Christmas and New Year’s Eve are behind us, and the whole sparkling new year is waiting, full of potential and promise… and yet, deep in my soul, I feel let down. What ever happened to that sense of anything is possible? What ever happened to goals and hope and motivation?
I think those disappeared along with the tinsel and poinsettias.
I also think the winter blues are completely normal. We spend so much time and effort anticipating Christmas—both the practical logistics (shopping, wrapping, cooking, and cleaning) and the spiritual meanings (God’s promises made flesh, new beginnings, celebration of God’s plans for us birthed from His great love for us). Once all of that is over, it’s only natural that we would feel a lull. We’re tired. Our pocketbooks are still feeling the strain of the holidays. And let’s not forget the fact that winter brings colder weather, less daylight, and a long stretch in which the only holidays (Groundhog Day, President’s Day, etc.) aren’t usually cause for the same kind of celebration.
So how do we move past this? How do we effect real change in our attitudes and our spirits?
1. Ask God for help.
Turning to God first is always the best approach. It’s okay to pray for ourselves. Just like we’re supposed to fix our own oxygen masks in an airplane emergency before we help the person beside us, we cannot ignore our own needs now. Every morning, ask God to revive your spirit and soften your heart.
2. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good.
After the election and all the turmoil it stirred up in my own heart and the people around me, I felt vulnerable and ouchy. My instinct was to withdraw from people, but what I discovered is that the best healing took place when I spent time with people who got me… friends who admire my quirkiness, family that accepts me unconditionally, and spiritual mentors who are able to see past current events and set their sights on eternal things. Yes, there were some healing discussions—but the most beneficial moments were the ones that weren’t “about” anything, but were simply time spent laughing and talking about the minutia of our lives.
3. Pay attention to what you feed your mind.
Just like eating junk food results in feeling lethargic and uncomfortable (no guilt implied—I do it all the time), we won’t feel healthy when we feast on junk mentally. I’m not saying you can’t watch a mindless movie or listen to popular music. But when you are down, you’ll feel better if you fill your mind with good things. (Philippians 4:8 instructs us to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.) Read the Bible, start a new Bible study, slowly read through an inspirational book (fiction or nonfiction), listen to praise music, write in your gratitude journal, or learn about something new. If you battle depression or anxiety, now more than ever you should avoid the situations that trigger stress, if you can. If social media gets you all worked up, maybe it’s time to take a short break. Feast on good things.
4. Organize something.
Maybe you’re not a control freak like [my family says that] I am, but I believe there’s something therapeutic in exerting control over something else. This is a harmless way to do that while also helping yourself. Clean out a closet. Straighten a bookshelf. Match the socks in your drawer. Organize the medicine cabinet. Move those thousands of unread emails into a new folder so your inbox isn’t so overwhelming.
I read a book once that claimed visual clutter contributes to mental clutter, and I have found that to be true in my life. To fight that, clear some space physically, even if it’s a very small one. Once I cleaned out the small coat closet underneath our stairs and painted it a vivid teal color. I bought new hangers and got rid of extra coats. Most people never saw it, but every time I opened the door I felt happy.
5. Experience delight.
Let yourself go. Don’t hold back. Allow yourself to stop being critical and to have fun, even if what you’re doing isn’t all that fun. Go all in, in every area of your life. Give yourself permission to be responsibly irresponsible—take an afternoon off to scrapbook or take photos or nap. Turn off your ringer for a couple hours and let yourself get re-centered. Curl up in a blanket and read a good book or watch a sappy movie. Don’t sabotage yourself by creating a situation that will bring difficult or negative ramifications, but simply do something for yourself without guilt. Focusing on ourselves too much can be detrimental, but most people don’t allow themselves the luxury of taking care of themselves, and it’s important that we do.
6. Do something for someone else.
There is a time for recharging, for nursing our wounds and making ourselves stronger as in number 5 above. But there is nothing that surpasses the feeling of helping another person. Maybe that’s in the form of a financial gift (even a small one), but more likely you’ll be rejuvenated by giving of yourself. Stop by to see that relative in the nursing home. Visit the friend from church who’s recovering from surgery. Take a meal to an overwhelmed mom. Shovel a sidewalk for an elderly neighbor. Clean out your spouse’s car. Write a note to someone who is lonely. There are countless ways to improve someone else’s day in a matter of minutes. My grandmother had a plaque in her kitchen that read, “He who cuts his own wood is twice warmed.” Same principle applies here, too—when you show love to someone else, you, too, feel loved. When you let someone know they are not alone, you, too, get the pleasure of someone’s company.
Will you pray with me?
Dear Lord, I need Your help. There are bigger and more critical needs out there, but in order for me to play the role you’ve given me, I need to be emotionally healthy. Thank You for the people who love me, who make me feel better just by being with me. Help me find time to be with those who make my soul sing, and thank you for the healing and enjoyment that brings. Give me wisdom about what I consume mentally and emotionally, and help me make wise choices for my health. Help me let go of the physical and mental clutter that drags me down, and help me to delight in the little things and find joy in the things that I do. But don’t stop there. Show me where else I can help bring joy—point me towards people whose lives I can improve in any small way. Use me, Lord, because that’s often where I find fulfillment, when I’m living out Your purposes. And through it all, help me to see You, to turn to You, to lean on You, and to give thanks to You. Because You are the giver of life, the hope of eternity, and the author of joy. Amen.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she's also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 5, 2017