Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What to Do When the Blues Settle In

A personal perspective: How to cope with the blues until they run their course.

Key points

  • The blues often come calling for no apparent reason.
  • It's good to have some strategies in place when they pay a visit.
  • Take comfort in knowing that the blues, like all emotions, are impermanent.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning to find that the blues have settled in for no apparent reason. I feel little motivation. I feel sad. There’s nothing to do but get up and make the best of the day. Here are a few ways I suggest that you cope with the blues.

1. Take comfort in knowing that the blues, like all emotions, are impermanent.

In the words of Jean de la Fontaine, “Sadness flies away on the wings of time.” Seeing the impermanent nature of the blues can keep you from identifying with them as a fixed part of who you are. The blues arise in the mind, stay awhile, and then pass away. They’re much like the weather: They blow in, and they blow out.

I take comfort in knowing that the blues, like all painful emotions, are impermanent. It helps me to wait them out patiently.

Note: The blues are to be distinguished from a heavy or dark mood that settles in for weeks. That could be a sign of clinical depression, which means it’s time to seek help from a mental health counselor or a trusted advisor.

2. Try not to compare yourself to others.

It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking that you alone have the blues. Most of us know people who always seem to be cheerful. This can give the impression that others don’t share our moods, but human beings are more alike than we realize. The odds are high that the friend who’s always cheerful gets the blues. And that friend who's in a “perfect” relationship gets the blues. Billionaires get the blues. In the words of the title of Tom Robbins’s novel, “Even cowgirls get the blues.”

In other words, no matter what public face you see on other people, you don’t know what their inner life is like. This is why comparing yourself to others is not a wise approach to life. Invariably, it’s going to make you feel worse, and the blues are already making you feel bad enough.

In addition, everyone has been conditioned by their life experiences in ways that often remain at a subconscious level. For most of us, this means we have our share of recurring painful thoughts and emotions. If a parent always told us that nothing we did was good enough, we’re likely to have internalized that message. This conditioning can show itself unexpectedly at any time in the form of painful thoughts, and this can easily trigger the blues.

I think this is why, most of the time, I don’t know the source of my blues, but I’m OK with that. What I do know is that they’ll intensify if I engage in comparisons by telling myself how blues-free everyone is!

3. With as much kindness toward yourself as you can muster, acknowledge how you feel.

Trying to force the blues away is also likely to intensify them. The reason for this is that behind the attempt to force them away is the negative self-judgment: “I shouldn’t feel blue.” Subjecting ourselves to “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” is a major source of suffering for all of us. You deserve your compassion, not negative self-judgment.

In addition, in my experience, ordering myself not to feel a certain way almost always guarantees that I will! So, instead of trying to force the blues away, just be mindfully aware of them without judgment. Maybe even say to yourself something like, “Ah yes, the blues again. I know you. Come for a visit, have you?”

Treating them in this friendly way can actually reduce their intensity. “Friendliness” is one of the translations for the word metta, which is usually described in Buddhist philosophy as the practice of lovingkindness. Sometimes, though, the word “friendliness” is a better translation for me. I don’t need to love those blues, but treating them with friendliness allows me to hold them more lightly until they run their course and go on their way.

4. Try changing your environment—physical or mental.

Changing your environment can change your mood. If at all possible, go outside for a while. Sit or take a short walk. You’ll notice immediately that the air has a different quality. You’ll also notice sights and sounds that are different from those inside. Going outside makes me feel part of the larger world around me, and that in itself can improve a blue mood.

You can also change your mental environment. Think of what’s just plain fun for you, no matter how simple or how silly-sounding—a jigsaw puzzle, sudoku, fiddling with crayons and a coloring book, dancing to rock and roll. I have a few movies that lift my mood. I’ve watched them over and over like you’d do with a favorite piece of music. When the blues settle in, I put one of those movies on. The characters in them are like old friends, and with their company, the blues often vanish.

In fact, it’s quite likely that when you’re finished indulging in your little pleasurable activity, the blues will have lifted. And if they haven’t, at least what you’ve been doing has been a soothing distraction that will help you cope with the blues until they’ve run their course.

5. Reach out to another person.

Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön said that sorrow has the same taste for all of us. I think the blues do, too. Connecting with someone else who is struggling can help you realize that you’re not alone.

Reaching out to another can take the simplest form: a short email or text or a supportive comment on social media. It doesn’t take much to brighten another person’s day. Reaching out to another person takes you out of your self-focused thoughts, and that, in itself, can blow those blues away.


I hope these five strategies are helpful. You might keep these suggestions nearby because, if you’re like me, the blues are never polite enough to announce ahead of time that they’re going to pay a visit.

Take good care of yourselves, and thanks for reading this little piece.

This might also be helpful: "A Secret for Surviving a Rough Day."

More from Toni Bernhard J.D.
More from Psychology Today