“All of nature is at peace. We should be, too. Draw hearthside. This is the month to dream, to look forward to the year ahead and the journey within.”

– Sarah Ban Breathnach

Winter Blues

By Cindy Trevitt, Registered Professional Counsellor and Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling

A good friend of mine recently protested about the all around gloominess of our weather, “It’s been January since October!” While this struck me as a comical hyperbole I know that many share this sentiment. It’s only natural to feel lethargic at a time of year when there is less light, cooler temperatures and more rain. Notably, we have not created any sort of season, holiday or event exclusive to this time of year and maybe it’s because it’s inherent to our earthly natures – something we resist. Perhaps the reason for our mid-winter festivities and celebrations is because we are preparing for these peaceful months of hibernation.

“All of nature is at peace. We should be, too. Draw hearthside. This is the month to dream, to look forward to the year ahead and the journey within.”
– Sarah Ban Breathnach

I think the problem often arises when we fight against our declining energy. We are miserable when we treat our sluggishness as a problem. We treat ourselves like an inexhaustible reserve – ignoring our limitations and driving ourselves to dust instead of embracing the gentle draw of replenishing, nourishing, resting and then engaging when our energy rises naturally again – possibly in the spring. Contrary to our need to be a little more meditative, sleepy and hushed so that we can be properly re-energized, we force our weary spirits ever forward. We’re like worn out coal-miners, our lungs filled with black dust, exhausted and impoverished. With our jaws gritted and shoulders hunched, we trudge forward. It’s no wonder we are crabbier and moodier.

We are terrified of ‘not doing’. We believe doing is what makes us alive, powerful, and effective. It is like only having a hammer – and when your only tool is a hammer then everything looks like a nail. Stopping is compassion. Opening to awareness is a radical, peaceful change.

We refuse to admit this season comes every year and will continue to do so infinitely. Perhaps we have some degree of belief that our levels of energy or productivity are akin to our value. We might be less productive but our value remains the same. Accept that there are forces outside of us beyond our control and trust in its wisdom. We are powerless against it and this revelation can be an exquisitely liberating experience. If we resist, our misery will persist. Whatever our reason, we have a choice in our perception and experience if we awaken to it. Winters here can be a majestic and magical wonder in our misty, ancient rainforests – one of the rare few such remaining havens on the entire planet, with its seeds, great primordial roots and bulbs slumbering and regenerating.

Frosty ambiance, warm woolen scarves and mittens and simple, solitary joy. Quiet winter studies. Twighlight reveries. Dreaming. Gardeners and naturalists relish these wondrous seasons and how vital they are – bringing sweet delights in the spring, much the result of a wintry rest. Savoury soups and satisfying stews brimming with hearty winter vegetables. Watch the flocks of birds as they come in waves of variety on their mysterious migratory routes both headed north and returning. See the Great Snowy Owls, an extraordinary spectacle. These seasons are even found on miniature scales through our daily life where we sleep, arise, dine, work, play, make love and climb into our snuggly beds again. If we concentrate solely on the darkness and remain attached to our desire for something else then one can imagine the feelings that will ensue. If we view it as restful and consent to be quiet one can imagine how that will make us feel. It is a discipline of thought to be chosen – or at least be open to.

Perhaps it is part of our custom to lament the weather and a way to have companionship in our misery. But, maybe this is also a good opportunity to deconstruct the source of our misery and make a bold change. Maybe this is the year that we wish each other a contented, uninterrupted winter in a languorous state of bliss.

Allow greater gentleness and laziness and even if it’s not perceptible, it can certainly be internal. Tenderly hush our critical ego and invite more meditative space. Unrushed, unstressed, and allowing our mind to float as a bubble on the ocean that is our reality. Allow a little more sleep or slip in some afternoon naps where possible. Listen to soothing guided meditations to lull us to quietness at night. Savour our favourite books but careful not to pick anyone too dark or unsettling. Ease up on the amount of “news” you take in. (I find the idea of “news” a debatable point but that’s another topic. If you want information, read informative text pertaining to a favourite subject rather than ingesting the daily tragedies of untold numbers of strangers about which you can do nothing.)

Now is the time for mud masks, me-time, home spa days, and sleep-in days. It’s time for special tea – some favourites from our stash to warm our tummy, fragrances to elicit fond memories, and soothing herbs to cultivate contented states. Do what feels self-nurturing to calm our nervous system. Take some feel-good vitamins if needed (complex B’s, D’s and Omegas for example). It’s time for favourite movies or treating ourselves to something new. Some healthy, whole winter vegetables to fill us up with yummy nutrients will definitely help and don’t forget the therapeutic value of some of our favourite treats. Finding some therapy to luxuriate in the time and space to talk about ourselves and process our deepest dreams and reflections can be the self-nurturing thing we do.

