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21 Ways, Better Days

Kansas Public Radio

21 Ways to a Happier Depression is like a gorgeous gift bag for depression – good things just keep coming out of Seth Swirsky’s small and colorful 112 - page book. A psychotherapist who wrangles with depression and anxiety himself, Swirsky empathetically offers his 21 ideas for feeling better.

In plain language and short chapters, Swirsky suggests activities and goals that he feels help a troubled mind. The Lowering Your Emotional Temperature chapter advises the use of cold, wet washcloths, one on the forehead and eyes and one on the neck. Combined with a brief rest, Swirsky finds the effect “…unbelievably soothing.” The chapter To Thine Own Self Be Complimentary reminds readers that “Because of the misgivings we all harbor about ourselves, it’s healthy to compliment ourselves - out loud - when we succeed at even the simplest of things.” It might seem odd to verbally praise yourself, but most people benefit from positive reinforcement. Why should you be left out?

The Paintbox chapter of offers advice paired with creativity. Swirsky describes his purchase of painting supplies to make simple images of boxes. Think paintings of boxes sound dull? Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko didn’t think so, saying “Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit…” Of his paintings, Swirsky says that “…a good painting is not necessarily determined by the mastery of the painter; it is determined by whether you can feel the painting.” Swirsky’s boxes are soothing rectangles of brightness that made me feel good, so, mission accomplished.

Perhaps the best advice in the book is in the chapter Lists for the Listless. The physical and emotional weight of depression and anxiety often make the basics of living - cleaning the car, doing laundry, even choosing a birthday card - hard to bear. Swirsky says that “… all those chores that float around in your head feel heavy.” His advice is to make lists so that you can by cross tasks off the list and “… replace that depressed ‘can’t do’ feeling with a ‘did it!’ feeling.”

I have my own version of lists. I keep a large, brightly-colored travel calendar with appointments, chores, etc., above the towel holder in my bathroom. I have a 57 year-old bladder – what are the odds that I won’t see Aunt Lynne’s birthday circled with blue stars or the note to vacuum my car?

Depression is a grind that affects each person differently and the path to feeling better is mostly circuitous. 21 Ways to a Happier Depression has advice that might help you better navigate a hard time.