Hello January! The start of a year is a time of new beginnings. A clean slate. We’re likely filled with anticipation of how the next 12 months will unfold.
We may be taking sighs of relief that another holiday is over. If not a complete success, at least, nobody argued at dinner. Uncle Bill didn’t drink too much, and Aunt Mary left her criticism at the door. Maybe there’s the relief of taking off the pasted-on smile that gets you through the holidays: the sparkly month of treachery. What if that glitter doesn’t rub off on you? Loss or traumatic memories may leave you with only a semblance of holiday cheer. You enter the new year relieved, but with stress and exhaustion.
And what about those of us who lose the light in October, and by January are plodding through depression and anxiety? For many, putting one foot in front of the other constitutes a successful day. The only new year goal: make it to spring!
The Dead Of Winter
There are many ways to enter a new year. There might be lovely memories of family and festivities—but as much as Hallmark would have us think only happy holiday thoughts, there is real human pain that bright lights and cheerful Santas won’t erase.
As January trudges into February, we find ourselves in “the dead of winter.” This phrase dates back to 1807 when it was first used by Washington Irving, who wrote: “in the dead of winter when nature is without charm.”
That quote can sum up January in the heartland. As the holiday season exits, we’re left with cold, biting winds and a barren landscape of bald trees and monochromatic gray. Instinctively, we yearn to eat carbs and sleep in our cave until some primal circadian signal awakens us to the robin. But we humans don’t get that luxury—except maybe for eating the carbs! So, what do we do?
Some of us flourish during this time of wooly socks and sweaters. We bundle up and head outdoors. When we return home, board games and books pass the time—with a mug of hot tea or cocoa as the fire crackles at the hearth. There’s warmth and coziness.
But what about the rest of us, the ones who feel cold to the bone or darkness in the soul? Post-holiday depression. Seasonal affective disorder. For millions with these conditions, this is the most challenging time of the year. Every year!
Whether it starts in October or December, by now you’ve had enough fatigue, lack of energy, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, isolation and sadness. But there’s a couple more months to go. How can you gain a sense of control and confidence to get you through to spring?
Keeping The Light
If you haven’t already, contact your doctor or therapist. Share honestly how you’re feeling. You may find by talking to someone and/or using an antidepressant medication or light therapy, these symptoms will improve.
Next, no matter how hard it is to muster the energy, get outdoors! Even if it is just your front porch for 10 minutes, it’s worth it. Morning is the best time, before the sun begins its inevitable wane into that 4:40pm sunset. Turn your face to the light. Take in several deep breaths. Feel the life force around you.
Another counterattack is self-care. The idea of intentionality in eating right, taking care of your hygiene and getting appropriate sleep can seem overwhelming, but it is imperative to your emotional health. Self-care also includes the practice of mindfulness. Try meditation. Start a gratitude journal. There’s always something to be thankful for—even if just that you have breath and your heart is beating. Write down how you’re feeling. Be self-affirming. Do activities that bring you joy when you’re feeling well.
Maintaining social contact must also be a priority. It’s easy to isolate yourself when you’re feeling down and the weather is terrible, but even a phone call or social media check-in can be helpful. Try to do at least a couple of social activities outside of your home each week. More is better.
As I close, if you’re a lover of winter… enjoy! Embrace the season to its fullest. Be sensitive to others who may need a bit of your cheer, your cocoa, or a listening ear. Extend invitations. Offer rides. Share joy through your presence.
For those waiting for the first crocus, remember to take care of yourself. Talk to your doc. Get rest and eat nutritional food. Force yourself to get outside. Stay connected with others. Journal. Meditate. Listen to music.
And when laughter does come, celebrate it. This season will pass. There will be spring. PM
Victoria Mitchell, RN, LCSW is a retired psychotherapist, having practiced for over 35 years in the Peoria area helping patients deal with depression, anxiety, grief and trauma. Her first book, Happiness Calling: A Practical Guide for Saying Yes to Life’s Joy, illustrates how the practices of self-care and mindfulness can open the doors to change. It is available at local bookstores and online at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Contact her at victoriamitchellauthor.com.