Breaking the Silence

Website for the American Mental Health Counselors Association's Breaking the Silence initiative to address mental health stigma.

The Winter Blues

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By contributing blogger Lorrie McCann

Remember the words to that old Elvis song, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you”? Did you feel like that this year? Maybe you lost a loved one, got divorced, or moved away from your friends and family; the thought of a jolly holiday and bright new year seems like a distant memory.

Winter, with the intense focus on home and hearth, can feel like another blow to your heart if your world turned upside down during over the last year. You might wonder how the world can celebrate when yours collapsed; getting through the winter might seem like it is going to require Herculean effort when all you really want to do is sleep until brighter days. To make matters worse Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that is triggered by reduced sunlight which impacts brain chemistry, can hit in the fall and winter just when the holidays are in full swing.

So how do you intend to get through the waning days of winter? Don’t set yourself up by trying to pretend everything is alright. It is not. That doesn’t give you carte blanche to wallow in self pity but, pretending will catch up with you. It is okay to acknowledge that this season is different and you feel sad. Be gentle with yourself. If you had cardiac bypass surgery you would rest and take good care of yourself. When the wound is physical it is often easier to give to yourself permission to be taken care of and slow down. An emotional wound requires that same consideration. A broken heart requires rest and time to heal. Just like if you were recovering from surgery, take the time to eat nourishing foods; that does not mean a double expresso and a candy bar. Allow enough time to sleep; that is another reason to hold the expresso, the caffeine will not help you in the sleep department. Find a time to exercise; maybe that means taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Every few steps will help a bit and your schedule will not know the difference.

As you pace yourself remember it is okay to say “no.” You don’t have to volunteer for everything, there will be ample time to do these things next year or the year after. Find moments of joy. You can be sad and still notice the beauty of the lights twinkling on a Christmas tree or the sound of holiday choir. It isn’t all or nothing. A moment of joy or a hearty laugh does not mean that your loss is forgotten. Life is messy and grief is not static. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. Seek out new traditions; find ways to create new memories while you take time to cherish the old memories. While everything in you may want to hibernate consider one small way to reach out to your new life. Yes, it’s a risk and I know you really don’t want to do anything but, just one little step forward. Maybe it’s as small as allowing yourself to smile for no reason. Then you can settle down for a long winter’s nap.

If your try these self help strategies and you still feel down in the dumps talk to your doctor and seek out help for a clinical mental health counselor. A clinical mental health counselor is a highly trained professional who can help you navigate these seasonal challenges and return to feeling like yourself. Depression gets worse in isolation, reach out there is lots of help available for you. Get help.

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