Midwinter can be tough on even the sunniest, most upbeat people. The Christmas lights are gone, it’s cold, it’s dark, and once-pristine snow is getting gray and slushy…kind of like a lot of our moods.
That’s doubly true if you’re at home caring for toddlers and preschoolers. The sheer effort required to get out with the kids (boots, hats, gloves) may mean you’re not getting out as much.
Take a Break from the “Shoulds”
Before the advent of electricity, the dark days of winter were traditionally a time when life slowed down. The lack of daylight forced people to work less and rest more.
You should feel free to embrace that vibe on days when you’re feeling especially “low energy,” Lisa Popcak told parents.
“It’s okay to take care of ourselves as if we were down with the flu,” said Popcak, co-host of More2Life Radio and co-author of Parenting Your Kids with Grace. “This is a day for canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches! Everything doesn’t need to be ‘on’ all the time.”
All of us can fall victim to a case of the “shoulds” now and then: I should be cleaning the house, I should be doing more at work, I should be volunteering more at school. Stay-at-home parents can be especially prone to the “shoulds,” often out of a felt need to prove they’re being “productive” by the standards of the marketplace.
But Catholic theology clearly prioritizes being over doing. Our worth isn’t measured by our economic output. Sometimes, the best thing to do—for you and the people you interact with—is to take a break.
One creative mother gave herself a break from her active kids by inventing a game she called “What’s on My Butt?” While she lay down on the couch, her kids placed various objects on her bottom, and she had to guess what they were. She got a break, and her kids were entertained.
“It’s not about the doing of things, it’s the being together and making a connection that matters,” Dr. Popcak affirmed.
Ask for What You Need
Don’t be afraid to ask your family for what you need to make it through the day.
Maybe due to the example of idealized television families, many of us seem to think that the people closest to us ought to “just know” what we need, Lisa Popcak said. But expecting our loved ones to be mind readers just isn’t realistic.
Be explicit in naming exactly what would help you: “I really need a half-hour break after lunch.” “Could you help me with…?” “It would mean a lot to me if we could spend an hour together this evening.”
You might be pleasantly surprised at how willing your family is to help you out. Even the littlest children will often cooperate with a request that is worded in a way they can understand.
Give Your Body a Break, Too
Catholic theologians have long insisted that our bodies are more than “accessories” to our souls (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #364–365). More recently, brain researchers have increasingly shown how much influence the body has on the state of our minds.
If you’re struggling with the midwinter blues, then, be sure that you’re caring for your body in a way that will boost your mood. As Dr. Popcak writes in Unworried: A Life without Anxiety, three practices are especially important to maintaining our ability to handle external stressors. Those three practices are:
- Sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need between seven to nine hours of good sleep every night in order to function well. Besides healing and recharging the body, your brain does a lot of its most important “maintenance work” during deep sleep. No wonder it’s so critical for mental health!
- Exercise. Exercise, especially the type that raises your heart rate and leaves you a little short of breath, releases endorphins (natural mood-boosters) and helps stimulate the growth of the hippocampus—the part of the brain that regulates emotion.
- Good nutrition. What we eat affects how we feel, physically and mentally. Foods rich in magnesium, zinc, probiotics, and B vitamins all have been shown to have a significant positive effect on our mood. In addition, certain nutritional supplements have also been shown to have as much of a positive impact on mood as some prescription medications.
See chapter 6 of Unworried for details on all of these practices.
Tap into the Power of Prayer
Prayer is often one of the first things to go when we’re feeling down, which is unfortunate, given how ready God is to help us.
Fortunately, your prayer doesn’t need to be complicated; God responds generously to the simplest, most forthright prayers: “Lord, it’s another cold, gray day. The kids are climbing the walls, the house is a mess, and I’m really struggling. But I trust in your love for me; please give me whatever I need to abide in your love today.”
So, to review: Give yourself a break from the “shoulds.” Ask for what you need. Take care of your body. Ask God to supply the grace you need to make it through the day.
These four strategies should be enough to beat your run-of-the-mill winter blues. If you’re struggling with a more serious case of depression or anxiety, though, don’t hesitate to reach out for one-on-one help from a licensed therapist at CatholicCounselors.com.