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8 Jun 2017

Dealing with winter blues or just the low moments

She had a big story to tell.   Many challenging things had happened to her during the past ten years and as a result she was now taking five different medications to help treat depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Once we get a diagnosis we easily feel that there is something permanently “wrong” with me, that I am not right, that I am not able to cope. I can’t tell you how often people have left after their first appointment with me saying they feel lighter and relieved because they realize that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are “normal”.

The truth is, the woman’s state is a completely natural and predictable way to react after such difficult events, especially when her coping mechanism tended to revolve around, avoiding and suppressing emotions, or externalising what was going on. Eventually that leads to a buildup of “un-processed” emotion, which can appear as extreme tiredness and weariness and feeling overwhelmed, powerless and pointless. Depression is then often the diagnosis.

Medication has a place for some of us during an acute and very challenging situation, but ideally it is not a long-term solution. And it is certainly not a remedy for a visit from the “winter blues”. (Particularly when keeping in mind the intense emotional roller coaster that people often experience getting on and off medication.)

Feeling low or blue in winter is normal, as is feeling heavy and not wanting to jump out of bed some mornings. It is unusual to feel full of energy, efficient and effective every single day. Most of us have a wavy undercurrent of more or less energy, and a positive and not-so-positive mood. This wave might be subtle for you or it might be strong. All states have their place; the interfering factor is our expectations of how we should feel. This leads us to resist the lower states, which tends to result in feeding them even more.

I have noticed if I wake up feeling a little low then the mind is immediately ready to look for reasons why it might be so. As we know, the mind is creative so it will throw various ideas my way – the people I am with are not right for me, I am lonely, I didn’t eat right, I am anti-social, I am arrogant, I work too much, blah, blah, blah.

First, we need to accept whatever state we are in before the onslaught of suggested problems sets in. Remember that what you resist persists. So be kindly curious about the body sensations and then keep the mind from seeking reasons for feeling the way you do. Once the mind has your attention, it is very easy to spiral downwards: “I am lonely – nobody cares, it is a selfish world, I am all alone, I will die like this without anyone, no one ever calls, I have to do everything on my own, what is the point of this life?” By doing this we intensify the state and generate more misery.

If, on the other hand, when I accept that this morning is a little heavy and I am going to just pay attention to the body, I can decline the mind’s invitation to entertain me with reasons why. By doing this I don’t feed misery.

Mindfulness of the body is a way of processing life events, great and small. When we pay attention to the dear body, we are with what “is”, we are in acceptance. From here we don’t fuel our misery with a story as the body is beyond our narrative.

We can see our heavy mood, our pain, our challenge as prompting something new to be born, a wiser understanding and a grander heart or being more social. Difficulties are not there to be suppressed, but there to be integrated as new insights and learning. Medication reduces our ability to do this.

If you are experiencing the winter blues, you can of course also create a little Danish hygge; light a candle, put on the heater, or snuggle with a blanket and a good book, and enjoy some quiet time. Be gentle with yourself.

If you would like more on the Danish tradition of hygge see the interview I did with the Sydney Morning Herald here or in recent edition of Yours magazine.

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