Winter tends to be a time of cold and snow, leafless trees and shortened days. Some people are especially sensitive to the reduced sunlight and cold weather common to this season. They may experience changes in their metabolism such as decreased energy and a desire to eat and sleep more than usual. Certain individuals may crave more solitude in their lives. Perhaps, like a bear, a part of us wants to hibernate–to dream big dreams that might guide and nourish us in the coming year.
If the above symptoms are accompanied by feelings of sadness or a loss of pleasure in life, then we may be experiencing depression. Depression is not uncommon in the winter months and for some people a pattern of seasonal depression takes place. Hormonal changes within the body caused by reduced exposure to the sun can contribute to the development of depression symptoms in certain individuals. However, it is also important to keep in mind that the body and spirit have different needs and preferences with regards to diet, activities, and activity levels during the different seasons. Honoring our own biological and psychological rhythms can be the difference between health and sickness as the seasons change.
Depression during the winter can also occur because we find the holidays draining in some way. Perhaps we are turned off by the commercialism and consumerism that flourish this time of year. Maybe we are overwhelmed by all of the social activities and parties we feel obliged to attend, or host. Additionally, the pain of lost loved ones can be especially poignant during this season. And then there is the matter of the “post holiday blues,” an emotional letdown that is sometimes experienced when the holiday frenzy has passed.
In some instances we make ourselves depressed by trying to live up to certain family or societal expectations about how we should feel or behave. When this happens we may find ourselves feeding traditions that no longer feed us. Perhaps it is time for someone else to host the big party? Maybe you want to go for a hike in the woods on New Year’s Day, rather than watch football. Some people may seek more flexibility in their holiday gift-giving customs. Now may be the time to start a new tradition, or no tradition at all.
In negotiating the winter and holiday season it is important to listen to your instincts and true feelings. This can relate to both your physical and spiritual needs. For example, if in the winter you feel the desire to withdraw a bit from some social activities, perhaps this is what you need to do. Maybe it is a time for you to get more in touch with your deeper self–a time to journal, reflect on and process some of the events of the previous seasons. Solitude, a precious gift in its own right, can help counterbalance some of the extroverted and materialistic tendencies that frequently overtake this season. In the quiet darkness of winter, trees and bulbs extend their roots and seeds are prepared to take growth. Sometimes we need to do the same.