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Surviving Winter by Kaspa Thompson

We are moving through the longest nights. What happens at this time of year? In the run up to the longest night we put up our decorations and lights, go to parties and come together as happy families at Christmas time. Or we see others doing that and our own attempt to hold off the dark fails — the winter can be a difficult time of year.

More likely we are somewhere in between, with good days and bad days: holding off the dark with celebrations and light on some days, and other days our mood slipping into something gloomier. 

What helps?

It helps to know that feelings come and go. The more deeply we examine our feelings the more obvious it becomes that they are always shifting and changing, even in small ways. When I used to fall into an awful mood one of the worst things was imagining that it would last forever – but when I really examined the evidence? What a revelation. Trusting that things will shift and change has been a comfort for me, personally, in darker times.

It helps to trust that it’s good to do good things, even if they don’t bring results straight away. Your good things will be different to my good things, but for me good things are getting outside, getting up and moving my body somehow, and making wise choices about what I eat, read and watch. These may not lift you from the worst of moods straight away, but taking care of yourself and others is good to do regardless, and I trust that it helps lay down the conditions for better moods in the future.

As the nights become shorter, and the days become longer and we move past Christmas and into the New Year we move away from parties and to new projects and new resolutions, and the adverts on our TVs and in our magazines change from selling rich sugary foods to selling diets.  

Sometimes we get a rush of new energy and plough that into the New Year, lifting ourselves up from where we were before. Sometimes we see all of those advertisements and articles about New Year’s resolutions and become disheartened as we quickly fall into old habits or discover that we don’t have any energy even to start to change.

What helps? 

The same kind of things: knowing that feelings come and go, trusting that it’s good to do good things and — importantly — being realistic. There’s no point setting yourself a list of ten great things to do if you only manage a few and then become so disappointed it triggers apathy and feeling terrible. It’s much better to set a few goals that you can meet, and celebrate meeting them. 

Sometimes it feels like change isn’t coming, or that the roots of disappointment run deeply. I encourage you to reach out to get support. We can feel ashamed of asking for help — but the truth is no one does it on their own, and we all need to lean on other people, sometimes. Call a friend, book an appointment with a therapist or talk to a family member.

The winter can be a wonderful time of year. I’m writing this at the tail end of autumn, there are a few golden leaves left on the trees and the sun is shining brightly. Later on I’ll make a pot of soup, and I’m looking forward to seeing friends later in the week.

I trust that there will be good days, and less good days, and that it’s possible to move gracefully through them all.

Kaspa Thompson is a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher and Buddhist priest. For info on therapy and mindfulness classes see: www.kaspathompson.co.uk and for his local Buddhist group see: www.amidamandala.com