In my years working as a clinical mental health counselor, I could always count on having a few clients who suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder. That’s psychiatric lingo for mood disturbances worsened by seasonal changes. Appropriately, its acronym is SAD. Particularly as we lose daylight hours, especially when we turn the clocks back as the fall moves into becoming winter, some people get in a sad and funky mood. At the mental health center I worked for, we purchased a device called a light box which patients could borrow for short spaces of time. The light box radiates light which helps the patients in elevating their mood so that the sadness would not be so pervasive or overwhelming.
Currently, we are experiencing stretches of time besides this season of fall turning into winter. It is the holiday season. It is a season of caution and care as we try to safeguard ourselves against the coronavirus. It also an ongoing season of grief and mourning for those whose loved ones have died, whether from COVID19 or other causes. So, perhaps, we are enduring multiple seasons of compounded sadness in varying degrees of intensity. Sorry to say, there are no easy remedies to “the blahs” that may befall us at the present time, though there may be some temporary relief to turn our awareness from it all so that we do not become overshadowed by a moody cloud. Here, I will suggest some short, simple practices.
First of all, fresh air and physical movement are valuable. Naturally, as the weather gets colder, we need to moderate our exposure to the outside air. A brief walk around your yard or on your porch or deck for ten or fifteen minutes, breathing normally, with some movement of your limbs will help to “clear house” and “keep the motor going”.
Secondly, the simple act of washing your face two or three times a day can be very refreshing. You can experiment with what seems to work best for you- water temperature that is hot, lukewarm, or cold and a facecloth that is thin or plush. The temperature of the water and the texture of the fabric revitalizes our pores, wakening up our complexion.
Following on this, there are the practices of hand and head massages. Start by rubbing your hands together as you would if you were washing your hands at your sink. Allow each hand to move over its partner, gently rubbing over the back of the hand, then the palm, and moving through the fingers. Starting at the wrist of one hand, let your thumb and fingers of the other hand softly massage the wrist, and then move across the back of the hand, and continue to gently massage each knuckle and joint of each finger. As you finish, use your fingertips to move in a circle in your palm. Then attend to the other hand. You may also want to lightly rub your palms together or even to softly clap your hands. To massage your head, gently let your fingertips move through your hair (or what you have left of it!). Do this a few times. Then gently tap your fingertips throughout and across your whole scalp, not forgetting the areas around your ears or at the base of your skull down to your neck. This also stimulates the movement of energy in our cranial area.
I began this sharing by mentioning the use of a light box, so I will close with a suggestion that is more meditative and reflective. The winter holidays of this time of year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Hanukkah, and the Winter Solstice) all focus on the element of light, hoping for its return and emergence from the darkness. Most craft supply stores and even some pharmacies sell small LED light battery-powered candles of various sizes. Some even have flickering flames. Though there is a lot to be said for actual candles, these are a bit safer to use. For the purpose of focusing and directing your attention, only one is necessary. Use it as the daylight is ending. Simply direct your attention to the light, bringing to mind thoughts of past good times and the joy of affection shared with loved ones. The length of time you do this for does not matter too much, but respect the rhythm of your ability to concentrate easily. This isn’t supposed to be a chore or an assignment! It seems to be more profitable to do this in a quiet time without the distraction of other noise. This can be settling to the soul and bring your day to a peaceful end.
As I indicated earlier, these are not “cures” for seasonal sadness- only suggestions for momentary relief that may help the next stretch be more tolerable and bearable. As always, take care of yourself, respecting both your own strengths and limits.
Regretfully, we are still unable to gather for our Bereavement groups due to COVID19 restrictions but Guy Tillson can meet with you one on one via ZOOM or in person following CDC guidelines for safety. To contact Guy please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit our website for other monthly ZOOM meetings: Coffee with Caregivers and Fill Out Your Forms.
~Guy Tillson, MDiv, MA, PBCH Hospice Chaplain and Bereavement Counselor