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Winter Blues: Loving Someone Through the Seasons


snow forest two people



It’s officially that time of year again, the holidays have passed and the winter is still here. For many people this is when the winter slump really starts to kick in. I really love the winter, the brisk air, the possible snow, and being able to be cozy inside. Yet even for me I can feel a dopamine drop after the holiday season. There was something to look forward to and now, there is unbounded time. If you’re feeling able to handle and navigate things, and you have a partner, a kid, or a friend, who is having a tougher time, this is for you. 


Work and School Life

This time of year it is common to experience what may feel like an unproductive time, with a dip in grades or work output. For a while when I thought about the winter slump, its impact on children didn’t come to mind-I thought of adults. But in my experience with children and families, I noticed a trend. School performance tends to drop after the holiday season. People of all ages can be affected by a winter slump. 

  1. Remember that they are not what they produce. Keeping this in mind will impact the way you interact with them. There are so many other parts of who they are that need attention. Given the cultural tendency to tie our worth to our output, it can be hard to remember that work or school lives are not the only parts that deserve care. If your loved one is finding it hard to show up physically, emotionally, or cognitively at work or school, it can be helpful to nurture other parts of their identity. Maybe that means leaning into a hobby, being active, being outside, or crafting. No matter what it is, people heal in the presence of others, so spending time with your loved one in whatever way they can manage can be impactful.

  2. It is natural for us to slow down in the winter. With less light, our circadian rhythms shift. We need more rest-we even sleep about an hour more a night and have more REM sleep. Our sleep impacts our hormones which impacts our mood and eating habits. Simply put, our bodies have different needs in this season. It is okay to rest, this season and always. While it is important to help your loved one in sticking to routines that work best for them, know that these may look different in different seasons. 

  3. We move through things best when we can accept what’s happening and when we feel the acceptance of others. Having grace with our loved ones during these moments can help them have grace with themselves. It is through this self- and relational-acceptance that people best move forward and can reestablish their equilibrium. 


Resolutions

Given that it’s now February, part of your loved one’s struggle may relate to reevaluating ambitious New Year's resolutions. I have mixed feelings on resolutions. While some resolutions can create a sense of agency, and move one towards self- and community-care, it is not uncommon that New Year's resolutions are steeped in a sense of shame i.e. “the way I am now is not okay.” When this is the case, and there is slipup or a shift in “progress” one may return right to that state of shame. If you see your loved one running into this challenge you can support them in the following ways.

  1. Keep an ear out for the source of this goal and desire to change. Sometimes we are called to change because we think we should. This “should” is often culturally produced. When our goals come from outside ourselves, particularly if they come from systems that have something to gain from keeping us down, it is worth considering if those goals are a good fit for our needs. Expressing your curiosity on how they came to their goal can help illuminate things for you both. 

  2. When your loved one comes to you to share a challenge about not working toward their goal in the way they want to, it can be helpful to ask them what they would like from you in that conversation. Something as simple as “how can I support you?” can go a long way. 

  3. Remind them that it is normal to stray from one’s goals from time to time and that it is also normal to sometimes experience self-criticism. These experiences do not connote that anything is wrong with them or that they can’t move toward their goals. Reinforcing their inner self-critic will not help them move forward and it may cutoff communication in this area. Feeding into shame blocks communication and action.

  4. Help reinforce the idea that they are good as they are. Both in the area they seek to change and in other areas of their lives. It can be challenging to maintain present-oriented care alongside desire to change. Working together to find that balance may help them feel more at ease. 



If your loved one seemed to experience greater levity and joy prior to the holidays, consider using what worked earlier this season:

  1. For some, the holidays can center connection and togetherness. These things really nurture us. By finding reasons to come together and ways to spend intentional time with others, we can continue to facilitate mutual care. 

  2. Around the holidays there can be a somewhat clear set of actions and rituals. Even if you don’t take full joy in some of these rituals, they can provide a sense of comfort and ease. Creating post holiday rhythms with your loved one can help reduce feeling lost, and bring forward a feeling of purpose and meaning. Mapping out a week together, time blocking, and body doubling are all ways of connecting while also facilitating a confidence that you both can complete what needs to be done.



Winter is a bit of a perfect storm. Our routines and rhythms are off due to less daylight. We are more prone to ‘hibernate’ meaning less communal time and higher incidences of loneliness. We are wholly impacted by these changes and yet sometimes it is hard to see the pattern, thereby making it feel like it is all the fault of the person struggling. This time feels hard because it is hard. It is not a personal failing of yours or of your loved one’s. Challenges approached with care, intention and compassion are those that allow all parties to move forward in the ways that work best for them. 

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