As the weather is getting colder and days get shorter, we may find ourselves turning inward. This darkness sometimes impacts our mood, the cold limits our ability to connect with the benefits of nature, and approaching holidays can be filled with a mix of emotions. While some may feel thankful to soon reconnect with friends and families at gatherings, there are also many in our community that doesn’t feel thankful during this time of year, quite the opposite, and those feelings are just as valid.
The challenges that this time of year presents are real. For those without family or strained relationships with their family, for those without a home and those without reliable heat, and for those struggling with depression and loneliness, this is a difficult time. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also take hold, even if all of our basic needs are seemingly met.
Those experiencing SAD triggered by shorter days and colder weather may now be experiencing low energy, difficulty sleeping, issues with healthy eating and physical activity, and more. Conversely, those who experience spring/summer SAD may be just beginning to shed this melancholy.
Take a moment to check in with yourself, and ask “how am I doing right now?” Once you examine the feelings, the thoughts, and perhaps some of the triggers for why you might be feeling this way, also remember that no state of being is permanent. As humans, we are constantly changing. This is the beauty and the challenge of our life. You may feel this way today, and perhaps for a few weeks or even longer, but these waves of emotion will come and go, sooner or later, your spring will come. And there are things within your control to help you through.
Gratitude is talked about in abundance this time of year, and the benefits of reflecting on gratitude are many. It is also important to remember that gratitude is not a feeling that materializes out of thin air. It is more like a practice—something you must continually work at each day to fully reap its benefits. Thankfulness stimulates the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Think of this as the brain’s “reward” center. Gratitude makes us more resilient, can help us sleep better, and can even improve physical health factors, such as blood pressure.
So, what should you do if you are not feeling particularly thankful? It’s okay. We often tend to look at our mood and by extension our overall mental health, through black-and-white filters. If we are not happy, if we are not grateful, then we are miserable and selfish. This, of course, is not true. Many of our days will just be “okay,” and that is okay. This may be where you are at today. And when you are ready, here are a few things that might help.
- First, know that you are not alone, and it is okay to feel lacking in gratitude. Whether or not you have much to be thankful for, when you are not happy, reminders to be thankful can make you feel even worse. Especially during the holidays, being surrounded by joy and elation can stir feelings of annoyance and even anger. You may feel isolated, even if you are standing in a crowded room. Accepting your feelings is the first step toward becoming at peace with them.
- Think small. View your life through a microscopic lens. Have gratitude for basic things like clean water, food, access to transportation, your favorite artist releasing new music, the warmth from a fire, the smile from a stranger, and color-changing leaves. These things have been with many of us through our most humble days.
- Prepare for difficult interactions and situations. Perhaps you are visiting family that you often struggle to get along with. Or perhaps the stress of the season may create tension with family and friends where there isn’t usually any. To deescalate the tension, prepare to be the bigger person. Find common ground if you can or agree to disagree. Change the subject. Create time alone when you need to. Focus on the value that you do have in the relationship and the gratitude for the good things that they bring to your life.
- Consider what brings you joy or what has brought you joy in the past, and bring those things into the present moment. Perhaps it is as simple as laughter, listening to a comedy podcast, or your grandpa telling jokes. Perhaps it is stepping outside to be in nature-whether to feel the snow on your nose, or the sun on your face. Perhaps it is a new hobby or an activity that has always filled your heart. Maybe it is something you can look forward to a place you want to visit, a person you want to connect with, a good meal, a warm place to sleep.
Remember that whatever your mood, whatever your struggles, whatever thoughts, relationships, or circumstances you find yourself with—you are okay. You are here on purpose. When I remember this, I have compassion for those around me, I’m grateful for the uniqueness of every person, and on the good days, the bad, and all in between, I’m thankful for this life that is uniquely my own.