Stop what you’re doing. Close your eyes for a second. Take a slow, deep breath, filling your lungs with air and hold it for a few seconds. Now release. When you open your eyes take a look around and give yourself a minute to appreciate the room you’re in. If you’re at work, maybe look at the photos on your desk, take a second to really appreciate what it means to have a job, to get paid, to have that security. If you’re at home, take a second to appreciate the roof over your head, the comfort of your couch or chair, the silence, or noise that surrounds you.
Taking time to appreciate the things that surround us, whether it’s the comfort of your home, the beauty of the outdoors, the individuals we surround ourselves with, is especially important this time of year. Not only because we’re rapidly approaching the holidays, but also because for many of us, winter is the most difficult season of the year.
Shorter, darker days means less sunshine and sunshine is believed to be linked with boosting the hormone serotonin in your brain, aka your happiness hormone. Winter also brings the holiday season and that means you’re most likely going to be busier, more stressed and perhaps even feeling sad and alone. During the holidays it’s not unusual to find yourself grieving for lost loved ones, or feeling lonely. Increased social activity can make us feel a myriad of emotions too, ranging from joy, excitement and love to inadequacy, resentment, anger, and regret. It’s no wonder that so many of us, even those without a history of depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can get a case of the winter blues during this time of year.
In efforts to minimize our winter blues, I’m going to leave you with five exercises to keep you in the moment, minimizing your stress and increasing your joy.
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Every night before bed write down 1-5 things that you are grateful for. Studies show that taking time out to give thanks can improve your optimism and overall mood.
2. Get outside. I challenge you to get outside everyday this winter. (Ok blizzard conditions excepted). Even though the sunlight is minimal during the winter, it’s important to get out and get a little bit of sunshine each day.
3. Take a mindful moment. Put down your phone, turn off the tv, put away your ipad. Sit quietly, look out the window, look around the room, enjoy a few moments of silence. If your children are playing near you, observe them. Resist any urges to check your email, send a text or even talk, simply observe what’s going on around you. You might want to be aware of any sensations you feel, like how the chair you’re sitting in feels, or your other senses, what do you smell, hear, see? Try to do this exercise daily and take note of changes in your overall experience.
4. Single task If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or simply disconnected during this season, take a minute to do only one task. Make dinner, read to your child, put on makeup, sweep the floor, no matter how mundane the task is, focus all of your attention onto the task. You might find this hard to do, as we tend to multitask everything these days, but this exercise in control can help bring you into the moment, out of your head and keep you relaxed. Here’s a good blog post on single tasking.
5. Breathe! Just like you did in the beginning of this post, take a second to breath. There are a million breathing exercises out there, you can keep it simple by focusing on one breath, in and out, in and out, or you can try for something slightly more complicated like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breath.
If all else fails and you feel like the winter blues or holiday stress are taking over, let me add a bonus exercise for you: Find a therapist to help you through the season. I might be a little partial, but even this article from PsychCentral agrees, talk therapy has its benefits during these cold winter months.
If you’re in the Louisville area you can give us a call at Northstar Counseling Center (502) 414-1301.
Here’s to a season of well-being!