Blue sky thinking on the darkest days
This time of year, as we approach the festive season, can be a busy and confusing one in terms of our mental well-being.
On the one hand, we are supposed to be jolly and cosy and spend extra money on presents and special food. On the other hand, we are feeling the pinch of our rising energy bills, and for some of us, we are also feeling the mood-dampening effects of less daylight.
Then, as we move on to New Year, it’s traditionally the time that many of us set resolutions or goals for the next 12 months ahead. I know that for some of us, at this time of year, we might not be in the most optimistic frame of mind. So how can we get back to the lighter, brighter feelings of summer, and bring some blue sky optimism to our planning for the year ahead?
Whether you are just feeling a little lower on energy due to the shorter days and seasonal germs, or you recognise yourself as somebody with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), we can all benefit from a little mood booster. Hey, even if you feel pretty good and are excited for Christmas already, it can’t hurt to keep your good spirits as high as possible. After all, staying resilient is something to keep working on, and a little self-care goes a long way.
Finding your inner sunshine
Think back to summer - the warm sun on your skin, the clear blue sky above, and the positivity that you likely felt. You might not be able to recreate the same outer world in the winter (unless you fly south of the equator), but a lot of what you feel is an inside job, and there are several approaches to try until you find your favourite.
Your physical environment
One approach is to improve your physical environment to feel the positive effects on your body. Try opening your curtains and stepping outside as much as you can - even if it’s cold. Natural daylight is sparse at this time of year, but it’s so very good for us physically and mentally, so be proactive about soaking up all that you can.
Your brain relies on daylight in the morning as a natural 'zeitgeber' (a German word that scientists like to use - it translates as 'time giver') to stimulate the production of cortisol. While you might hear lots of bad press about cortisol - aka the stress hormone - being unhealthy and causing weight gain, this is only a part of the big picture.
In excessive doses from chronic stress, cortisol is indeed problematic. But in its normal doses, it not only kick-starts the chemical process in your nervous system that wakes your whole body up for the day, but it is essential for life. So if you are finding yourself feeling a little 'lifeless' in the mornings, then consider adding light to your treatment plan.
If there is not enough of the natural stuff to speak of, then daylight simulation lamps are a great help. There is also our vitamin D levels to consider, so depending on how you feel about supplements, you may choose to try that too.
Your mental environment
Another approach is to focus more on your mental hygiene. If the darker days are bringing down your mood, energy and focus, then this would be an ideal time to up your meditation or journaling game.
When we get to January and we are thinking about setting goals for the year ahead, we don’t want to be doing so with a darker mood. This tends to bring out less of the joyful or 'anything is possible' thoughts about what we want to achieve, and instead, inspires more of the self-punishment types of goals. You know the ones I mean? The goals that see us go on a cabbage-based detox (yuck) or take on too much work.
So instead of self-punishment in January, why not get started on your goal-planning early, and take the time to look at the big picture.
- What would make you happy next year?
- What would be both enjoyable to pursue and rewarding to achieve?
- Importantly, what do you dream about on a balmy, summer’s day?
The group approach
One more suggestion I’d like to offer is to team up with some friends on your blue sky goal setting. Winter is a time when we tend to be more isolated. This is partly due to nobody wanting to venture out on a cold, dark night; in the same way that we would be more happy to in the summer. It is also partly due to the financial pinch of the festive season - we tend to hibernate and not go to social events in January.
So how about finding a warm and cost-effective way of getting together with your blue sky thinking buddies, perhaps at somebody’s house, or even via Skype if travelling is hard?
It’s healthy to avoid too much isolation and talk to your friends. Goals are even more fun when they are shared and you have accountability buddies to check in with.
I hope this gives you some inspiration to make the most of your winter, no matter how much you might prefer the days to be longer, brighter, and warmer again. As with most things in life, winter is what we make of it.