Life is a Cup of Tea

Thirteen-year-old Katy was diagnosed with depression yesterday. The main culprit—big surprise—is the pandemic. Katy is like many U.S. teens right now, she is stuck inside doing online school, getting little socialization, rarely leaving her bedroom.

Katy’s email to me reads:

“I’m tired of feeling this sad… My mom told me to message you to see if you had any suggestions for cheering up depressed people my age.”

Well, Katy, I’m glad you contacted me because it sounds to me like you need some major fun right now. And you’re in luck because in many circles I am known as Mister Fun. How fun am I? As I write this, I am drinking something called “panda dung” tea.

I am serious. This looseleaf tea was sent to me by a reader named Sara, from Little Rock. Along with this tea came a magazine clipping explaining that this tea is imported from Asia where it is wildly expensive, usually selling for $3,500 per 50 grams. Which means I am drinking a $75 cup of tea right now.

I called a local tea shop to ask about this tea since, call me paranoid, I was concerned about drinking anything that had been passed through the gastrointestinal system of an exotic mammal.

The tea-shop lady was nice. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, the tea has no actual dung in it, it’s only called that because the tea plants are grown in big piles of panda excrement.”

Yum! Pass the sugar!

So I’m trying to drink this tea with an open mind. And after finishing one mug I can honestly say that, even though I was skeptical at first, panda dung tea tastes exactly like the name sounds.

But getting back to dealing with depression. Something I’ve found that helps is going for walks. I realize this sounds painfully simple and a little idealistic, and maybe it is. But it actually does help.

When I was a kid, I had a bad homelife. I too had depression when I was your age. One night, on a whim, I went for a walk. Little did I know that this fateful evening would change the rest of my life.

That night I walked in darkness until a side ache threatened to kill me. And it was enough to get me addicted. I don’t mean to reach for melodrama, but walking altered my brain. It made me feel free. It made me feel a little more alive. It made my heart pound and my lungs felt great.

So the next day I walked again. And again. After a year of constant walking I had built up my stamina so that I was walking for hours sometimes.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, improved my mental outlook like the simple act of moving my legs and sweating. I still walk all the time because of something else I’ve learned over the years:

Even with meds you don’t get rid of depression. Not wholly. No more than you can snap your fingers and cure bad eyesight. Depression sticks around, and it travels well. But the good news is you CAN manage this problem, just like you can deal with nearsightedness. All it takes is the right pair of proverbial eyeglasses.

Which leads me to my second suggestion. Hug as many people as you can. If you do nothing else, do this.

Physical touch was the first thing to disappear when the pandemic hit the scene. Amazingly, a lot of people have since forgotten about handshakes, hugs, back pats, kisses, noogies, dancing the Electric Slide at wedding receptions, etc. But this stuff turns out to be important to our health.

Right now, many people report that they haven’t been physically touched in over a year. And the scary thing is, a life without physical touch can harm your body.

I’ve written about this before, but consider the newborns in the hospital neonatal ICU. Doctors know these newborns need to be touched and cuddled regularly or they will die.

We are no different.

So I understand you’re stuck at home a lot, which limits your hugging options, but it really doesn’t matter who you embrace. It could even be your stinky little brother Danny. Certainly, I understand that as a too-cool-for-hugging teenager this will be difficult force yourself to do. Especially since you don’t have a little brother named Danny. But you desperately need hugs.

So make an agreement with the sibling or family member of your choice. Assure this person that your hug in no way means you are relinquishing your teenage coolness, but this gesture is merely biological, ultimately intended for the psychological enhancement of both aforementioned parties.

Then embrace and hold each other for a minimum of three minutes.

Your neurological pathways will thank you. The first thing that will happen is your brain will be flooded with neurotransmitters that act as natural antidepressants and painkillers. Once your brain is sufficiently bathed in these love drugs, you will actually feel a tiny bit better.

