Winter is my favorite time of year to work in the field of mental health. I know this sounds a little weird, but hear me out. Chronobiology is the study of time cycles on biological organisms. The field of Ecotherapy explores the interconnectedness of humans and the environment. As a therapist, I am able to marry these two theories to help manage a variety of problems that are common in winter months. I hear the following symptoms daily during December-February: fatigue, sleep disturbances, lack of enjoyment, decreased exercising, increased appetite, and sadness episodes. My clients especially tend to notice these symptoms during the holiday season because one glimpse into the media tells us that we should be going, doing, running, buying, baking, more buying, more doing, more, MORE, MORE!!! This is a stark contrast to how many people actually feel on the inside. I personally experience an inner call to reflect, calm down, snuggle up, and, well, just be kind of sad. It is like a sense of mourning as I sit among my losses while gathering my courage to continue on.
As I was researching this post, something began to hold true: very little is written about moving toward acceptance of our common experiences during winter months and very much is said about suppressing this incredibly natural and normal circannual cycle. Three words came up over and over again. They were: beat, fight, avoid. I found only one article suggesting that we accept ourselves and our feelings this time of year, here.
So what does it mean to honor this call to rest and reset? It may mean paring down the to-do list to what really matters. Some people just need permission to have a down day, take an extra hour of rest in the mornings or incorporating some quiet time and then they are ready to pick back up a new-normal level of activity.
For me, I tend to keep a relatively active exercise schedule through winter, but also reserve time to catch up on television shows, knitting, playing music, and reading. I do the bare minimum with holiday decorating and tend to socialize a little less.
I want to be okay with mourning the yearly cycle of living and dying during winter months. The trees, the animals, do a great job of honoring their need for rest in winter! I would like for more people, clinicians included, be okay with it too.
**As a clinician, I am able to help clients differentiate between a true depressive episode vs the normal and often unrecognized need to just slow down and sit with negative emotions. Depression can and does strike during winter, and there are certain symptomatic markers that set it apart from typical, normal sadness. This post is not intended to suggest acceptance of true depressive symptoms and I absolutely recommend CBT and medical interventions in the case of a major depressive episode.**