Monday was an “ugh” day for me.
You know — those days when you wake up with the weight of the world on your shoulders? When your energy is at its lowest ebb all day long, and you just feel like “ugh, I can’t do this BS today.” Those days when people make you sick and you hate your job/school/life and you just need a break from the daily grind that’s grinding you down. Everything’s going wrong. Ugh. You know what I mean? I know you do.
For some ladies, it comes with the monthly cycle. Other times, it’s the circumstances of your life that you may not be at liberty to change. Sometimes, things just get under your skin a bit deeper than usual. I think the most important thing is recognizing that ugh days are universal. Everyone has them, regardless of how wealthy or skinny or beautiful or clever or otherwise enviable they might be. But how do you combat those ugh days? Here’s the five steps that usually work for me.
1. I’m a big believer in feeling my feelings — I know that sounds totally corny and Stewart Smalley-ish, but it’s true. I don’t think bottling things up is healthy in the long run. So if I’m sad and I need to let the feeling wash over me completely, I let myself have a good cry until the cloud passes. But you can’t weep and wallow in self pity forever; you have to pick yourself up, dry your eyes, and get through your day as best as you can. Pity parties are no fun, and crying your eyes out only helps for so long.
2. Do something nice for yourself. I’m not talking about treating yourself to all-you-can-eat chocolate fest, or having a Ben and Jerry’s binge. Indulge in the kind of small personal luxury that you typically deny yourself. Like, go get a manicure or pedicure. I make the suggestion because when I get depressed, visions of Pecan Sandies and bowls of macaroni and cheese start dancing in my head. If I can’t use my hands for a while, I’ll stop thinking about using them to stuff my face. If you can’t afford a professional nail polishing, put on some soothing music, indulge in a long, hot bath, then give yourself one. Your feet, hands, and soul will thank you later. If you’re not into your nails, treat yourself to a facial, dress up a bit more than usual for work, celebrate by making yourself feel beautiful. And if you really, really want to treat yourself to something edible, try to steer clear of the typical ugh day snacks. Leave those potato chips and cream filled cakes at the store and give your body the nutrients it needs. You’ll feel better about yourself later if you indulge in a healthy treat, like apple slices with a little peanut butter, or sliced veggies and hummus. Just this week, I got a bag of carrot sticks and roasted garlic hummus for my desk at work. No more vending machine crap for me!
3. Walk it out. I am by no means one to turn to for fitness advice — yet. Someday I do hope to be fit enough to be able to talk about working out without feeling like a total hypocrite. But in my efforts to work out more often, I’ve discovered that what they say is true — being active does increase your endorphins, and if you are depressed and start working out, by the time you break a real sweat, your spirits will be somewhat lifted. I crank some MIA and get on my elliptical trainer, and by the time the first song is over, I’ve almost managed to quit thinking about whatever’s gotten me down. This is much more effective than drowning my sorrows in Jack Daniels, believe it or not. What if you’re at work when the ughs get you? Try a seated workout — this little Sparkpeople resistance band workout is a good one for those of you with an office door you can close. If you have less time, try the 15 minute desk workout, or consider a stroll around your building if the weather’s decent enough. Sometimes just getting up and getting away really helps for a moment.
4. There’s a Stevie Wonder song that says it all — “if you feel your life’s too hard, just go have a talk with God.” This, coming from the child that members of my family call “the little heathen.” I will confess, the judgmental nature of so-called “religious” people turned me off from a pretty early age. So although I grew up Episcopalian with a wonderful priest who I still have tremendous admiration for, I don’t currently think of myself as having a particular “religion,” per se. However, I personally do believe in a higher power, and when I feel especially overwhelmed, I do call for help.
The act of prayer is such a deeply personal thing, I feel kind of weird even writing about it. But I will say this — repeating something like the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm is reassuring to me only because I grew up saying them, but I personally think repeating prayers can just be mindless. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel any closer to my spiritual center. Sometimes a moment alone, hearing a prayer in an unconventional musical version can touch me more than just mumbling words with a congregation of people. Take for example, the late, great Garnet Silk’s “Splashing Dashing,” an interpretation of the 23rd Psalm. Listening to great gospel music also helps me get over sometimes — try this version of How I Got Over by Mahalia Jackson on for size, and tell me you aren’t moved.
The moments when I break away from the scripts I learned in Sunday school and actually speak directly about whatever I’m experiencing, when I actually ask for the specific kind of help I need, I’m simultaneously talking to God and to myself. It’s a way to talk myself through the tribulations I’m facing, an attempt to find the resilience I need to overcome what feels insurmountable. I understand that this might not work for everyone and I’m not here to get into a debate about beliefs — I’ve had enough friends who are Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Rasta, insert-your-particular-sect-of-Christianity-here, atheist, and agnostic to realize that what works for some doesn’t work for others, and everyone thinks they’ve got all the answers. That’s why I love the Desiderata — those final passages resonate with me. “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is, finding a quiet space where I can meditate, be at peace, and communicate with my spiritual center really helps to get me out of the mental ruts I sometimes find myself in.
5. If it’s more than a day or a week — if you’re having something more like an ugh month or an ugh year, it’s worth considering therapy. Depression is real. It’s not just a mood you fall into or a funk you find yourself in. If the thought’s ever crossed your mind — hey, I might be really depressed, then you really should educate yourself about the symptoms. I’ve had a few low moments in my life where I’ve sought the advice of a professional, and I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about admitting that you’ve sought help. So I speak from experience when I tell you, few things in life are more depressing than a crappy therapist. I’ve had two, and it can be enough to turn you off therapy altogether. But the right therapist can really help you through a rough patch.
I found an amazing therapist when I was in college, and without her, I don’t know what I’d be doing today. She helped me realize that I needed to focus on my writing as a form of release, she helped me heal after my high school eating disorder, she helped me realize that so many people have the same problems that I have, or worse. She helped me realize that my ugh moments were just that — moments. And they pass. The best part about a therapist is, they aren’t your friend. You pay them for their time. And unlike your BFF, your sister, your grandma, or your boss, the best kinds of therapists aren’t supposed to be giving you personal advice so much as guiding you towards personal revelations. Just sitting in this woman’s office and talking my problems out – speaking aloud the thoughts I’d been suppressing — helped me to see my life through fresh eyes. When I felt strong enough to suss out my own issues, we respectfully parted ways. I am better for the experience.
So on Monday, when I was confronted with a big poison cloud of ugh, the first four things on this list came to the rescue. It also helped me to retreat from the schedule I’ve been on, to lay down my incessant and ever-swelling things-to-do list, and to just have a healthy, early dinner and get a good night’s sleep for a change. Finally, the clouds are parting and the sun is shining through. Ahh. Feels good. I feel like myself again.
Please understand that I’m completely speaking from my own experiences, and what works for me might not work for others. In fact, I really want to hear from you readers here — what works for you? What helps you get over your ugh days, bellas and fellas?