Category: Life optimization

Epistemic status: Seems reasonable, not sure how this could possibly backfire.[1]

Sometimes I feel blue. The world turns dull and grey, and I feel like I don’t have the time or energy to accomplish anything. This is occasionally accompanied by social anxiety, where asking for help feels like a big challenge. Figuring out who to reach out to and what to say becomes almost impossible.

When I am feeling blue, it’s very hard to figure out how to recover. I’m way more capable when I feel happy. A year ago, happy me spent an hour or so thinking about what I could do to make life easier for feeling-blue me.

Up until this point, happy-me hadn’t put in any effort to improve life for feeling-blue me. When I'm in a good place, it's easy to only optimize for situations where I feel well, forgetting that I tend to start feeling blue a few times every winter.

The hour spent improving life for feeling-blue me was one of the best investments I’ve done into myself and my life. The system I came up with has 2 parts. The first part is an automatic check-in, helping me realize that I am feeling blue.[2] The second part is a list of things to do in order to start feeling better.


Automatic Check-in

The automatic check-ins are simple. I get a notification twice a week telling me to spend 5 minutes writing about how I feel. I need these automatic check-ins since I tend to slide slowly into feeling blue, in a way that makes it hard to notice.

Event if you don't have a system in place, you can still set up reminders like these. Use an alarm, a recurring reminder, a recurring calendar event or similar. 

The check-in notifications also remind me that I have a “feeling blue” list. If I notice stress, an “ugh” reaction[3] or similar, that's a good sign I need to use my feeling blue list.


Feeling Blue List

The second part of my system is my feeling blue list.

On my feeling blue list, I have a list of 2-3 people I can reach out to in order to get support. For each person on the list, I have a pre-written message that I can copy-paste and send to them. Something like “Hey, I’m feeling down and would love some support. Do you have time to hang out or talk a bit on the phone?”. This makes asking for help effortless, even if I’m stuck in social anxiety.

The list also contains a number of self-care activities, each satisfying the following criteria:

  • They take very little energy. “Go to the gym”, “Cook a healthy meal” and similar are too demanding. I want these things to be super-low effort.
  • They leave me better off after I’ve done them. “Browse youtube”, “Watch Netflix”, “Eat ice cream” and similar leave me worse off. I want things that leave me feeling good after I’m finished.
  • They are pleasant and make me feel good. “Take a cold shower”, “Sit down and meditate” don’t leave me with immediate pleasure. They can feel refreshing if I’m on top of things, but they are not a good fit for feeling-blue me.

I have a hunch that self-care activities are very personal. As such, I suggest that you spend 30min to write a list that fits you. It doesn’t have to be long or perfect. I have a reminder to look through and update my list every 3 months or so. Iteration over perfectionism.

In case it inspires you, here’s my entire feeling blue list (translated and annotated):

  1. “Listen to trauma mapping”. As mentioned elsewhere, I have participated in a practice called “trauma mapping”. The result is a kind of self-affirmation mantra, where I repeat a personalized encouragement to myself over and over.
  2. Ready-to-send messages asking people to come by to cuddle and talk. One for my lover, one for one of my closest friends who live nearby.
  3. A suggestion to play some ASMR that’s on my phone.[4]
  4. A suggestion to do some Wim Hof guided breathwork.[5]
  5. At some events I attend, we do an exercise where you lay down and have people come and caress you while sharing things they like about you. Naturally, I have recorded such sessions. One suggestion on my feeling blue list is to listen to these recordings.
  6. Take a long, hot shower
  7. Take some 5HTP & Melatonin before I go to bed. Different people react differently to medication and supplements, do your research before you try them out.


Recap of Suggested Actions

  • Create a feeling-blue list, containing:
    • Who to ask for support, and what to write
    • Some self-care activities
  • Set some recurring reminders:
    • Check-in reminder 1-2 times a week
    • Reminder to update the feeling-blue list, every 3 months or so.


Take care of yourselves, now and in the future!

  1. ^

    Famous last words...

  2. ^

    I can slip into bad habits without noticing, with things gradually getting worse.

  3. ^

    If I think ”Ugh, not this notification again!“ it’s a really good sign I need to look into my wellbeing

  4. ^

    ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a relaxing, often tingly sensation that some people feel when they hear certain sounds or see certain actions. It's like a soft, pleasant feeling in your brain, scalp, or back of your neck. Some common triggers include whispering, tapping, or the sound of brushing hair. Many people watch ASMR videos to help them relax, reduce stress, or fall asleep.

  5. ^

    Wim Hof Breathwork is a breathing technique developed by Wim Hof, also known as "The Iceman". Here's a simple explanation:

    Deep Breaths: You start by taking 30 to 40 deep breaths. You inhale fully but exhale only partially. The idea is to fill your body with oxygen.

    Hold Breath: After the deep breaths, you exhale and then hold your breath for as long as you can. During this time, your body starts to use up the extra oxygen you've taken in.

    Recovery Breath: When you can't hold your breath any longer, you take a deep recovery breath and hold it for about 15 seconds.

    Repeat: You repeat this cycle for about three rounds.

    Doing a session of breathwork helps me relax and also feel energized. There are a bunch of health claims circulating that I haven't investigated, my sense is that they are generally not very well founded.   

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