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The Sun Gives Me Life

Written by Claire Swetlin

I’ll be honest, recently I have not been feeling great. Things have been really difficult for everyone, with the year anniversary of COVID right around the corner and the height of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) kicking in. I’ve noticed my mental health taking a U-turn. If you also are feeling the blues right now, I am going to share with you what I do to help myself get out of a depression funk.

First, you have to notice where you are at. For me, some signs that I am falling back on unhealthy habits or am falling back into depression are…

  • Sleeping more than 10 hours each day

  • Feeling easily distracted but not easily entertained

  • Relying more on alcohol or drugs to feel better

  • An increase in self deprecating thoughts

  • An avoidance of sunlight or exercise

  • Eating more sugary/processed foods than whole foods

  • Falling out of my daily morning and night routine

  • Not washing my face, not brushing my teeth and/or not showering regularly

  • Frequently canceling plans last minute

  • Missing class and deadlines

  • Avoiding the ones I love

  • Biting my nails or picking at the skin along my fingers

  • Feeling anxious often

  • Over planning for the future

Once you come to terms with where you are currently at emotionally, you can take concrete steps towards pulling yourself back up. There is no shame in admitting you are not doing great right now, this year has not been kind to anyone. Talking about it, or at the very least, being honest with yourself can help to destigmatize this very human experience.

Talking about depression can also help destigmatize happiness. Since I am a college student I can only speak to what I’ve witnessed of people ages 18-22, but to me, there seems to be a weird double standard. Being depressed is almost seen as cool and the term is frequently thrown around without being used properly. This also means that people who have either lucked into happiness or worked really hard to find happiness are almost immediately deemed unrelatable, or they are assumed to have never experienced anything difficult.

Lastly, talking about happiness and depression will also help demystify happiness. Happiness doesn't look the same for any two people, each person will have different baselines for happiness. For me, my baseline happiness may look like someone elses normal. It doesn't matter how it looks to other people though, because striving for happiness only as a social facade will not garner you lasting, healthy happiness.

When I realize I have fallen below my baseline (my baseline being the base level of happiness I need to be at in order to feel confident, comfortable, capable and outgoing in my life), I implement a mix of these ideas to help bring myself back to my baseline. For me, I am not currently shooting for anything higher than this though, because I do not want to put more pressure on myself to feel happy. It is completely fine to be sad, but for your long term mental health and physical health, it is good to try, metaphorically speaking, pulling yourself up off the floor and at least onto your knees. You can slowly build up happiness techniques and practices but don't rush into it too fast. It’s the same with forming any new habit, start small.

What I know makes me feel good…

  • Listening to music and going for a walk in nature (wear your sunscreen)

  • Trying to bake or cook something new

  • Painting my feelings

  • Journaling when I feel annoyed or sad and I don’t know why

  • Telling someone about my day. Keeping things bottled up always backfires for me

  • Starting my day with a breakfast that has fruits and vegetables

  • Keeping a small promise to myself, ex: I will read 10 pages of a book before bed

  • Standing in my backyard or front yard, stretching and basking in the sun

  • Listening to meditations from my meditation app, SmilingMind

  • Going to the dog park and watching the doggos run around

  • Hanging up my clothes and cleaning my desk. I always feel better when my space is organized

  • Redecorating or redesigning my room

  • Talking to a family member I haven't spoken to in a while.

  • Using my therapy light each morning (I highly recommend getting one if you experience SAD, mine is from the brand Miroco).

  • Taking several days off of social media and giving yourself time to not reply to texts

  • Touching the ground, be it the soil in your backyard, the sand at a beach or the grass in a park.

  • Start a new feel good book. Sometimes I want to push myself to read something very mature and insightful and sometimes I want to read trashy YA fantasy. Do what makes you feel good. I recommend the Graceling series by Kirsten Cashore.

  • Lighting a really good smelling candle. (pro tip: I learned this the hard way but the first time you light a new candle, make sure you let the wax melt all the way to the edges or else it will never melt completely).

  • Taking care of my skin. I really enjoy skincare and there is something very therapeutic about touching your face. It centers me and I have begun to do my skincare routine without a mirror so I am relying only on my sense of touch.

  • Taking care of something that is alive, be it a pet, plant or person.

  • Not buying alcohol

  • Finding a new wholesome tv show to watch. I highly recommend Hilda, She-Ra or Kipo which are all on netflix. If you have Hulu, my all time favorite is Brooklyn 99.

  • Practicing gratitude, which may be the most instant and lasting form of self care for me. I start my day with 3 things I am grateful for and end my day with 1 thing that I am happy or proud of from the day.

  • Finding a community and engaging with them!

  • Taking yourself out of your comfort zone, only a little bit at first. I am taking a new class this quarter that is about making digital music, a topic I know nothing about. Trying new things is hard but an important skill for life, plus I always feel really proud of myself after attempting something that is not in my wheelhouse. It always shows me that things never go as badly as your mind imagines.

  • Keeping your window open during the day. Fresh air is a simple joy.

  • Not being on or in your bed until it is time to go to sleep.

  • Putting on real clothes and not staying in my PJs.

  • Giving back in any small way you can. Before COVID, I used to volunteer with Food Not Bombs on the weekends. Even when I didn’t feel like going or I was tired or stressed, volunteering always filled me back up emotionally. I know it’s difficult to do right now, but searching out a way to help out, either with an organization, a family member or a friend, is always worth it.

  • Reading the news every other day and only for 30 mins.

Stay Safe My Friends and Savor the Sunshine

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