And so the Winter goes on, and on… for us in the northern hemisphere the gateway from January to February is a narrow, brow-furrowing, despondent-deepening crawl, with that light at the end of the tunnel yet to show itself.
Not only are the mornings still dark, dank and shiver-full, but the light – when it appears, is leaden. At that point in the day when your body sprite finally hits its stride … ah.. the skies start to dim again. Before you’ve grabbed that afternoon cuppa, it’s time to put the lights back on.
For some, this time of year is not just a phase to plough through with the aid of summer vacation fantasies and extra carbohydrates, but a heavy burden that can take its toll on physical health, the emotions and the mind-state. If there’s a worry or concern over finance, relationships, work, life direction or an existing existential angst circling around ‘why am I here?’ or ‘what am I doing with my life?’, this is the time of year that studies show exacerbate all that. Curiously, it’s in the mists of the grey days of the beginning of the year that a light pierces through and shines upon that that is really bothering us.
If you don’t have the option of that exotic late winter holiday get-away; are labouring away, literally, at a job or project that your heart can’t get into; are single and think Valentine’s is pure nonsense but somehow still get bothered by it; are in a long-term relationship that may just be fine but has got you wondering ‘is this it?’; are in a relationship that has got you noticing ‘this is not it’; are worried about money, the kids, Brexit, a lone parent, both parents, childcare, ageing, rent, or are just darn peeved with the never-ending gloom that greets you when the curtains are slid open in the morning, then here are some tips for comfort and inspiration:
Move your body
Be it a structured exercise class, a run, a long walk, yoga, football, whatever floats your body’s boat, do it! You know you always feel better afterwards, even if that packet of digestives/sofa/online shopping opportunity felt so warm, inviting and a much more luring alternative. Aim for 30 minutes of some kind of conscious movement practice or activity a day. If heading out to a class or a venue is not practical or available to you, put the tunes on your device of choice and dance around in the front room, or find a YouTube vid that will get you stretching or striding. Or put your best geeky footwear on and Nordic style-walk it to the supermarket – yes that counts! Or take any safe walking route in the vicinity for that matter.
Monitor your (dripping) News Feed
Ok, speaking as a former news journalist, I know how hard it is to deliberately not look up the news, be it reading it online or listening to the latest on what’s going on locally, nationally, and internationally. Be it politics, who’s threatening to nuke who and the big issues of the day, or the death of the world’s oldest gorilla (pause… corners of mouth turn down), or which celebrity is it now announcing their 3 month pregnancy with pomp, circumstance and a whitened-teeth grin across a magazine cover, the stream is not only endless, but a rapid-fire hit that changes, flickers and updates itself quicker than we can fully exhale.
Even if we didn’t intend to look up the news, that device in our pocket or hand or man bag will tell us and want to tell us anyway. Yes, it’s good to keep informed, but with how much and for what healthy end? The constant looking-rapid reading-and-repeat process drains our inner resources, rendering us passive and depleting our own battery as the day goes on. If we are already feeling below par or ennui, our capacity to life ourselves out of that reduces. So, that kitchen draw that could be tidied… doesn’t. That walk to the supermarket you’d thought about… doesn’t. Even that relaxing meditation session… doesn’t. Because by the time you reach the point of ‘doing’, the sense of depletion dampens the urge to see it through.
Social Media: daytime TV for the Soul
Even if your use of social media is: productive, work-related, makes you smile, makes you laugh, makes you feel connected, and actually does connect you… even if social media makes you rich, popular and successful (euh hem…), what is it doing to your Soul?
I ask myself that question at least once a day. I try to answer it back as honestly as I can (or what’s the point). The answer back no longer freaks me out – thanks to a long time meditation practice, I’ve gotten used to seeing the bits of myself I didn’t really want to. But even if you don’t have some kind of therapeutic practice in your life, you can do this! You can look at how you feel when you are on that fb feed or insta storyline. You can gently keep tabs on how much you rely on texting to fill up spare time, or get caught up in whatsapp groups, or on whatever the app of choice. Checking in with our device and social media habit and being able to really see it for what it is, and to then look at how it’s helping us beyond the dopamine few second hit, is self-empowering and the step towards improving our relationship with it.