We’re dealing with real depression here, Katy. Not the figurative kind. And you’re not alone. Many of us are depressed right now. About one third of the U.S., in fact. I get messages about this topic every day. I’ve written too many columns about it.

But I will keep writing about this subject. Namely, because I’m going through the same thing you are, and believe me, I am just as clueless as anyone else. This has been a godawful year.

So I’m sending you this column as my virtual hug. Along with my heartfelt prayers.

Also, if you send me your address, I’ll ship you some very expensive tea.


  1. Verna Montgomery - February 21, 2021 7:26 am

    You gave the Best advice to this young lady!WALK!!
    I also had a rough home life as a kid…I walked in the woods ,through the fields ..down around the “hollers”..
    I believe “walking it off”saved me..I still suffer depression and anxiety..(a sad childhood will leave ya with that)and you are right meds do not take it all away!!….So I STILL WALK!!!.
    I sure love your stories Sean..and actually,I love you my are good for us out here!!!!

  2. oldlibrariansshelf - February 21, 2021 10:03 am

    Yes, walk. If too wet to walk, exercise. Get your blood flowing to oxygenate your brain. Depression is a terrible place to live. Find someone to talk it out with, if possible. Phone a school friend and just catch up on what is going on. The good Lord created us to have a relationship with Him AND relationships with each other. You are going to be o.k. You are going to be great! Believe and keep walking.

  3. Leigh Amiot - February 21, 2021 11:38 am

    I, too, echo walking—as my late Grannie would say, “It’s good for what ails ye.” And as oldlibrariansshelf recommended, “phone” a friend. In texting, you’ll miss the real laughter, something an emoji can’t deliver. For all ages, if you’re on social media, take breaks from it and read a good book, do something creative—draw or paint, plant something, organize a dresser or closet, scrub or deep clean something, it expends energy and you get the reward of something gleaming to look at. Take even longer breaks from bad and divisive news; look for good news. Predictions about the end of the pandemic are all over the page, but I was encouraged by a report from a Johns Hopkins health policy expert that herd immunity could be reached in the U.S. as early as April! Never let go of hope! Love to all.

  4. Ann - February 21, 2021 11:59 am

    You are so very correct about walking!! It gets you OUT, it doesn’t matter how fast or how far you walk but the dedication to do so,eventually will get you noticing things around you,breathing differently, having to get dressed
    ( hopefully), a reason to be ….and the endorphins in the brain are released to really give you a lift. The overused phrase is so good “ just do it”….. you will be amazed….

  5. Bobby - February 21, 2021 12:31 pm

    You never seize to amaze me my friend!! Don’t ever change or give up the talent God has giving you. You inspire so many people with your stories to live another day to the fullest.

  6. Maria - February 21, 2021 1:13 pm

    Walking and talking to God, the ultimate mental floss! Thank you for loving us all so much Sean.

  7. Molly - February 21, 2021 1:34 pm

    Hugs! Lots of them sent!!🤗🤗 Thank you for caring and loving us.

  8. Tom Perry - February 21, 2021 1:57 pm

    Sweet story….I assume you get paid for your job and please write a story on how much you donate to the frozen people in Louisiana right now, We can use all the help we can get and let us know if you have water and electrical power..

  9. L Bowman - February 21, 2021 2:10 pm

    I love it! I am a survivor ~ and, I have learned that caffeine, sunshine, and people are a necessity – even if it IS expensive caffeine! 😂

  10. Susie Shultz - February 21, 2021 2:17 pm

    Good letter, Sean. Yes, Katy, MOVING HELPS. It helps ALOT!! DO the walking, but be a smart little gal; walk in the daylight, and not at night. Plan out an approx 30 minute loop, or an “up to a point and back”.
    (You can vary that later.). WALKING IS GREAT! It produces those “feel better” endorphins and gives you the movement your body needs, the time outside-the-house stimulation your mind needs right now. Try this at least a couple of days in a row and I’m pretty sure you will notice the sadness lift a bit. LET THAT help inspire you to plan a walk every day to get a different outlook in this HARD time. It does make a big difference. It did with me! You go, Katy girl! 👏❤️👍 Also, only VIRTUAL hugs are recommended right now, outside the home. I know you realize this. This, too, shall pass. Stay careful, Katy. Feeling my hug?! 🤗

