Being a Good Person in a Tough World ~ A Balm for Depression

Growing up in small central Illinois town, I always felt safe (well, ok, except during tornado warnings). My parents did a great job of creating an environment conducive to growth and a sense of freedom. My friends and I played outside in the summer until well past dark, walked to school and each other’s homes and to the park without a single thought of our safety because it just wasn’t an issue.

Despite growing up around Holocaust survivors, in the midst of the Vietnam war news on the television every day, and then attending university on the campus with the highest rate of rape in the country, I still felt pretty safe in my world. I’m not saying I never faced adversity, I just felt that the world was a safe place for me and most people. I was naive, of course.

Shortly after moving the San Francisco in 1984, a little boy was kidnapped from a bus stop in that city and never heard from again. This, I believe, is the event that woke me up.

Fast forward 33 years. Our society is constantly exposed to the bad things happening all over the world due to our instant access to broadcast and receive images via our cell phones and social media. We are more connected to people everywhere, people we may never have had exposure to without the advances in technology, and I think it’s possible to use this access to develop not just more awareness but more empathy for our fellow humans all around the globe. While difficult to bear, it’s possible that all this heartbreaking information can help us be better people.

My appointments are filled with intelligent, sensitive people – young and old, male and female -struggling with the events in their personal lives and reeling from the news of the world. With so much going on, it’s easy to fall into depression, isolation, and inaction or, worse yet, the bottom of a bottle of alcohol or bag of drugs. The pull to numb out is hard to resist. Computer games, television, and even social media contribute to the list of ways we can anesthetize ourselves.

When people in my life come to me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, I suggest they stay awake and figure out ways to combat their sense of helplessness and despair by contributing to the betterment of the world around them. Some folks go big, throwing themselves into volunteer opportunities, donating sums of money, organizing protests or fundraisers. For others, those big gestures are impossible due to time or financial constraints or anxieties and depression that dissuade them from putting themselves out there. Even with these limitations, I encourage them to consider small ways they can be “forces for good” in our difficult world. If we look around, the opportunities abound. I think every positive act we make has the power to alleviate our sense of helplessness.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider as you go about your days:

  1. Help Someone Out: Hold the door open, shovel the driveway, offer to help carry groceries. If you see someone in distress, ask if they are ok or if they need help.
  2. ┬áVolunteer Your Time: There’s never a shortage of schools who need readers or playground monitors, dogs who need walking, cats who need holding, food that needs packaging and distributing, etc. Often places of worship have projects where a volunteer can easily be assigned, offering both purpose and companionship. Most counties have volunteer centers to help you find a cause you can relate to.
  3. Say a Kind Word: Sometimes a kind word from a total stranger can turn someone’s day around. Although it’s hard to come out of our own dark or grumpy thoughts sometimes to even consider saying something nice, it’s a great way to turn our own attitudes around while helping someone else feel a bit more seen in the world.
  4. Don’t Tolerate Intolerance: According to several sources that track that sort of thing, hate crimes are on the rise in our country. Based on the news I read, it seems they are globally on the rise. Even if it’s not safe to directly confront someone who is being a bully, saying a word to or standing by the victim of this abuse can go a long way towards helping calm them. Speaking gently to prejudice when possible can open the minds of those suffering from it. Yours can be a good influence in the situation.
  5. Keep Yourself Healthy: There’s much more to this than avoiding colds and the flu (as I write this I am home with a cold myself!). Health includes exercise since those endorphins are important to keeping our spirits up and brains functioning, eating right, staying as present as possible, taking breaks from the world when needed, engaging in activities we enjoy, and staying connected to those we love.
    These steps can help alleviate our sense of depression or helplessness. This is especially important during our winter months when many of us fight our desire to hibernate or when the news of fatal fires, weather, and wars make our spirits sink. What do you do to bring yourself up when you’re down? What do you do to make the world a better place?

If you’d like to work on lifting your depression, give me a call. I’d love to help you raise your spirits by examine the things that keep you down and looking at ways to contribute meaningfully to our often difficult world.