Beat the blues | Sunday Observer

Beat the blues

There was a friendly teacher at my primary school to whom I once turned in despair, with a tear stained face and all the cares of the world on my young shoulders. He was a big, jovial man who had learned serenity the hard way, having been struck down by polio when he was a young athlete.

Sitting at his table, he pulled out a sheet of foolscap and asked me with real concern, “Now, just what seems to be the matter?” I said, “I didn’t score well in the history test, this term.” He wrote it down, and asked again, “What else?”

I replied, “I’ve not been selected to the Under 12 cricket team, although I played well in the trials.” That also he wrote down. I continued. “I’m getting a bad cold, and look a mess; just three days to the debate competition.”

Calmly he added them to the list, which still looked remarkably short on that immense sheet of paper. My voice faltered, and he looked up, surprised. “What else?”

I wracked my brain but failed to think of anything else. It was obvious from his expression, kind as it was, that he didn’t consider this paltry, self-pitying list grounds for suicide.

He grinned and handed over my list of disasters and, when I turned to leave with a lightened heart, the sight of his crutches propped behind his seat reminded me that there are problems graver than colds and history tests.


I never went to see him again. Now, when the blues strike, I pull out a sheet of foolscap and try to decide just what has brought on this mood of misery. A broken heart? A broken TV set? Dismal weather? The aftermath of flu? An empty day?

And I get into a corner all by myself and decide how I can best combat this state of mind. The answer emerges within minutes or a couple of hours.

Since blues are often nothing more than the feeling of being trapped by unalterable circumstances, one secret of consolation is to use the faculty of choice. Some things - unmanageable children, a neglectful spouse, a hot-tempered boss, an immovable mountain of chores - cannot be changed overnight, or at all.

But the sufferer can lunch at a new place, repaint the kitchen, take up judo, talk to a stranger or use a different route home from work.


Cures for the blues are as various as its victims. To beat the blues, I have learned to take some action, any kind of action, rather than wallow in my own melancholy. One of my friends tackles the most loathsome job he can think of, the one he’s been avoiding for weeks - paying the bills or clearing out the kitchen drain.

Another friend uses the “at least” technique to beat the blues. She sits down and thinks of the most awful thing that has ever happened to her or, one she can imagine. And then she says, “Well, at least my son isn’t in hospital with dengue or my husband is not complaining of heart, liver or kidney problems or the landlady hasn’t sent any letter refusing extension of our house lease.” Ghoulish, but it works. A variation of this is to read a harrowing book.


A local professor once interviewed 50 university students about combating the blues and listed the following among the quick fixes: taking a walk or a drive, watching a comedy movie, going out with friends for lunch or dinner, indulging in sports, listening to music and doing something for someone.

This last, the determination to give cheer even though one cannot feel it, is one of the most valuable cures for the blues. If you can’t get out to help others, do what you can at home - make a phone call to an elderly relative or write a letter to someone who is lonely, send a book to someone who is ill, buy a delicacy for each of your children.

And, you can have a bit of that delicacy yourself. Tasty food is a potent enemy of the blues. Cervantes wrote, “All sorrows are less with bread” - and they’re even more bearable if you cover the bread with whatever you find most delectable.

Then, there is nothing like new knowledge to take one’s mind off the dreary inescapables of daily life. Samuel Johnson, a lifelong sufferer from melancholia, advised a colleague, if a man should be depressed, “let him take a course of Chemistry, or a course of rope dancing, or a course of anything to which he is inclined to, at the time.

Be not solitary

“Be not solitary” - another help when you feel low. Some people prefer the company of strangers; some take refuge with close relatives. The best of all, probably, is to seek out that lifesaver, the true friend.

But, beware, lest you pull that person also into your whirlpool of misery. When we are blue we are a bore to ourselves, and all too often we bore others.

The shoulders of friends are there for the healing of true, dignified sorrows - but blues, this warmed-up hash of stale emotions, is far too unappetizing a dish to share with anyone.

We should not visit friends to spill out petty problems but, rather, taste together the pleasures of reminiscence, plans for the future, shared work and laughter. There is no better therapy than a faithful friend.


Today, it’s common knowledge that that aerobic exercises provide a natural therapy. That is why modern doctors “prescribe” regular exercises to cope with the blues.

When you become active your body releases chemicals, including dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and endorphins, known to have positive effects on one’s mood.

Exercise also increases the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF, which helps reverse the toxic, brain-damaging effects of blues.

You might know someone who may be going through a period of blues. Be nice to the person, and make yourself readily available when that person needs a helping hand. It can make a tremendous difference in the life of that person.