10 Ways I chose Joy when I was really depressed.

joy is serious

(unprofessional advice from a human who doesn’t have it all together)

Depression is something I have battled off and on my whole life. The years of 2013 and 2014 were unlike any other depression I have experienced so far, and now I refer to it as my Great Depression. I went to bed many evenings with a heavy heart and woke up feeling like life had been sucked out of me. There were a few days when I lost sight of the value of living. For me, 2015 has been a year of new thinking, a time of embracing joy.

Last month I went to an Imagine Dragons concert where the lead singer, Dan Reynolds, shared about his lifelong battle with depression. I have contemplated sharing my battle too for some time. After listening to Dan Reynolds and how encouraging his message was to me, I realized how important it was to let others know they are not alone in their struggle with depression.

I am listing below 10 ways I chose joy when I was really depressed. I made the list during those difficult years from reading newspaper articles and listening to people I respected. As I look over it, the list feels orderly and tame and does not reflect the chaos going on in my life at the time, or how difficult it was to put one foot in front of the other when I wanted out of life. These were choices I made to become a healthier person and to change my thought patterns.

Joy is not accidental, it’s the result of healthy choices.

I had allowed my emotions to be controlled by the circumstances around me and this was my effort to change. I do not regret making these choices. I now embrace life for the gift it is and hope to remember the lessons that will help me the next time I battle depression.

First I list them, then I explain them:

  1. Pay attention to my spiritual life.
  2. Be physically disciplined.
  3. Develop healthy friendships.
  4. Do acts of kindness or mission work.
  5. Be grateful.
  6. Develop strategies for bad emotions.
  7. Leave room for peaceful moments.
  8. Recognize the battle inside my head.
  9. Put the choice of joy in front of me.
  10. Recognize the contributing factors that put me in depression
  1. Pay attention to my spiritual life.

This was the first choice I had to make because no matter how much effort I put into life I knew God had to be the core and he was the source of my stregnth. It seemed God was silent but I knew the chaos was blocking my hearing. I had to keep listening.

It seemed God was silent but I knew the chaos was blocking my hearing.

My relationship with God has always been important but I was in a place where I did not even have the emotional energy to plan what I would read from the Bible every morning. I was given a daily devotional called “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. Every day I would read the thought for the day and the verses attached. Eventually I moved into reading the Psalms. I would flip the pages until I found a sorrowful Psalm and read/pray it. It was very comforting to think that David, a man after God’s own heart, had some really bad days too. If a Bible verse stuck out to me, I would spend days reading it. I had a running dialogue with God. Sometimes I sounded like a child telling God how awful things were. I remember lamenting, “God, I think I have learned enough lessons for now.” I knew he could handle my real feelings. Over time, the prayers changed as I learned to trust God more than I ever had before.

  1. Be physically disciplined.

I fought this step. Everything else in life hurt. Why should my muscles and my stomach hurt? Hot apple cobbler and lots of rest were all I felt up to. I had to force myself to make healthy choices knowing someday I would be glad I did it. I started with a goal of 3 days a week at a gym. As I gained strength, I pushed myself to more calories and time. If I messed up I didn’t tear myself down, I tried again the next day. I spent most of the 2 years failing to meet my goals, but I started every day trying again. Failing wasn’t the problem, giving up was the problem.


  1. Develop healthy friendships.

I wanted to isolate. I was sick of being asked “How are you doing?” , because I never had a good answer. I pinpointed some people in my life I could trust. Meeting for coffee or hiking gave us time to talk. At first, I admit I vomited my emotions on them, monopolizing the time. Then I began listening to their stories. When I began listening I learned I was not the only human to experience depression or difficult times. Sometimes I was shocked and encouraged when I heard other women voicing the exact feeling I was having. I was not alone in my battle.

  1. Do acts of kindness or mission work.

An act of kindness reminds me that I am not the only human on the planet, and we all need help at times. I was fortunate enough to have the unique opportunity to go on a mission trip to Guatemala during this bad time. I walked in villages where poverty was evident and I participated with a team that drilled a well for clean water and taught hygiene lessons with Living Waters International. These people were experiencing great hardships in life and yet they smiled and greeted us. There is nothing like helping those in need to put your life in perspective.

It’s not always possible to visit a foreign country. Locally I participated in activities with the organization Feed My Starving Children. Even more practical, I tried to open my eyes to the world around me; handing a bag of McDonalds food to a homeless person; helping an elderly person reach for something in the store; paying forward for someone’s coffee.

5. Be grateful.

No matter my circumstance there is always something to be grateful for. Sometimes I would make a list so I could remind myself of all I had. Depression is very in-focused so I also tried to make a habit of telling other people what I was grateful for in them. Gratefulness changed my daily perspective.


  1. Develop strategies for bad emotions.

During my Great Depression my emotions were strong. I could be extremely happy, sad, or angry. My best strategy for anger was going to the gym. Many times I would hit the gym fuming and by the time I was finished my emotions would be regulated. Sometimes all I needed was a walk around the block. If my depression was hitting the red level I would reach out to a trusted friend. Sometimes a phone call, sometimes coffee, and sometimes hanging out at their home. Isolating in a red zone of emotions could allow room for me to make really bad choices. Survival meant staying in contact, staying accountable.

(On a side note, I found that jumping on bubble wrap or smashing old electronics can snap me out of a negative mood. I keep bubble wrap on hand at all times.) 


  1. Leave room for peaceful moments.

I am very self competitive. Achieving and moving is where I feel good, but it can tire me emotionally. I learned how important it was to leave room for rest. Rest can come in many forms. Here are some of the things I did: read a book on a blanket in the shade of a tree; take a slow walk around the block; float in the pool and stare at the sky; zen doodle (something I will share in my blog next week); take a nap on my day off; enjoy a hobby; visit a prayer garden. 

  1. Recognize how serious the battle inside your head is.

I have a rule: no serious conversations after 10pm and if something is bothering me in the middle of the night I pray about it, but don’t act on it. If it is still real the next day, then I act on it. If I only listened to what my head told me, I would be in trouble. I have a lifetime supply of negative comments that rehearse themselves on bad days; It’s worth fighting the battle of recognizing and combatting these unhealthy thoughts. I learned to balance things with good reading or listening or rehearsing my thoughts out loud to a friend or counselor.

  1. Put the choice of joy in front of you.

I am forgetful and need constant reminders to do things. If you visit my cubicle at work you will see what I call my “joy wall.” During 2014 I started collecting quotes or beautiful pictures online which I printed and put on a wall in my office. It is now covered with quotes and beautiful pictures that remind me to choose joy every day. Here are some of my favorites for you to download and print.


joy verse

key to happiness 2

god is up to

  1. Recognize the contributing factors that put me in depression.

Now that I’m looking back at those years, I know it’s important for me to recognize what put me in that long depression. I know there will be other dark times and I hope the things I learned this time will shorten the severity or duration. I had allowed myself to be too tired for too long and I was adjusting to major life changes when we adopted our third child. Life at times is messy, really messy but here is hope. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, please be patient and kind.

Feel free to share this with a friend if you think it would help. Have a joyful day.

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours, available on Amazon.com

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