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Do you have to smile when you feel sad?

I substitite taught in a first grade classroom this week. One child asked me why I was smiling. I responded to her question with “Because I’m happy!” She asked me if we have to smile when we are sad, and I told her no.

I love working with children. I love their honesty, I love their energy, I love their happy spirits. But sometimes children aren’t happy, and they don’t know how to deal with their emotions.

Comforting a sad child

I love being able to comfort a child, to help them calm down, to let them know that sometimes we feel sad, and that is OK. I can redirect their attention to feeling sad to something else, and sometimes that simple redirection changes everything for them, and suddenly they forget they were sad and are happy again! (That photo of Rebecca and Julia on ponies at Thanksgiving Point: I don’t remember why Rebecca was so sad, but that little photo kind of breaks my heart!)

I don’t think that as adults we are always all that different from children. I think that distraction is a great blessing, and redirecting our thoughts when we are sad can go a long way to helping us feel happy again.

Hard days for adults

Some days are just hard days, though, and I struggle at times to pull out of the feelings of sadness that seem to accompany a hormonal change or illness or cold, wintry weather. On Sunday a friend asked me if I ever am not smiling. I am, really, the kind of a person who loves to smile. (You can see from that baby photo that it’s who I am!) But yes, there are many days when I feel like crying all day long. It is hard to smile on those days. I wish it weren’t that way, but it just is!

Recently my mother asked me to help her teach a Relief Society lesson in her ward on depression and anxiety. I shared with the women in her class some of the things I have learned from dealing with depression over the years. Depression for me has been something that I have learned to cope with: it isn’t a constant companion, but seems to resurface, like an old cough, from time to time.

Learning to swim: swim tools

I shared with the women how I’ve been learning to lap swim, and that I have different tools that help me develop different abilities as I swim: a pull buoy, a kickboard, hand paddles, and swim fins.

The pull buoy goes between my legs and helps my body to float while I pull through the water with my arms. The purpose, as I understand it, is to help strengthen my arms.

The kickboard, in contrast, helps me focus on my kick, and strengthens my legs when I use it.

The paddles “increase efficiency, create a more consistent feel for the water, help build better swim mechanics, and improve overall strength and technique” (ACTIVE.com).

I love using swim fins (flippers) because as a beginner swimmer, they give me more power and help me keep swimming when I am tired! They propel me forward more quickly, and they help me learn better body position as I swim (learn more here).

13+ tools to deal with feelings of depression

Swim tools are like a few of the practices that I’ve learned that help me avoid or cope with feelings of depression or anxiety. These help me “keep my head above water” both on happy and sad days.

  1. Prayer
  2. Studying the Book of Mormon
  3. Vigorous exercise
  4. Going to bed early and getting up early
  5. Eating whole foods and avoiding sugar (especially at night)
  6. Drinking plenty of water
  7. Talking with a loved one who listens well when I am worried or depressed
  8. Practicing gratitude
  9. Getting sunshine
  10. Working hard and then taking time to do fun things, too
  11. Serving or showing love to someone else
  12. Going to the temple
  13. Reading my patriarchal blessing
  14. Looking back at photos of our family over the years and remembering blessings
  15. Asking for and receiving priesthood blessings
  16. Getting OUT: going on a date with Lane, visiting with a friend, or even just going shopping!

Medication is not something I use currently, but I don’t have anything against it. I am just grateful to be able to manage my emotional and mental health with those tools. If I couldn’t pull out of depression using these skills, I would go to a doctor to get additional medical help.

Those tools are simple, practical, everyday healthy living skills, but they are what help me the most. When I pour out my heart in prayer, for example, I see that God answers my prayers–typically in that same day, in some small or big way. Answers usually come when I exercise my faith and take a step forward toward doing something good to show love for another person or to accomplish something productive. The scriptures help me gain insights or just give me strength to keep moving forward. Exercise is my biggest help. Lately, if I miss exercising for 3 days, it’s like practically a guarantee that I will begin to struggle. Being too sedentary also really creates a challenge, as does dwelling on my concerns too long.

Meditation

One tool I haven’t learned well yet is mediation/deep breathing. I have a goal to learn to meditate and am hoping it will help me get back to sleep on those nights that I wake and struggle to fall back asleep quickly.

Gifts

All these tools are gifts, and I am grateful to know about them so that I can feel like smiling as much as possible. These skills help me turn a frown to a smile, and a sad heart to a happy one. I hope that they will help me turn a weakness into a strength. I don’t have to smile all the time, but I sure feel grateful when I feel like smiling instead of feeling like crying!

(To see other posts I’ve written about dealing with negative emotions, go here.)

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