I often dip into melancholy moods, triggered by any number of things. One of the most regular triggers is a sense of detachment from my family, or else a feeling that I’ve done something really wrong as a husband or as a father. From what I’ve seen, this is a fairly common human experience – most people go through periods when they’re down, sometimes lasting several days.
Right now, I’m feeling this way, actually. I’m worried mostly about my son, who is generally pretty well rounded, but has been having a bit of trouble the last few days because of an incident over the weekend where he thought that we had abandoned him (we hadn’t – we left him in a group with the children of some of our friends and he couldn’t quickly pick us out of a crowd of other people). Since then, he’s alternated from being overly independent (trying to do stuff far, far beyond his motor skills, like pouring milk and refusing to allow us to play with him) to being clingy and a bit regressive (clinging to me one night and insisting on being rocked to sleep). Seeing him so deeply bothered by this has dragged down my mood as well.
In the past, I bought stuff as a balm for this feeling. In fact, right now I’m very much tempted to do the same – I want to go to the store, buy Super Mario Galaxy, take it home, and hole up in the basement by myself playing it for hours.
In fact, I used to buy something relatively expensive each time I felt a down mood. I’d go to the bookstore, buy a few books (and usually not cheap paperbacks, either), and go home and read them. I’d go buy a pile of CDs or DVDs. I’d buy video games. I’d even buy clothes on occasion.
All of these purchases were meant for escapism – a weak attempt at making myself feel better. That idea, I later figured out, was planted in my head by advertising – repeatedly seeing happy people enjoying products would convince me that I might be happy enjoying products. It cost me a lot of money – and for no real benefit.
Instead, I’ve come up with a lot of other things that sustain me through my down times, things that don’t cost a lot of money and make me feel even worse. Here are some of the things that I do – perhaps some of them can help you get through melancholy moods without succumbing to spending frivolously.
Take long hot shower. I’ve stood in a hot shower for over an hour before, just scrubbing myself very clean and letting the hot water pour down over me.
Play with my children. I find that if I’m down and sit down to play with my son or hold my daughter, they are able to easily lift my mood, almost without effort.
Get some exercise. I find that getting some serious exercise, enough to get my heart really pumping and my lungs out of breath, usually raises my mood. It’s often a prelude to a warm shower, after which I often feel much better.
Look at a “happy folder” of pictures on my computer. I have a small set of my favorite pictures stored in a folder on my computer, and when I’m down I go through these pictures. They consistently raise my mood, as they depict memories and scenes of happiness from my life, reminding me how many good things I have.
Avoid media sources. Especially anything with advertising on it. I avoid television and magazines like the plague; instead, I read books or listen to NPR for entertainment.
These tactics often go a long way towards lifting my mood. In fact, this evening, I’m intending to get a big dose of exercise, then follow it with a long shower just before my family comes home for the evening.