Self-help materials can help…perhaps some Eckhart Tolle or Jon Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness or ‘Simple Abundance’ by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Find something nourishing that leaves us feeling uplifted and lighter. YouTube hosts a feast of guided meditations, music, inspirational talks and they’re free. Now is the time to learn and practice meditation. Not to be a guru or monk or advanced enlightened religious zealot but to become of aware of ourselves in the here and now and to awaken to the path we are creating for ourselves. Discover awareness and wakefulness.

Cats are very healing to the cat-lover. Also try quality time with a fabulous, fuzzy blanket and something compelling to watch such as a burning candle (there is a two hour video of a burning candle on YouTube) or even listening to the rain pitter-pattering on the window.

Let’s not forget good boundaries help. Often times the holidays are chock full of obligations and duties to the point where any semblance of self-validation is entirely deflated if not altogether snuffed out. Get our life back to where we want and need it to be. Say, “No.” Shave back a few things off the to-do list to maybe what we have to do – go to work, sleep, eat, etc. – keep it essential.

Exercise. Yes, that old chestnut. Exercise produces happy hormones. Even a bit of an amble around the neighbourhood can perk us up physically and mentally and make us feel like we accomplished a little something and it’s a bit of variety for the eyes and mind.

Light therapy. While there are mixed reviews on this, there are special lights that can help some with their mood at this time of year. Even though it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to have lingering Christmas lights, it’s puzzling that in one of the darkest climates, bright colours and sparkly lights aren’t mandatory. How cheering it would be to have our houses painted in so many brilliant, warm colours reminding us of sunsets and warmer climates. Maybe after New Year’s Day, it’s time to hang the bubbly coloured lights and put out brilliant, fragrant bouquets of flowers and bake cookies and honour the goddess of winter in all her frosty glory.

There is something ever so meditative, mesmerizing and contented about candles and fireplaces. Indulge. Take pleasure in a burning candle – a gentle burning flame is a soft comfort.

Music soothes the sullen soul. Select melodies that are pleasant, fun and a little mellow – something that doesn’t evoke sadness or anger. Something with the flavour of getting up late, lazing around in our pajamas with steaming mugs of coffee, maybe treating ourselves to a delicious brunch and lingering over a glossy magazine. And then do nothing.

Plan a little but take it easy. Allow lots of space. Make it loose. Start dreaming about a tranquil holiday.

Do something different. Try something completely out of the ordinary just for the novelty and sometimes good for a laugh. A change is as a good as a holiday and an unfamiliar experience is rest for the mind that never veers of its dreary course.

Visit nature and all her restorative powers. Sit somewhere and quietly reflect or freeze and laugh with a chum whilst sipping a cocoa and gaze at the celebrated snow covered mountains.

Become absorbed in your favourite activities or hobbies…or find one. Engross, create, and play. Putter around the house.Tinker. Futz, dilly-dally, linger, lounge, fiddle and rearrange your nest until it’s a sanctuary.

Play hooky…but you didn’t get that from me.

Don’t go looking for trouble or bad news or things that irritate or sadden us. Wait until the spring to do that (insert smiley face here). If we’re low, it’s harder to perk ourselves up again but if we work at keeping ourselves on an even keel, it’s easier to stay balanced.

And really, it is not every day that is so horrible. As this article is written, the day has been without rain, some sunbeams have bounced off the window and tomorrow promises more of the same. Even now the sun is slanting westward and a beautiful golden bath is being cast upon the mountains and rooftops juxtaposed against a dark cloudy sky making the view all the more spectacular. Stunning. The depressed mind has a tendency to grossly generalize – all the weather is miserable but in fact there have been many temperate days since September and they have felt comfortable. Happiness is wanting what we have.

At times of bleakness, when our mind drifts to the emptiness of the glass, we need to make a concerted effort to pull up our dull socks and firmly but gently turn our mind to that which is pleasant and what we can feel grateful for. While this can sound overly stated, it is powerful stuff. Remember the old adage, ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are probably right’.

Focus on what helps, what can be done and a plan to make that happen.

Give. Sometimes, in our narcissistic glory we become overly self-absorbed and it’s the best time to focus on someone else in need of a little help. A little perspective can be just the ticket.

Be miserable. If after all this, there is no remedy, go ahead and be miserable. Be monstrous, drag your feet, grumble, and wear dark clothes. Sometimes dark days of the soul can scratch just where we itch and we need to go ahead and just wallow. Much like the pity-party, it, too, can be very cathartic.

Otherwise, and if so desired, think of this as the beginning of a new year of experiences, questions, and answers that have never happened before.

Rest well. Trust that if we give ourselves permission to be quiet and subdued, our energy may return when we are truly replenished. And let me be the first to wish us all a Merry Hibernation!

If you wish to copy this material to other publications please ask for permission by writing cindy@mycounsellor.ca.
Thanks for your friendship.

To download a PDF of this article, please click here.