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Winter Self Care Reminders

I pray this winter be gentle and kind

 a season of rest from the wheel of the mind.

~~ John Geddes

Greetings to all my precious people!!!

The Winter season is filled with holiday celebration, always depicted with joyful gatherings highlighting family, friends and togetherness.  We mark the calendars, counting the days ‘til the end of the year, as we check off items on our to-do lists, many times with equal measure of excitement and exhaustion.  Advertisements on TV and social media highlight the “must-have” gift items and there are still cards to write, gifts to wrap, cookies to bake and dinners to plan. So much tradition!  So much anticipation!  Shiny happy people are everywhere! 

And yet.

Despite the bright lights and festive cheer that accompany the winter holidays, this time of year can bring about feelings of loneliness, isolation, grief, and sadness, both for people with clinical depression and even for some who aren’t depressed.  Depression around the holidays can happen for many reasons.  The holidays bring an increase in thoughts about family, relationships, and social engagement and if there are unresolved issues within these dynamics in our lives, depression can surface.The holidays can also be very difficult for people grieving the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job and worries about health and finances. These common holiday scenarios can be taxing for anyone, and the frenzy of preparation and anticipation can leave us overwhelmed and depleted.  

Not all negative feelings during the holidays are signs of depression. Temporary or situational anxiety or depression during the winter holidays – known as “the holiday blues” –  is quite common, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you have the holiday blues, you might temporarily feel fatigued, tense, frustrated, lonely, or sad during the winter holidays, NAMI reports.  BUT … what if there was a different way to look at the feelings of depression and anxiety that arise?  A new perspective for examining and acknowledging our messenger feelings and emotions that could offer insight and hope for our situation?

“If you’re depressed or anxious, you’re not weak and you’re not crazy — you’re a human being with unmet needs.”  So says Johann Hari, British-Swiss writer, journalist and NY Times best selling author.  In his book Lost Connections: Why You are Depressed and How to find Hope, he talks about the scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxiety, only two of which are actually in our biology.  We are all born with a genetic inheritance, but our genes are not our destiny.  They are activated by the environment and can actually be switched on or off by what happens to us during our lifetime.  In the book, Hari shares the information he gleaned from interviews about depression and anxiety with experts from around the world, and uses his training as a sociologist to explore how the Western world has changed to a point where more and more people are depressed, left behind, and disconnected.  Listening to his TedTalk from July 2019 is truly one of the most heartfelt and uplifting 20 minutes you will spend:  Johann Hari:  TedTalk July 2019.  

Depression and anxiety are exacerbated by factors that go beyond chemical biology, including lost connections to family, friends, and community; lost connections to a sense of hope for the future; and lost intrinsic values such as love. This information is itself hopeful, for it reminds us that our brains are malleable and the continued breakthroughs in neuroscience highlight the neuroplasticity of the brain and tools to support positive outcomes.  We do have agency in our lives – we can make a difference in how we feel by shifting how we think.  When people understand that their brains are not broken, and instead, depression and anxiety are a sign that something is out of alignment in their lives, there is much cause for hope and optimism.

Johann Hari’s site offers a simple quiz about depression and gives insight into how much we might not know about depression.  I highly recommend taking a few minutes to review the information, as some of the facts might surprise you:  The Lost Connections Quiz.

While practicing good self-care is always important, it is even more important during the holidays.  No matter the cause of your low mood or negative feelings, having a foundation of healthy coping strategies can help you prepare for and get through the festive times when you’re managing depression.  Here are five expert-recommended strategies:

  1. Stay Active and Get Outdoors

Moving your body is one of the best science-backed ways to cope with depression during any season, and the holidays are no exception. A meta-analysis of 23 studies showed that exercise is an effective way to manage depression and could also be useful when combined with antidepressant medication.  Getting outside and exercising can help you avoid isolation and loneliness during the holiday season. Spending time in nature is another way to reduce your risk of depressive symptoms and multiple studies have shown that being surrounded by green space can reduce one’s risk of mental health conditions in the long term.

  1. Share Your Feelings With Trusted Loved Ones

Surround yourself with people you can rely on during the holidays — whether it be family or friends — to help manage holiday depression. Never underestimate the power of your community – people love to be helpful and supportive!!!

  1. Assess Your Relationships and Set Boundaries

Monitor your emotions around different people in your life and set boundaries accordingly. This might be a new skill you will practice beyond the holiday season.  Limit the time you spend during the holidays with people who cause you to feel negative emotions.  Be mindful and pay attention to your interactions that exacerbate your depressive symptoms, as well as establishing boundaries for your interactions with and availability to those people, she says.

  1. Consider Volunteering in the Holiday Season and Beyond

Volunteering as a way to cope with depression during the holidays combines the healing aspect of joining a community with doing good works for others. A 2021 review showed that volunteering for 2 or 3 hours a week or even just 1 to 10 hours a month may offer myriad mental health benefits, such as:

  • Meaning and purpose
  • Developing empathy toward others
  • Feeling like you matter
  • Contributing to society
  • Social connectedness
  • Being part of something larger than yourself

Find a volunteer opportunity that includes activities that interest you, establish how much time you are able to commit, and support causes you feel passionate about.

Get started with volunteering in your community today!  Organizations like Volunteer Match can help you find the right fit in your area.

  1. Create a Coping Sheet 

A coping sheet is a list of favorite activities you can turn to when you’re feeling depressed. You can create one on your own, with your family members, or with your therapist. Mood-boosting activities include lighting candles, painting pictures, singing, and meditating.  Other self-care activities you could add to your toolkit: 

  • Journaling
  • Acupuncture
  • Listening to music
  • Spirituality
  • Calm breathing
  • Positive self-talk

We all encounter a season of Winter, when it feels too cold, too dreary, when the dark days seem never ending, and it is as if everything is just too much for our overloaded brain and nervous system. These seasons of Winter, and indeed, of Life, are part of the human experience.  But suffering need not be the only option.   Instead, consider that depression and anxiety have their roots in disconnection and begin to weave the threads of your Self into the tapestry of Life by engaging with others, finding connection in community and reminding your Self that you are enough and you have all you need for this day.  I leave you with some quotes to reflect upon … and wish you a blessed weekend.

“It seems like everything sleeps in winter, but it’s really a time of renewal and reflection.”

 ~Elizabeth Camden

“December has the clarity, the simplicity, and the silence you need for the best fresh start of your life.” 

~Vivian White

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home.” 

~Edith Sitwell

“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” 

~Paul Theroux

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