5 Ways to Force Yourself Out of the Doldrums

Do you ever feel stuck? Stuck in the doldrums? I like to use this word but what does this word even mean?

Did you know that “doldrum” is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage? In maritime usage it is the place in the ocean affected by low pressure in an area around the equator where the prevailing winds would be calm. Sailors would get stuck in these doldrums for days or even weeks before the winds would change and finally get moving again.

Colloquially speaking the doldrums are a state of inactivity, listlessness, mild depression or stagnation.

Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever have a day (or many) where you just don’t feel like doing much at all? Sometimes you don’t even want to get out of bed. You feel, well, stuck.

This happens to me.

Quite often.

In fact, sometimes I feel like most of my life has been this way, as I talked about on my “About” page. I, far too often, would give in and allow myself to linger in the doldrums as if I didn’t have a choice, like the sailors on the sea had to do. They’d wait and wait.

 Recently I’ve realized that I don’t need to be like these sailors. I don’t have prevailing winds keeping me stuck, it’s my own thoughts and actions. And I have control over these.

Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again, I say, rejoice!”

Later in verse 8 (one of my favorites and one of the themes of this blog) we read, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

We are called to rejoice always and to focus on the beauty of the world and those in it.

When we are feeling down and stuck, it is difficult to get out of bed let alone focus on rejoicing and beauty. We must be courageous!

Sometimes we just need to force our minds and our bodies to turn these prevailing winds around and pursue, courageously & fiercely, joy & peace. As I talked about in the post “Be Strong & of Good Courage” in May Proverbs mentions that “the thorny plants of the courageous are worn smooth”. We must be courageous!

I have created a list of 5 things that I can turn to when I need to be courageous and fierce about pulling myself up and out. Let me share them with you.

Listen to the Paschal Canon! My favorite! There is nothing more inspiring than hearing sung the beautiful words of Pascha.

“This is the day of Resurrection let us be illumined, oh people. Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord. For from death to life and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us as we sing the song of victory! Christ is Risen from the dead!”

Paschal Canon Irmos 1

You can hear it here! ( A different verse).

If you don’t know this, that’s okay, just pick your favorite song to put on and let it move you. Music is moving and beautiful and uplifting. It gets our feet tapping and our bodies moving.

Take a vigorous walk, or some other go-to sprint, to pump up the endorphins.

Sometimes I’ll just take a run up the stairs. The point is to get the heart pumping, even if you don’t feel like it. The endorphins are the “feel good” hormones released when we exercise.  Chances are, you’ll feel so good afterwards you’ll want to do it again. I know this is very hard to do when you are stuck. Sometimes it feels like we are stuck in mud. Take courage!


Memorize a short breath prayer or scripture verse that specifically is a prayer of rejoicing or a prayer that speaks your heart’s desire to rejoice always. Here are some great ones:

“O Lord, my Lord, my Joy, grant that I may rejoice in Thy mercy.” –from the Akathist Hymn to Almighty God for Help in Times of Trouble.

“Create in me a clean heart, oh God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51 (Does anyone remember singing this growing up? I still love to sing it.)

“Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered from my heart.” from Psalm 68:1 (I added “from my heart” to create a prayer.)

Do you have a favorite breath prayer that helps you in times of trouble?

Do something to actively kindle joy in the heart of someone else.

Write a letter or note and send it in the real mail! My favorite!

Make a phone call to say hi.

Bake some cookies for a neighbor or take flowers to someone stuck at home.

Actively doing something to put someone else first always makes us feel good.

Create a special space. A place of peace and happiness that you can go to and draw from.

Create a space within your home where you will always keep up. It could be a wall, or corner or even a small room/walk in closet.  Hang some favorite memories, pictures of loved ones and fun times. Souvenirs. Mementos. Shadow boxes or special framed prayers.  A small table to keep seasonal decorations or pictures. I got this idea from Gretchen Rubin. She has a seasonal table of pictures of her family. She’ll switch them out at different times, for example Halloween pictures of her girls from various years.

I talked about a “Happy Place” way back in April but I think for this you’d want something a little less central and out of the way than the dining room table. I’ve been thinking about a wall in my living room. I have a wall that has whiteboard paint on it that we really do not need any longer. I think I might paint and hang seasonal pictures. I’ve been collecting seasonal pictures lately of their young days. It is so fun!

So, create your happy place!

Autumn 2005

These five helps are things that I need to force myself to call upon when I am feeling caught up in the prevailing winds of doldrums. I often need to really make an effort to make these happen because, admit it, when you’re stuck sometimes it’s like glue.

These all take some forethought, planning ahead. Think of it as preventative medicine. Have these “pills” ready to pull out of your pocket when you are in need.

There is a time and place where some may need to seek medical attention. If you cannot get yourselves up and out and it lingers beyond the usual or you have self-harming thoughts, then please seek medical attention…tell someone you know and get some further help.

I wrote this post over the last few weeks but most recently I have started a book I need to mention. I am about 1/2 way through “Time & Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith & Life” by Nichole M. Roccas. For the first time ever I have had someone describe these feelings I have been talking about, the doldrums as if they’ve lived my life! Someone else feels this way and they’ve written a book about it!

Restlessness, rumination, torpor, sloth, distractability, disinterest, despair–these are the symptoms of a ruthless interior sickness whose spiritual ramifications were first described by Evagrius Ponticus (d. AD 399).

Despondency–it evokes, for me, the sticky web of sadness and rumination, the “strange laziness and passivity of our entire being which always pushes us down rather than up.”

Nicole M. Roccass, quotes from Fr. Alexander Schmemann

As I have not finished reading this book and in fact have just started Part 2 on “Stepping Stones…out of Despondency”, my mention of this is a kind of addendum.  I have a feeling that this book will change some of my thoughts on the doldrums or at least on how I might “force” my way out.

I do believe that no matter how we view the doldrums or despondency we must take courage & take This Moment by force! We must find the beauty and joy in This Moment.

Print yourself a reminder card!

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