Feeling down

We all feel down now and again. We can feel tired or listless or just ‘meh’ about everything.

Feeling low or feeling down is not pleasant but it is very common. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons young people come to Jigsaw.

What does ‘feeling down’ mean?

There’s no set definition for having a low mood. It is different for everybody. It might be feeling a bit crap, fed up or tired. Some people might feel sad or teary, and worry a lot.

When we’re feeling down or are experiencing low mood our motivation to do things drops. Things we normally enjoy like sport or hobbies don’t seem as appealing. Interest in school, college or work can flat line. Changes in your appetite and sleep patterns are not unusual when feeling down.

Put all these experiences together, and it can be a very uncomfortable and unsettling place.

Am I low or depressed?

We all use different language to talk about our feelings. You have probably heard people say they are ‘depressed’ or ‘have depression’ – but what does that mean?

The word ‘depression’ is used by medical doctors to describe a particular state of low mood and a list of symptoms, for a certain period of time. Things get confusing because the word depression is used very often these days outside of this medical definition.

Whatever language you choose to describe how you’re feeling, it’s good to think about what’s getting you down. Also, what you could do to look after yourself.  Then, think about whether you want or need help from others, like a friend, Jigsaw, or a doctor.

Feeling down may be your body’s way of telling you that you need time out.

Why I am feeling low?

Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint what’s bothering you. It might be a combination of things that are slightly worrying or draining, so it can be difficult to identify which one is the problem. We’re more likely to feel low when stressed.

There are some things that are likely to gave a negative effect on our mood. See if any of these sound familiar:

  • Difficult events in your life, or worry about an upcoming one
  • Family or friends are going through a hard time and you’re worried about them
  • Being bullied now or in the past
  • Relationship problems
  • Physical illness
  • Using drugs and alcohol in an unhealthy way
  • Going through hormonal changes
  • A difficult event from the past is back on your mind.

It’s understandable to feel down if any of these things are happening. When we don’t have control over them, we can feel worse. But there are ways to help manage our mood.

We don't always have control of the things that can make us feel down but focusing on what we can control will help

What you can do if you’re feeling low

Identify the cause(s)

Try to figure out what’s making you feel low. It might be a few things. In fact, it often tends to be more than one thing that causes low mood. Make a list of what they are or could be. Sometimes even acknowledging that something is actually bothering you can make you feel better. We don’t always have control over aspects of our lives but accepting that is the first step towards recognising what we can control.

woman talking to her friendTalk to someone

Speaking up about what’s going on for you can help you get perspective. Even saying ‘I know I can’t control this but this is really bothering me’. You can air the feelings you’ve been having and work through some solutions.

You could talk to a friend or an adult you trust in school, college, work, or get in touch with Jigsaw.

Write it out

If you haven’t yet, try writing down how you’re feeling. Sometimes we hold back or censor our words when we talk to other people about what’s going on. When you let it all out on paper you’ll get a sense of relief, and sometimes a new perspective.

Get pen and paper, or type on your computer, and let your fingers to the work. Don’t edit. It’s just for you and not for anyone else.

Make time for yourself

young girl going for a walkFeeling down may be your body’s way of telling you it’s time for a break. Think about what you did last week. Did you leave any time for yourself, to actually unwind, or was it full of things you felt you had to do? If we spend all our time fulfilling duties, whether it’s other people’s birthdays or studying, we will start to wear out.

In the next week, schedule time to do something that you enjoy or find relaxing. Figure out what that means for you; watch an episode of your favourite TV show, read a book or magazine, take a bath, walk in nature, or spend time with your pet.

Ring fence it and don’t let other things override your plans later.

Set goals

Imagine what life might be like if you weren’t feeling low; what would you be doing? Use these activities or states of mind to set some targets for yourself.

The key to realising big goals is smaller, consistent steps everyday. You might set a goal of a walking 10 minutes a day at first, and over weeks or months build it up to an hour a day.

Work towards setting and achieving SMART goals. These are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Try not to isolate yourself

Try your best to socialise, even when you feel like avoiding everyone. Staying in or having time alone can feel like the best thing when you’re down but do it repeatedly and it can actually make you feel worse. Being social and connecting with others has been proven to boost your mood.

Do more of what you enjoy

What are the things that you enjoy that can help you switch off? Some people talk about switching off when they get creative. Listen or play music you love, draw or paint.

Losing yourself in something you enjoy doing helps clear your head and give you a break from routine.

young people walking in nature

Looking after yourself

It is a frustrating paradox there are some things will make us feel better but we won’t feel like doing it at the time.

Exercise

When you feel low, pushing yourself physically might be the last thing on your mind but exercise releases endorphins that lift our mood. If you haven’t done a lot of exercise before, start doing something small a couple of times each week. Try two or three laps of a pool or a short brisk walk. Start with small manageable steps and build it up. If you think the reason you’re feeling low is down to a physical illness try visit your GP.

Eating well

It isn’t fun to do but will help your mood. Eating Nutella from a spoon seems like something that’ll cheer us up, but be warned: the sugar rush will be followed by a crash caused by a drop in blood sugar. Your mood will be right back down after an hour and you’ll feel hungry. The easiest way to make sure eat healthily is to cook your own meals and try not to eat from a packet.

Get regular, quality sleep

This is essential for mental and physical health. Read more about how to get better sleep.

Avoid or minimise drug and alcohol use

It might seem like they help you unwind but afterwards you will feel worse.

Watch your caffeine intake in coffee and energy drinks

Caffeine will make any anxiety and sleep problems worse.

Try mindfulness

Learning to stop and focus on the present moment can give you a break from analysing past events and worrying about the future. If you haven’t tried mindfulness before, there are a few options. Take a look at Headspace app, or some of the many other apps available. Look around for classes near you. The eight-week MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) programme is popular on Irish campuses.