Melancholy as an emotion is distinct from depression or grief. It has its own singular nature that is characterized by a certain vague sadness, an unexplainable tenuous sorrow that is baffling because you can’t quite put a finger on its cause. Changing circumstances in life allow melancholy to creep in insidiously and catch you unawares so that you experience moments of profound bleakness or intense yearning for no one or nothing in particular.
“My melancholy is the most faithful mistress I have known; what wonder, then, that I love her in return.”
A melancholic phase can actually be good for you. It increases mindfulness, raising your awareness of the present. It can also make you more intuitive and empathetic towards other people. But prolonged melancholy can have a significant negative effect on your mental and physical health. Seventeenth-century Puritan theologian Richard Baxter writes that “overmuch sorrow” can pollute one’s judgment, overthrow logical reasoning and hinder hope. Modern medicine says it leads to anhedonia, the inability to find pleasure, and eventually to clinical depression.
If you find yourself languishing in a state of chronic melancholy, it’s time to take control of your moods. Don’t ask your doctor for a Prozac prescription…yet. Here are non-medical treatments that work on both your body and your mind to distract you from your sadness and lift up your spirits, so that you can gradually return to your normal self.
Start color therapy.
Colors prompt a physiological reaction from us. The “red stimulates, blue soothes” is a basic theory. But colors can be deeply personal and evoke fond memories, so choose those that cheer you up.
Overhaul your wardrobe and redo your house. Pick clothes in happy and fun colors. A bit of orange, yellow and red can elevate your mood and give you self-confidence. Paint your living room and kitchen in brighter hues. Beige and brown with warm shades of reds and oranges can stimulate conversations and create a connection when you have guests around. Blues and greens are sedating and best used in the bedroom. If a total paint job is beyond your budget, buy new throw pillows, rugs and carpets, and other accents in cheerful colors.
Keep a journal.
A journal is different from a diary or a to-do list in that journaling is writing down your thoughts, feelings, and reflections of a certain event or meeting. When you write, whether it’s on old-fashioned paper or on a device, there is no censorship. The advantage of journaling is, in reviewing it, you see your reaction in those moments and you can reflect on them and analyze your own feelings. It’s also a great way to let off steam without getting embroiled in an unpleasant encounter.
Believe in a Higher Being.
Separate studies done by researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and McLean Hospital, a psychiatric affiliate of Harvard University found that depressed people who had a strong faith in their God, regardless of religion, had about 75% better response to treatment than the nonbelievers. Their faith in a God who cares for them combined with scientific forms of treatment helped speed up their recovery.
Take vitamins and minerals.
The B-complex vitamins and Vitamins C and D help your body fight against the symptoms of melancholy, depression, and stress. The B-complex vitamins are B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12. They provide the body with energy to combat fatigue and stress and help in the production of the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine. A deficiency of some B vitamins can lead to diseases that cause depression.
Vitamin C is important for people with low levels of serotonin. Inadequate serotonin is associated with depressive mood disorders. Your body produces Vitamin D by exposing the skin to sunlight. Lack of this vitamin is linked to winter’s Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Your body needs the following minerals: magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, and potassium. Deficiency in these minerals can also cause depression.
Avoid negative lines of thought.
Melancholy can be a result of certain lines of thought that are narrow and self-focused. These unhealthy thinking patterns can become habits that will subtly sink into your mind and cause sadness and despair.
Comparing yourself to others – your friends, co-workers, and neighbors have bigger houses and better-paying jobs, are smarter and more attractive, have brighter kids, etc., etc.
The all or nothing – events and outcomes are black or white, good or bad. There is no room for mistakes. A small flaw makes the whole imperfect and a complete failure.
Not counting your blessings – dwelling on the negatives when there are so many things to be thankful for. You’re like the man who cried because he had no shoes until he met a man who had no feet.
Catastrophizing – always anticipating and thinking of the worst that can happen.
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First published in April 2016; updated March 2022