Tuesday, January 24, 2012
How do you maintain mood over the lean months of Winter?
You’ve given dozens of merry wishes, heard just as many good tidings, maybe even have had the joy of unwrapping a desired gift from your wish list, or tried to hide your disappointment when it wasn't what you expected. Before you could catch your breath from all of that... the words “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” barrels across the globe and rattle’s your skull - and the next thing you know it’s 2012!
That would be great except for the fact that, if you are like many people, you have just spent the past three months wrapped up in celebrating holiday after holiday since Halloween. You may have taken your only vacation from work until summertime, if you’re lucky. Now it’s all over. You may feel as though you have nothing to look forward to except three more months of winter, snow storms, doing your taxes, getting used to writing “2012”, and maybe valentines day. Now you have to cope with life going back to “business as usual.”
Many people begin to feel what I am calling the Post-December Doldrums in early January. Over the past three months we have been riding on socially constructed happiness, gratitude, or family time; That is, in most cases what holidays are. Since no one with enough power has decided to make Groundhog Day a national holiday, the ball is in your court when it comes to feeling good.
For starters we can thank Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln not only for their service but for inspiring our government to declare 2 winter Mondays as national holidays (Martin Luther King Day is January 16th, and Presidents Day is February 20th). Three-day weekends surely do help with the winter doldrums.
Beyond going back to a reliance on holidays to boost your mood, there are some things we can all do to help us out of our holiday withdrawals. And yes, it is possible to prevent them.
Sunrise - The days have stopped getting shorter, and are beginning to lengthen. While you are probably looking forward to longer days and earlier sunrises, this time of year is just past the shortest day, and grants one gift that is easy to take for granted. The sun rises at about 7:15am at the beginning of January, and towards the end of the month it gets closer to 7:00am. That is about 2 hours earlier than the summer solstice times. This means that it might be the easiest time of year to witness the sunrise. In many traditional eastern philosophies such as that of the I-Ching or traditional chinese medicine, it is believed that the Winter is dominated by Yin energy, characterized by the cold, still, slow, dark nature of the season. Sounds like the perfect ingredients for depression, right? Well, according to these traditions, in order to stay healthy one must always maintain balance of Yin and Yang energy. One uses traditional practices to do this. Since sunshine is a major source of Yang energy in the universe, watching the sunrise will restore the body, mind, and spirit to a healthy balance. You may remember from last month that sunlight has been proven to combat depression. Even more pragmatic - witnessing the glorious, bright, and dynamic nature of the sunrise is never easier than in winter, and is the perfect way to get energized and jump-start your day... and it’s free!
Gratitude - “Gratitude” is defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” The most current research in positive psychology has shown that practicing gratitude boosts happiness and mood, and can even increase people's maximum happiness level. Positive psychologists add further that in order to gain the most out of gratitude, one should practice both feeling and expressing gratitude. Furthermore, they add that one specific aspect of gratitude that may be contributing to this mood and happiness boosting effect is that of attributing thankfulness to something outside of one’s self. Dr. Andrew Weil cites some recent research and describes some commonly used gratitude practices in his book, Spontaneous Happiness. One of these practices is starting a gratitude journal in which every day you take some time to write down in a special place a few things that you are thankful for in your life. I personally would like to suggest doing this in a more interpersonal way, which also includes gratitude expression. That is, I recommend expressing gratitude to at least one person in your life every day, especially during the lean months of winter. While positive psychologists have demonstrated how this works in their research, I think on some level we have known this for thousands of years. Again, this is what people all over the world do on virtually all holidays, spiritual or not. Even the act of expressing thanks, or “saying grace,” is one way this practice has been culturally engrained in many societies. Besides being he norm, these customs have probably stuck around for so long for one other reason - they make us happy, and feel good.
What are you doing to boost your Mood in late Winter?