  11. Mary - February 21, 2021 2:34 pm

    Again and again you keep writing such wonderful letters. I am on 2 antidepressants now and hope to go off the latest one when the world stops hating and lying so much. So, I guess I’ll never get off it. I feel so sorry for kids going through all this. Last June our neighborhood held a virtual graduation for the kids who were graduating high school and college. One neighbor sang and played guitar, another gave a congratulatory speech. The kids wore their caps and gowns and came down the neighbors porch steps with pomp and circumstance playing. We live in the country so we can get together with neighbors and walk in the woods without masks. What do kids do who live in crowded apartment complexes do? I have directed others to your letters and they have thanked me for it. You have a gift, Mr. Sean, and thanks for sharing it. My sister-in-law in Atlanta turned me on to you because she remembered how much I enjoyed Lewis Grizzard’s column. Thanks again!

    • Susie Shultz - February 21, 2021 3:26 pm

      Mary, I hear ya!! I’ve been thinking about GETTING ON a “happy pill”, because of all the hating and lying STILL going on. UGH! And like you, I’m not optimistic about that changing anytime soon. Truth be told….. again, like you, I’m not optimistic about it EVER CHANGING. “Man” is too aggressive. THAT will never change. So sad for our world….and WE are SUPPOSED to be the ” smart” beings!! We are showing THAT to be ANOTHER CROCK of you-know-what. SADLY, not enough of us know it (gaslighting) when we hear it.

  12. Julie - February 21, 2021 2:35 pm

    I’ll pass on the tea for obvious reasons! And I’m out of commission for walking right now, due to a fall on the ice. But I will be grateful for your prayers. Plus all the virtual hugs that your column provides…each and every day❣️

  13. Melanie - February 21, 2021 2:36 pm

    Anything outdoors. Lots of guys are organizing basketball games in the park behind my house and they play music I’m starting to get used to. 😉Softball. Car shows. Meet for coffee. Meet at the lake or beach. Bring your dogs. Snowball fights. Ice skating. Takes energy to work up to it but always always worth it. Hang in the sweetheart. It only feels like forever. Trust me. This mess will soon be a distant memory. 💖

  14. Betty F. - February 21, 2021 3:23 pm

    Thanks, again- you have been a lifeline to sanity and perspective during this distressing time.
    Did you know there are very expensive coffee beans reclaimed from African animal’s dung?

  15. MyPlace - February 21, 2021 3:28 pm

    And again, Sean, you hit the nail on the head. Humans can’t thrive without the touch of others. I live alone now so I hug my little dog. Not exactly the same as a person but it will do in a tight. (Plus, she doesn’t have a chance of carrying Covid~!) We were all told to keep that 6′ distance from each other, and I know that is a safety measure, but my soul just can’t function well that way. I don’t need a lot of people, but one or two who I know are not testing positive are such a gift. I’m not suggesting that anyone should tear their mask off and start running around hugging every person they can find, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could?

  16. Kate - February 21, 2021 3:38 pm

    If you cannot walk outside because of the weather, turn on your favorite music and dance. Dance in your room if you want to, but move and laugh at yourself, and try to think of funny things or just practice laughing. It helps. Find something nice to do for someone else, maybe in your household, or call someone older than yourself, you might be surprised how much that phone call means to an older person.

  17. Bob E - February 21, 2021 4:58 pm

    Lots of funny comments but more importantly lots of serious advice.
    Many people will be thankful to walkin’ talkin’ Sean.
    Just shared a hug (less than three minutes) with my wife and absolutely concur that it makes you feel better.
    Thanks for the prompt – great suggestion.

