St. Francis de Sales offers a few practical suggestions on how to overcome periods of sadness.
Various circumstances may create within us deep feelings of sadness. Previously we may have enjoyed a time of happiness, when our relationship with God and others was a great source of light.
Now we may feel like we are in the dark, not having the energy to do anything that we normally would.
While there are certainly biological factors that contribute to feelings of anxiety, sadness or depression (and we should do what we can to eliminate these biological inhibitors), recourse to God should be on our list as well.
Physical exercise is an important preventative medicine for depression
St. Francis de Sales, in his book Introduction to the Devout Life, recounts an episode from the life of Geoffroy de Peronne when he experienced such feelings.
He became suddenly dry, deprived of all consolations, and amid his interior darkness he began to think of the friends and relations he had parted from, and of his worldly pursuits and interests, until the temptation grew so urgent that his outward aspect betrayed it, and one of those most in his confidence perceiving that he was sorely troubled, accosted him tenderly, asking him secretly, “What means this, Geoffroy? and what makes thee, contrary to thy wont, so pensive and sad?” Whereupon Geoffroy, sighing heavily, made answer, “Woe is me, my brother, never again in my life shall I be glad!”
Geoffroy was clearly depressed and let his own sadness darken his view of the world. He thought he would never be glad again!
First of all, St. Francis de Sales reminds us that sometimes God allows such a situation to test our love of him. We may easily love God during times of joy, but do we love God during sadness?
[I]t is the same Good God Who sometimes in His Wisdom deprives us of the milk and honey of His consolations, in order that we may learn to eat the dry substantial bread of a vigorous devotion, trained by means of temptations and trials … the dryness must be patiently endured, because He sends that to prove us.
When such a trial comes upon us, St. Francis de Sales urges us to trust God even more vigorously.
[W]e must never grow discouraged amid our inward trials, nor say, like Geoffroy, “I shall never be glad;” but through the darkness we must look for light; and in like manner, in the brightest spiritual sunshine, we must not presume to say, “I shall never be sad.” Rather we must remember the saying of the Wise Man, “In the day of prosperity remember the evil.” It behoves us to hope amid trials, and to fear in prosperity, and in both circumstances always to be humble.
With this in mind, St. Francis de Sales suggests, as he typically does, to speak to someone about your sadness.
[I]t is a sovereign remedy to open our grief to some spiritual friend able to assist us.
We can never fight sadness alone, and it is has been proven that through speaking about our situation to a trusted friend, spiritual advisor, or even a psychologist, the darkness may be lifted.
Above all, know that you are not alone and that even the saints struggled with such feelings. They teach us to endure such trials and keep our hearts fixed on Jesus Christ, who is capable of calming any storm.
A prayer to St. Jude, to fight depression