Thursday, November 5, 2009 | Winter Blues: How to Cope With Seasonal Depression, Cold Weather Blues, and Sadness →

Q: What do you suggest to beat the “Winter Blues?”. Winter begins the mood swings, the hibernation effect and the lack of everything. I try really hard to be upbeat and positive but I slowly fall into the abyss…
A. These days if you mention “Winter Blues,” it is surprising if the result is not a conversation about Seasonal Affective Disorder (acronym “SAD”) or the use of full spectrum illumination to combat the lessening of light that we experience in the winter months. SAD is a legitimate mood disorder and should be treated accordingly. However, as your query intimates, there is more to the “winter blues” than the seasonal variation of light to the pineal gland.
The question hints at a process, from mood swings to a slow teetering toward the “abyss,” the “lack of everything.” What you are describing is an uncomfortable, yet common, experience that most people, regardless of gender, have at some point in their lives, if not every winter.
In days before these, people lived closer to Nature. Their bodies discerned the dawn and drew homeward at dusk. One could argue that there is nothing wrong – you have unconsciously taken notice of seasonal change and have gone about the millennia old habit of preparing for the rightful descent of spirit and body into the coming winter. This “winterizing of the soul” is generally characterized by an upheaval in mood as one swings from resistance to acceptance of the coming darkness and the introspection that it brings.
What is profoundly different in our day and age, however, is the way that darkness is perceived. From autumn on, the chilling and darkening of days becomes more profound until the winter solstice, on or about December 21. For thousands of years, cultures the world over feted the winter solstice as the moment of the sun’s return, the turning of the wintry tide. Though it is weak, light is reborn from the darkness to our natural and psychic worlds. It is on the increase at the very moment when we mark the beginning of our winter. Thus the innate darkness of winter is finite.
All of Nature must at some point rest and fall fallow. In our relentlessly stimulating world we must produce, improve and carry on regardless of season or the natural signals that our bodies might otherwise give us. You mention that you try to remain upbeat and positive but that slowly these good intentions give way. Striving to resist the inturning of the season can be an exhausting and sometimes futile undertaking. A psychic “winter” can occur anytime during the year or a life. During these seasons it is often wise to work with the environment instead of against it. This is a time to be dormant, not asleep. Take stock, watch, gain power from the seed ideas and plans that you are germinating. One cannot live a meaningful life without taking time to ponder it first. Thus the gradual slowing of activity and thought during any winter season is necessary.
To many, darkness either of day or the mind is frightening. We are enculturated to seek light, to shed light, to have a bright idea. An abyss, an unknown dark place of great depth, would seem a frightening prospect. But what if you did look there, in the place of lacking, what would you see or feel? What would it be like to sit with it, even for a few minutes a day, to wait for an image – anything that you could hold in your mind or write on paper? What would you find there? The name of a friend you would like to contact? An unresolved question? Or the stifling presence of the understanding that there are more desirable paths that you would like to take in life?
Guidance can be found by peering into the darkness to find the light, the thought, the project, the vision that can enlighten your own individual path. The abyss can be a fertile place indeed but one must sit with it to hear its secrets – your secrets. Indeed it is not a lack of everything but an unfathomable richness, if only one can wait and hear – look deeper into the darkness. Thus the darkness, the mystery of life can be fruitful.
So how do you beat the winter blues? Perhaps if you can’t beat ‘em, you might join ‘em. By taking cues from nature we can more comfortably traverse the seasons of our lives. In the autumn we can acknowledge the going to ground, the rightful descent of nature and ourselves, put things to rest, enjoy the quietude of good friends, hobbies, and the inward work of each unique life.
As the shadows beckon, wonder at each day what the darkness can tell you, take a clue for your day from that whisper. Look to the solstice, the day when the tide turns.
As the sun grows, sweep away the residue of the past year, of ideas and relationships that no longer energize you (you may remember it called “spring cleaning”). Turn your mind to new concepts and projects and how you will go about them.
By using, instead of denying, the cycle of the seasonal year you can set the pace for tending your own life and works. Let your mood shift with the autumn light, rest and restore in the winter. Set foot to path again come spring and paint the bold strokes of your life during the long days of summer. And when winter again comes knocking? Remember it is within the radiant darkness that the illumination to ease those winter blues can be found.

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