Does it feel like time is standing still? Time during the winter months is such a different construct for so many of us. I’m in the Northeast and our winters are long. The amount of limited daylight and the frontloading of seasonal holidays makes winter feel relentless. This snowball of winter’s duration compounded with the pandemic’s limitations can make winter seem unbearable. But what if you can learn how to manage the “winter blues” with compassion and lift yourself up all at the same time?
The holidays can be a bright spot for some. The gathering of family and loved ones brings so many people joy. This year was different for most of us. Big parties were canceled and trips home were replaced by family Zooms. Now that it’s January, all of the virtual merry-making is over, and the winter months are looming with continued social distancing and uncertainty.
The holidays aren’t always greeted with eager anticipation. For some, the holiday season can be a reminder of how isolated and lonely one may be feeling. The post-holiday slump can add insult to injury making them feel even more lonely, isolated, and depressed.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression. Symptoms usually occur in the winter months, specifically in January and February. SAD is more than being “sad.” Similar to depression, symptoms can be overwhelming and interfere with daily functioning. Causes of SAD include decreased serotonin levels, an increase in melatonin production, and deficits in vitamin D. Symptoms tend to go away in the spring and summer as a person’s availability to sunlight increases.
The Snowball Effect
The snowball effect is a process that begins with a small internal shift and builds upon itself, becoming larger and larger, like a snowball rolling down a big snowy hill. This effect could be either negative or positive. For example, when you’re not in a good mood or having a bad day, that mood (and your actions stemming from it) can impact others around you. Perhaps it influences their mood, which influences others’ moods, and so on. A snowball of bad moods!
Those of us who have lived with teens know this snowball effect well! On the other hand, a positive snowball effect can begin with someone whose positive mood – kindness or generosity – also feels contagious. The viral “pay it forward” gestures at the Starbucks drive-thrus are an example of a positive snowball effect.
A Compassion Snowball
I talk a lot about compassion for yourself (here) and compassion for others (here) because it has the potential to be a total game changer for you and others in your world. A negative snowball effect serves no one, and could do more harm than ever intended. Can you think of a time when someone’s negativity changed your behavior towards someone else? Now think of a time when someone did something nice or generous for you. How did that feel? Did it inspire you to continue that positive energy? An act of kindness and compassion can have long-standing and profound effects on the recipient, and consider how a simple act of kindness or compassion can snowball and grow beyond the initial act.
The holiday season usually brings a generous spirit full of compassion. Most nonprofits report their largest fundraising quarter is between September and December with an estimated 34% of charitable giving. Personally, my family partakes in acts of service to celebrate a holiday. These acts are an opportunity to make a difference in our community, but simultaneously give us meaning and purpose outside of our daily lives. Keeping that positive feeling and energy going through the rest of the winter is fed by compassion. We take care of ourselves by individually creating space to recover from the holiday bustle, but also by committing to one “Sushi Sunday” dinner a week to reconnect. We also try to see what charitable organizations are in need after a holiday rush and fulfill their wish lists with new items or donated things we’ve cleaned out of our own closets. Starting our compassion snowball effect during the holidays and soon after gives us an easier way to keep the momentum going through the long Boston winters.
Your Compassion Snowball
What you can do to create your own positive compassion snowball? Here are two quick tips to starting your own snowball effect:
Remember, not all compassion is about giving a tangible item. Allowing yourself the space to be a mindful, present citizen in your world is an act of compassion. Taking a moment to recognize your needs will serve you better, and in turn allow you to put positive energy into your relationships with others. Perhaps your overall hopeful nature will be contagious and inspire or help others who are struggling to find their own positivity.
2. Compassion for others.
It can be just one simple act. Helping a neighbor by shoveling their driveway. Picking up Tylenol for a friend whose child is sick. What can you give to others? Research organizations you have a personal attachment or connection to. Your donation does not need to be monetary. Can you donate your time or talents to a deserving organization? Even in a pandemic, virtual volunteers are needed. Are you safely able to volunteer in person? What can you help an organization accomplish that may be stalled due to the pandemic? If you are able, monetary donations or the fulfillment of wish lists are also helpful.
However you choose to show compassion, know that any amount of giving doesn’t just help others. Research indicates that the act of compassion benefits your overall sense of well-being. And just maybe, winter might feel a little bit easier to manage.
Consider using this time to get really curious about who you want to be right now and what is yours to do. Remain curious about any feelings that arise during these uncertain times. Now is the perfect time to work with a life coach who can help you strengthen the connections to yourself and others in your world. If you know a teen or a college-aged young woman who could use some guidance and support, visit my website WillseyConnections.com for more information and let’s connect.
As posted on Psychology Today.