some ways to overcome the blues:
Alter your routine. Start a new hobby or other interest. Different activities can renew a zest for life, resulting in an outlook that leaves no room for dejection. “Depression is especially responsive to changes in circumstances … [It] is lifted by falling in love, making a new friend, adopting a pet, learning a new skill, joining a church, traveling, [or] participating in volunteer or reform work …” (Breggin, p. 204).
Volunteer work seems to be particularly helpful. A study of 3,000 people reported that 95 percent of them experienced increased optimism after volunteering.
Beginning a program of regular physical exercise can help. Exercise has known physiological and psychological benefits, including stimulation of the production of endorphins, natural substances that increase people's sense of well-being. Psychological advantages include increased self-confidence and less depression (Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D., The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, 1995, pp. 91-92).
Research shows that diet plays a role in psychological well-being. For example, highly refined, high-sugar foods have been linked to depressive tendencies.
Focus on accomplishments rather than failures. When we suffer setbacks, we should not view them as failures. We should learn to think of them as learning or growth experiences. Too many people become depressed when they err and punish themselves for their mistakes. We should learn from our errors and turn potential stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.
Forgetting past problems is a valuable key. Mental-health counselor Kathleen Powers says: “An optimist has the ability to let go of the past, while a pessimist holds onto everything. It's kind of like driving while looking through the rear-view mirror. It looks like the road to where you're going, but really it's where you've already been” (Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, Feb. 23, 1996).
Applying these practical points can help when we are down in the dumps. The most important key of all is to trust God. We can increase our hope in Him by reading and applying the Bible. The Scriptures were written so that we can have hope (Romans 15:4 Romans 15:4For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
American King James Version×). Hope and depression are incompatible mind-sets. We can repel gloomy thoughts when we build up our hope through God's Word. GN