Dear Rachel,

I’m not sure why I have been feeling so down lately, but I find that I just want to sleep all day and don’t feel like doing anything productive. It is not as if I suffered some major tragedy, so there is really no reason for me to feel like this, but I guess I am just stuck in a rut and I don’t know what to do about it. Every day seems like a repeat of the day before. Any suggestions?

Depressed
Los Angeles

Dear Depressed,

Our emotional well being is actually very similar to our physical well being. For example, the more we eat, the more our stomachs stretch, and therefore the more we need to eat the next time to feel full. So one can say over and over again how she would like to lose weight, yet if she continues to stuff herself at a meal, she will only be hungrier at the next.

What I am trying to say is that it is specifically your behavior that is keeping you in your state of depression. While it might not have been what initially caused you to feel down, it is certainly what is preventing you from getting out of your rut.

Chassidic philosophy teaches us that the word in Hebrew for depression, atzvut, is etymologically related to the Hebrew word for laziness, atzlut. This shows us that the less we do, the more depressed we are going to feel. The reason for this is that we were created in this world to do, to act, to move. If we become stagnant, we are working against our nature, we cannot feel that we are fulfilled and we will therefore become depressed. Being alive means that we need to constantly be productive, that we need to constantly grow. When we stop, when our day becomes a repetition of the one before, when our life becomes a straight line rather than a lot of ups and downs, it means we have flatlined. We may not be physically dead, but we are emotionally and spiritually dead.

So now the question is how can you get out of wherever you are stuck. Clearly, it would mean that you need to start doing things, becoming active. But contrary to popular belief, it is usually not by finding something you enjoy doing and just doing it. While sometimes that may help, that may work, the focus is still on you and completely on you. And if you are the only one who stands to gain and the only one to motivate yourself, you may choose that what you really feel like doing is staying in bed all day and not going out.

Rather, the best way to get your mind off of yourself and your depression is to focus on someone else, and ideally on someone else who you feel is in a worse situation than yourself. Try to do some volunteer work. Try to spend some time at the local hospital visiting children or at an old age home with the elderly. You will find that by helping another you will end up gaining more than you give. If you focus on making another person happy, you will not be able to focus on how miserable and stuck you feel. And when you succeed in making the other happy, meaning that you have changed someone else’s day, made an impact, a change, you will realize and recognize that today is not the same as yesterday, and that tomorrow has even greater potential than today.

I wish you much luck in getting out of your current state of mind, and being able to help others and thus truly being able to help yourself!

Rachel

P.S.: It is important to clarify that the above response is dealing with a case of the blues, not a situation of severe depression that could require medical or psychological treatment. If one finds oneself ever in a situation where the depression is increasing, suggestions such as the above do not seem to help, or one has thoughts or feelings to hurt oneself or others, one must seek immediate professional help. Depression is a serious mental illness and must be treated as such.