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Melting Away the Winter Weather Blues

By Adam S. Weissman, Ph.D – CFI & WCF President and Chief Psychologist

The “Winter Blues” affect us all. Short, chilly days, early sunsets, and dark, blistery cold nights offer limited opportunities for warmth, sunlight, routine outdoor activity, and Vitamin D. During this seasonal period, it is important that we all take care of ourselves… and each other! The STOP AND COPE tips below are a good place to start. And a good family-friendly CBT refresher for clinicians and clients alike.  

  • Shift Your FocusWhen you’re feeling tense or stressed out, you may find yourself mentally replaying your worries over and over in your mind. Shift your focus to something more positive. Remind yourself of something that makes you feel good. This can be a place you find relaxing and peaceful (e.g., a favorite beach or park) or maybe for your kids, a place where they had fun recently (e.g., an amusement park or baseball game).
  • Take Deep BreathsYou can also shift your focus to your body. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down, and concentrate on your bodily sensations and on your breath. Take long, deep breaths from your diaphragm; try inhaling slowly through your nose for five seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth for seven. Exhaling longer than you inhale deepens your breathing, which helps calm your nervous system. To enhance your mindful breathing, you can say a mantra as you focus on your breath (e.g., “one… relax, two… relax”; “breath in calm, breath out stress”). 
  • Open the Door and Get Some Fresh AirYou may have been cooped up for hours, even days… of course you’re feeling on edge! Go outside, take a short walk, and get some fresh air. Work to maintain the parts of your life that are most valued, enjoyable, and fulfilling, even if it means adding some creative twists to your daily activities, social interactions, and exercise/mental wellness routines.
  • Play a Game or Do Something Fun with Your FamilyWeather-related school closures and the holiday breaks provide a unique opportunity for family bonding time. How often are we stuck at home, all together, sometimes with loss of power? (e.g., no phone, TV, Facebook/Instagram!) Spend time together as a family, talking, playing board games, building that fort in the living room the kids have been asking about for weeks! Or watch a funny or holiday-themed movie together if you do have power. When we’re doing something fun – smiling and laughing, it’s pretty hard to feel anxious. Find the silver lining and turn this stressful event into a fun and positive family bonding experience that the kids will remember for years to come.
  • Anxious Thought BustersWhen we’re feeling stressed out, we have anxious, exaggerated thoughts; we tend to overestimate the likelihood of something bad happening and underestimate our own abilities to cope. Give yourself (and your kids) a pep talk. Identify your anxious thoughts and “talk back” to your “Worry Bully” (we all have one!) by coming up with more helpful, realistic coping thoughts (e.g., “I have been in worse situations than this before and have been able to manage just fine”, “This too shall pass”, “What would I tell a friend in this situation?”, “I can rely on my friends and family if I need help”).
  • New AdventuresSometimes we can get stuck in our daily routine and not take the time to stop and think about our overall stress level, how we are balancing our lives, and perhaps scheduling some time for fun. Think of this “down time” as an opportunity to break free from your weekly routine. Start planning ideas (e.g., make a list together) for your next family activity or vacation.
  • Draw or WriteWriting down your anxious thoughts can help relieve some of the stress caused by repetitive worry, especially at night before bed when our “Worry Bully” tends to rear its ugly head and disrupt our sleep. Write down your anxious thoughts or fears on a piece of paper, put the paper aside, and re-visit your list in a few hours. Your worried thoughts may not seem so bad in the morning. Coach your kids to write down their worries, as well, or express themselves through drawing. Check back on your worry list in a few days and after a week, month, etc. Watch your ratings go down over time.
  • Close Your Eyes and Imagine Your Peaceful PlaceCreate your own utopia or relaxing place in your mind and go through each sensory experience – what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Perhaps make a special soothing playlist and play some relaxing music in the background.
  • Open Up to a Parent or FriendShare your feelings and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Encourage your kids to talk about their feelings, as well, and to ask questions if they are feeling scared. Help each other, and your neighbors. Stay connected.
  • Problem-SolveWrite down (or say out loud) the steps you are prepared to take to manage stressful situations that may arise (e.g., power outage during a snowstorm). We are generally better problem-solvers than we give ourselves credit for, especially when we are feeling stressed out. Slow down your thoughts and emotions by following the 5 problem-solving STEPS below: 
    1. Say the Problem
    2. Think of Solutions
    3. Examine Each Solution (pros and cons)
    4. Pick a Solution
    5. See if it worked
  • ExerciseMaybe you’ve stopped going to your gym, have lost your workout mojo, or have some pent-up energy. Take a break, walk up and down a few flights of stairs, do some push-ups at home, or sign up for a new workout class you’ve been wanting to try. No matter what’s going on in your life, exercise will always make you feel better. Try it out, and rate your stress level and mood level before and after on a scale of 0-10! 

The key to mental equilibrium is psychological flexibility and acceptance of the things we cannot control, and the ability to slow down our thoughts and emotions by problem-solving where we can, weighing the evidence for and against our worried thoughts, and living a life that is consistent with our core values, even amidst disruption and uncertainty. 

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