I’m not going to say drop the social media or go on a digital detox because if you do that you’ll have the best February ever. (Though if anyone is thinking of doing that that, do it! We would love to know the results! Besides, loneliness and feeling low are cited as the number one cause for concern in surveys about the winter blues. So cutting off your means of communication to others in your life isn’t quite the solution, which brings me to….
Digitally connect to Really connect
Who makes you smile? Who makes you feel at ease? Who would make a great companion to see that film you’ve seen trailered? Who would you like to chat about your day ?
Who could you make smile? Who is there in the ether of your existence that you know is having a tough time and you could call, text or visit to bring a sense of ease – even if for half an hour – into their life?
What’s new in town – culturally – that you could support?
What activity have you never tried but would like to?
What old friend, or family member, or best buddy have you not spoken to in a while?
What new skill, book or experience is just waiting for you to come at it?
We know and just need to remind ourselves, of the things we’d like to do and better still, we know that when we do that, it’s not just ourselves that benefit.
Hibernate to Ruminate Productively
Ok, so this is my personal favourite tip. It doesn’t matter if you are a day-dreaming entrepreneur or in a nice secure set up at the company you work for (not sure if ‘secure’ applies to anyone anywhere nowadays, but relatively speaking..,). It doesn’t matter if you are young and broke, middle-age and sorted sort-of, or middle age and broke, or at that age that you can travel around London with merry abandon for free and get away with saying and doing pretty much what you want (older age may not be seen as sexy, but there are many merits to this stage of life, I digress), each of us have the luxury, benefit and amazing access to…
Yes, the realm of the imagination, where you can picture and play with the life you want. Think of it as a blank colouring book, with your spirit at the ready to experiment with shades, colours and visuals of your choice. Ingredients: some will-power (even just a little will do), time (get off that social media feed, for example), a space where you feel comfortable (the couch is totally acceptable, though you could walk to the local coffee shop or head into nature, or just stay in bed with a cuppa). Method: dedicate little but clear pockets of your time to checking in with how you feel and noting down (literally or in the mind) the thoughts, ideas and streams of consciousness that arise. When you see patterns emerging, allow yourself further pockets of time to research and ruminate on both the bigger picture and the details of the things that you discover put you into the sphere of Joy.
This isn’t about wishful thinking or fantasising or some kind of ‘The Secret’ law of attraction. This is about you doing the work of uncovering what makes you tick and feel alive, and what matters to you in this point in time in your life. NB: what matters to us and makes us feel alive changes with time and experiences, which is why this is a life-long practice.
February feels like we are immersed into a well-trodden Winter track, without the excitement of a Christmas or new year or the smell of Spring wafting in the air. But this feeling of stasis, being in something for sometime without a ‘flourishing’ (yet), is in fact ideal time to bed down (literally) and focus more on wellbeing. Yes, get more sleep or more improved sleep and look at what is getting in the way of that. Explore ways to improve or freshen up dietary habits, ways to keep meal times satisfying and nurturing. Get that medical check-up you’ve been putting off. Look at your wellbeing from the angle of how YOU FEEL, rather than how you look.
The caterpillar faces great challenges as it grows. Its life cycle means it must continually hibernate yet in that time it’s out-growing its skin, to the point it eventually does out-grow it and must develop a new skin in which to continue its hibernation.
As the Winter chill lessens and the winds turns to a breeze, the caterpillar forms a hard skin, its chrysalis, to protect itself and the brand-new body parts it has acquired (wings, mouth, antennae). It reaches a breaking-point when the wings expand and must break free. Even then, when the caterpillar is now a butterfly it must exercise hard (literally) to develop the strength and capacity… to fly.
Blue February could be Nature’s gift to us: a holding period to rest, restore, build endurance and explore parts of ourselves waiting for our attention.
With its all its damp and darkness, this is the time to go under cover and gently shine a light on what’s really lying within.
-picture credit: February Blues, oil on canvas, by San Francisco artist Victoria Veedell