  18. Barbara J Schweck - February 21, 2021 5:19 pm

    Special, virtual, prayer like hugs to Katy!! And all who are especially suffering with depression!

  19. Linda Moon - February 21, 2021 6:05 pm

    I’m so sorry for Katy. But I’m glad she messaged you and got some diversion from your tea descriptions and also some good advice about walking. One of my guys, whose childhood was very much like yours, walks a LOT…sometimes 20 miles at a time. Thirteen can be a tough age. I’m looking at a photo of teenage me with my girlfriends….Betty Joyce, Treva, and Sherry. We survived war, social unrest, and a President’s assassination. Your column, advice, and prayers are just what Katy needs, Sean. She’ll be okay.

  20. Thomas Montgomery - February 22, 2021 12:49 am

    Sean Teaching someone about praying and knowing that God and Jesus are always with you no ,matter what !
    ” yea though I walk THROUGH the valley of death” I walk through not get stuck ! Always helped me feel like I would get through to the other side !
    People have lost God and the value he can play in your life if one would just understand and accept HIM !

  21. Melanie Denmon - February 22, 2021 2:24 am

    Thanks Sean. I needed this tonight.

  22. Bob Brenner - February 22, 2021 1:51 pm

    Thanks ❤️ 🚶‍♀️!

  23. nebraskannie - February 22, 2021 3:26 pm

    I’ve struggled with depression all my life, too. It’s good to know it’s manageable and I’m not alone. You’ve got good suggestions, but one thing I haven’t seen is COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. I journal (harmless way of relieving stress), and if I don’t do anything else, I count 5 things each day I can be thankful for. Sometimes it’s the same things over and over, sometimes, it’s just getting up in the morning. Sometimes, there are great things and it’s important to look back and remember great things happen in your life. Sometimes I can’t remember them, so the lists are worthwhile to me to help me remember. Dancing (even in a wheelchair), my dog, children, helping others, writing letters, those are all things that help me, but a good therapist helped the most. What is the one thing about yourself that you CAN share with others that people find useful. Do that! Feel worthwhile. Even if it’s cleaning the bathroom toilet regularly. Plan it in. Most of all, don’t give up. And remember, you’re in charge of your phone, your laptop, and how much negativity you allow into your life. When you struggle, it’s even more important to reduce the negative input. Give yourself credit, you’re earning a hard life lesson, and you’re succeeding!

    • Susie Shultz - February 22, 2021 5:49 pm

      Yes, nebraskannie, you make a GREAT POINT!! GRATITUDE is very important for all of us to have, for all the fortunate things in our lives. If we think about it, we’ll find there is always someone worse off than we. And being ever mindful of and helpful to those will not only improve their lives, but ours as well.

  24. Jane - February 22, 2021 4:09 pm

    True. Yes I miss the hugs. I would really like to see my friends’ smiles….for real. I find the exercise helps a lot. We are lucky to live 10 miles from town and on 60 acres. Lots of walking here.

  25. Cheryl - February 24, 2021 5:59 pm

    I liked thisArticle

  26. Paulette M Lewis - February 25, 2021 3:29 am

    Thank You!

  27. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - March 1, 2021 4:02 pm

    Walking is key to fighting depression, especially walking outdoors. It’s even better if you are walking your dog. We are loving your ALFA commercials!

  28. Martha - October 7, 2021 2:41 am

    Walking is the best. I took up walking long before the pandemic. I still walk. It clears the mind. Helps the body. Just plain good for what ails you. I walk to watch the sunrise. I am tired and until the weather changes sweaty! But I keep walking. So have a blessed day and walk on.

  29. Alan Jamison - October 7, 2021 2:43 am

    Whoever gives you your hug must insist on a minimum of 60 seconds

  30. Kathie Kerr - October 8, 2021 2:55 am

    Katy could do with a hobby. Guitar? Photography? Start a blog?

  31. Carole Moormann - October 19, 2021 7:01 am

    This is incredible device. Thank you so much for writing this.


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