Adult Mental WellnessMindfulnessStress Coping Strategies

Every Winter do you feel S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder)?

It’s January. Christmas is over. New Years is past. The days are short, the weather cold. With much of winter yet ahead and the overwhelming urge to remain indoors in the warmth, physical exercise is not foremost on most people’s agendas. Crawling back into bed is a lot more appealing, this time of year.

What some are experiencing at this time, physicians call “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD. It is a form of depression that affects countless individuals annually. Lethargy, listlessness, lack of motivation, sadness, overwhelmedness, fatigue, and crankiness/annoyance include some of the more common symptoms of SAD. Although it often appears during the winter months, it can occur any time of the year, and often recurs seasonally.

What to do?

There are several helpful solutions, any combination of which may be helpful. But the one I want to focus on here, involves Mindfulness Meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation

During times of depression, the mind naturally, effortlessly slips into a state of reflection on past failures, hurts, and disappointments. As such, it paints the future black, dashing hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Thought patterns are reflective of a vortex, spiraling down, down, down. At Canada’s Wonderland, there is a roller coaster ride called The Vortex. Once on the ride, there is only one way to the end: spiraling down, down, down (in sheer terror, I might add!). Likewise, during depression, thoughts easily strap themselves into the ride that leads nowhere good, nowhere positive, nowhere hopeful.

What will break the cycle? What can pluck your thoughts from the dreaded vortex?

Mindfulness Meditation. It’s no great trick, really. It’s not rocket science. But it works well. Why? Because Mindfulness Meditation involves seating your thoughts in the present moment only.

Like the name suggests, Mindfulness Meditation involves intentional (mindful) placement of one’s thoughts on one certain area of focus.

Start by selecting something that exists right now, in the present. I often select my breath, because breathing is something that I do, moment by moment, every second of every day. It’s always there as my companion, on which to focus. Alternatively, you may choose to focus on things in nature if you are out on a walk, or if you are inside, you could decide to focus on the colours in the room, for example. Whatever it is, it needs to be before you in the present moment, so you can focus in on it.

Before long, you will may notice your focus wanting to lift off and take flight onto something else. This is natural, and a sign that you are normal. As soon as you notice that your thoughts have left your chosen point of focus, gently and lovingly bring your thoughts back again.

Explore the item of your focus (your breath, or the smells or sounds of nature, or the colours in the room, etc.). Each time your thoughts escape, lovingly bring them back, without self-reproach for having allowed them to wander. There is no room for disdain, self-reproach, or self-loathing. In this place called the present, there is only acceptance. Accept what is. Love what is. Embrace what is. Feel the breath go in and out. Observe the smells. Whatever your object of focus is, simply allow it to be, with no judgment.

If you can only do this for 2 minutes, that is fine. If you can later return and do this for 2 more minutes, that’s great. If you can go on to 5 minutes or longer, that’s wonderful, too, but accept whatever it turns out to be. Explore beyond your breath as time passes. Focus gradually on each aspect of your body, from your head to your toes, gently bringing back your focus to your body every time it wants to float off. Or gradually focus on different aspects of nature you see and hear and smell and feel, if you are out walking.

For whatever length of time you have done this, you have just successfully trained your thoughts. This is the new platform from which future successes will springboard. The old is gone, the new has begun. The new is always there, available to you, every time you bring your focus back to that which is in the present, in loving embrace of it.

Moreover, you have just provided much needed relief from the torment where your thoughts would have otherwise spent their time: the past, or the future. The past has some value when we glance at it for cues on how to improve things for the future. But sadly, during depression, the past becomes a hitching post for perpetual lashings and cruelty by none other than parts of ourselves. The past is meant to be a lamp post to guide us toward a wise and better future.

During Mindfulness Meditation, your thoughts are also prevented from dwelling in the future, that place where there is the anticipation of dreaded events that depression tries to serve up to you. Anxiety plays richly on minds which linger in the future.

But when meditating on things that are in the present, thoughts dwell in the beauty of present reality. The future is not real; it has not yet happened, and any amount of rehearsing all the various combinations of bad outcomes for our future, will not bring about healthy emotions. All it will serve to do is put us in deep bondage, for the sake of things that might not even occur.

Alas, relief lies in focusing in on the present. It is life-giving, mobilizing, and uplifting. By focusing on the present, a sound, healthy perspective can be achieved that will allow for effective management of the past, and wise planning for the future.

If you are interested in experiencing more of the freedom that comes from reducing stress through Mindfulness Meditation, try Googling Jon Kabat-Zinn, and look into many of his wonderful resources developed through the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction Clinic.

See Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness Meditation.

(Original post: January 10, 2010.)

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