Even though we turned a seasonal corner at Christmas and the days are getting longer, the dreary winter weather, low light, and cold temperatures can have a real effect on our moods, especially when we’re stuck inside most of the time. The habit of taking stock in the New Year can also reveal a certain level of unhappiness and discontent with our lives. Although it’s normal to feel a little down sometimes, this time of year can be particularly hard for people who struggle with low moods, a lack of joy, and general dissatisfaction with life.
If you find yourself in a funk this winter, try these practical, self-help tips that you can do to pull yourself out and get back on a more positive track:
- Get outside and walk – especially on sunny days – or join a fitness club.
- Talk to a health professional about the benefits of light therapy for seasonal depression.
- Start a hobby or get involved in a new club or ministry.
- Talk to your doctor or naturopath about vitamins, nutritional supplements and natural remedies that can help lift moods, or see a homeopath who can work with you to prescribe a remedy suited to your overall constitution.
- Start a gratitude journal and list 10 things that you’re grateful for every day.
- Connect daily with someone who encourages you; or encourage someone daily.
DIY for the Doldrums
If you’re looking for some personal development tools, here are some helpful links and courses to get you started on your New Year’s goals for happiness:
Join Dr. Greg Bottaro, Catholic psychologist, in his on-line course on the practice of mindfulness, a scientifically-validated brain exercise that can help manage moods, improve relationships, and help you stay in the present moment where God is and life happens.
Download this self-help mobile app to activate your motivation and jump-start do-able daily habits that can work from the outside-in to lift your mood and get you moving in a positive direction again.
Join Fr. Robert Spitzer in his new DVD series as he provides answers to some of life’s big questions and guides us towards authentic and lasting happiness.
Read this article in the Catholic World Report on an enlightening book co-authored by a psychiatrist and a priest (Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, MD, & Msgr. John Cihak, STD), which unites science and faith in a practical guide for dealing with symptoms of depression.
More than just a Passing Phase
But how do you know if what you’re feeling is more than just the January blues or even the February blahs? How can you tell if you’re clinically depressed and should seek professional help?
- Feel sad and hopeless, or on the other hand, feel empty or numb?
- Feel restless, irritable or anxious, or uncontrollable rage?
- Have difficulty concentrating or making decisions?
- Feel excessive guilt or worthlessness?
- Have less interest in activities you used to enjoy?
Depression is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as:
- Low energy and feeling tired all the time.
- Eating less or overeating.
- Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep; or sleeping too much.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
- Headaches, aches and pains, stomach upset, feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
These symptoms don’t just come and go with depression, but they tend to happen every day for at least 2 weeks. If you mentally checked off a number of these symptoms, it would be a good idea to visit your family doctor, who can do an evaluation as well as identify any medical conditions that might be contributing to your depression, such as:
- Thyroid problems.
- Chemical imbalances in the brain.
- Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies.
- Hormonal imbalances, especially in women.
A Matter of Temperament
Sometimes, our personality traits can leave us more vulnerable to low moods or depression. If you’re a bit of a worrier or troubled by excessive guild, are introverted or a “super-feeler,” you may be more prone to a state of depression that’s holding you back from being the best version of yourself.
Adding to the Mix
There are also a number of life events, unhealthy habits, and situations that can contribute to unhappiness, persistent low mood, and even clinical depression, such as:
- Unmanaged stress.
- Excessive drug or alcohol use.
- Hormonal birth control.
- Pornography use.
- Unresolved grief, loss, or trauma.
- Too much social media or screen time.
- Unconfessed sin or spiritual attacks.
- Unforgiveness or difficult relationships.
- Lack of purpose or direction in life.
If you have been diagnosed or struggle with symptoms of depression, take heart! Depression is a treatable condition, and recovery is most successful when it involves a total person approach that addresses physical, psychological, and spiritual factors. Talk to your doctor or health practitioner, book an appointment with a mental health professional, seek spiritual direction, and educate yourself on how to improve your mood and regain your sense of satisfaction in life. And remember…according to Shakespeare, a winter of discontent can lead to a “glorious summer” promising renewed happiness and hope.