"November has tied me to an old dead tree... get word to April to rescue me," sang Tom Waits on his 1993 song, "November". Perhaps you can empathise. If so, you're not alone. Many feel low at this time of year.
Days are shorter, darker, colder. Summer is long gone but spring seems lightyears away. Christmas may feel far off, for those who enjoy it, or perhaps it is already uncomfortably close. The shops are full of it, the days are ticking by and you are filled with a sense of dread at the approach of the "festive" period.
Perhaps you find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning and unwilling to see friends in the evening. Your libido is low. You lack energy. Confidence takes a dip. Anxiety levels increase.
We can’t do anything about the shortness of the days, cold, or the lack of light. Indeed, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a specific, recognised condition, that may require light therapy or other treatment. For winter blues sufferers, however, November's end is a very good time to take stock. Ask, “what resources do I have to nourish myself during this difficult season?”.
If the answer involves alcohol, nicotine or overeating, for instance, any respite you receive will be short-term. Inevitably, your emotional pain will return. And it's likely that this pain will be exacerbated by the guilt that accompanies habits such as drinking, smoking or overeating.
Ask yourself, instead, “what did I use to enjoy, that I no longer do?”. If you used to like running or cycling, say, consider giving one of them a go again. How far and how fast is up to you. Alternatively, get your swimming trunks or badminton racket out, or join a gym. Endorphins released during physical exercise should help you to feel better and give some protection against those winter blues.
If not sport, try dancing or singing. Can't face the gym; why not join a choir? It’s harder to feel consistently low if you are belting out a song, in a room full of others doing the same. Take a language course, a cookery course, or an art class.
Volunteer: find a charity or other organisation you feel some empathy for, and be prepared to give some of your time to help others. Can’t stand Christmas? Why not volunteer to help in a homeless hostel, say, instead of worrying about the presents you have or haven’t bought? Connecting with those in need helps us reconnect with ourselves.
If your new, or renewed, activity takes you out of your comfort zone, so much the better. It's out there – past the current, self-imposed limits on life - where true nourishment lies. Doing something different is likely to provoke some anxiety. This anxiety is in the service of reducing greater feelings of fear, in the long run, however.
Imagine the potential satisfaction to be gained from challenging yourself to do something new – and completing that challenge. This time next year, you could be running twice a week, making vases in the evenings, speaking Spanish or looking forward to helping out in the homeless shelter for the second year running. The more you try to do, the less likely you are to fear.
It is still November, just, so take stock and be kind to yourself. After activity comes rest. If you need a hot bath, hot water bottle or a short nap in the afternoon, allow yourself this comfort, whether it is part of your normal routine or not.
To summarise: take some time to reflect, during these dark, cold days. Take yourself out of your comfort zone a little; if you can – try something new (or renew something old). Be gentle and kind to yourself. If negative feelings and thoughts persist – and seem just too painful for you to cope with alone – perhaps now is the time to find a suitable therapist. And remember - April may be a long time coming, but it's coming all the same.
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