A revised version of this article appears in Agape Healthcare’s winter newsletter.
In the post-holiday doldrums, winter can envelope us in a blanket of blah-ness, a shroud of not-wanting-to that leads us in circles, from bed to chair to couch, and back again, as we contemplate resolutions and the rest of the year ahead, but fail to feel motivated. This is a hard time of year for many, even for those who aren’t grieving, who don’t officially suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and who don’t experience a more organic mood disorder. Amidst all of these factors, it’s important to discern the difference between the natural and human desire to slow down during winter, and the trap of something more serious that can lead us towards isolation and depression.
Humans are naturally affected by the seasons, in particular by changes in amount of daylight, and most people see these affects in at least small ways. Sleeping more, going out less, and being more introspective are all ways in which people may see changes in their habits and personalities during winter time. Many people will remark that they also crave comfort foods more during the winter. If all of this sounds familiar to you, and the extent of your “symptoms” goes no further, then you can revel in the fact that you are human, and that life offers a built-in time for you to slow down and take stock of things.
If you experience more intense changes, such as a drop in your mood, missing work or other commitments, sleep disturbances, or a lack of appetite, you should consider talking with someone about what you’re experiencing. The stress of the death of a loved one can make even the most resilient person feel out of sorts and depressed, and mourning when we naturally want to retreat inside can make for a very difficult winter.
Although there is a certain element of mourning during wintertime that is simply a difficult part of life, there are ways to ensure that the process doesn’t feel unmanageable or too much out of your control. With some consistent commitment on your part and a support system in place, it’s possible for this winter season to feel less difficult and more meaningful.
One of the keys to staying afloat is staying connected. When we begin to feel apathy take over, or depression creeping in, chances are good that we’re also letting go of some important connections in our lives. Connection can be a lifeline, but it can also be the source of inspiration or meaning in our lives. Here are 5 ways that we can get connected and stay connected this winter:
- Find a way to stay connected with the person or pet who died. This could be as simple as having a “linking object” with you at all times, such as a ring or other piece of jewelry, or another object that the person had with them often. Or, this could be a daily ritual of talking with your loved one, writing to them, or simply saying hello to a picture of them. Other ways to stay connected can look like visiting a place they liked, every week; visiting their grave site or the place where their ashes were spread, on a regular basis. Whatever this looks like for you, make a habit of it. Do something at least every week that will maintain this connection and act as an outlet for the feelings you continue to have for the person. Death does not mean that we stop loving someone, or feeling things for and about them. It’s important that we express these feelings, just as we would with someone who is alive.
- Call at least one person whom you trust every week. Ideally, we all have at least one person who is trustworthy and who we feel comfortable talking with about our feelings or happenings in our life. Not necessarily a friend, this can be a trusted pastor or counselor even. Get into the habit of having tea/coffee, or a meal with this person, or with different people, every week. The simple act of socializing, in whatever mundane form, has been shown to have a positive affect on mood, and so even a 5-minute phone call can help with a bad day.
- Find a source of inspiration for yourself and engage with this every week. For some people inspiration lies in the spiritual, or the connection with something greater than the individual. For others inspiration comes from beauty and the reflection of life it offers, whether that lies in nature, in art, or in music. And still for others inspiration comes from pursuits: intellectual, physical, or otherwise. This can look like attending church every week, walking in nature on a regular basis, going to a museum, listening to a favorite album, going to the symphony, or even reading a book that piques your curiosity. The bottom line with this one is that we find something that connects us with something bigger than ourselves; something meaningful that could invoke that “wow” feeling on the inside.
- Stay connected with your body. Your body holds as much of your experiences as your mind does, and when you lose connection with your body, you’re in turn dis-connecting with a very large part of yourself. Our bodies also need movement (in whatever form) to stay healthy and well regulated, and this includes the emotional realm. Connecting with your body doesn’t have to mean exercising per se, although exercising is a great way to connect. Simply sitting and being aware of different parts of your body, taking a short walk, getting a massage, or wheeling your chair outside for a little while, can all help you to notice your body more, and therefore help you to connect with all of you and what’s happening inside you. Try doing something body-related every day.
- Disconnect from technology. More and more, people are finding that the steady and consistent stream of information coming at us via smartphones and the latest developments in technology are actually impeding our ability to connect with each other, zapping any extra time we have, and ultimately compromising our ability to be happy. Social media sites have been shown to exacerbate feelings of loneliness and the self-esteem-eroding habit of comparing oneself with others. With the advent of a National Day of Unplugging, Technology Shabbat, and other movements to reduce or eliminate the amount of time spent focused on the influx of information in our lives, our society seems to be understanding that boundaries with technology are beneficial. If you’re one of the many who is consistently tethered to your iPhone or smartphone, or you find that you’re compulsively checking for new messages or new information coming in throughout the day, try a technology fast for a day, or a day every week, or even try reducing the amount of technology you own. When it comes to getting connected in a way that will actually bring community, joy, and health to your life, seeing or talking with a live person matters.