Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Combat Post-Holiday Blues

I don’t know about you, but a few days into January, the post-holiday blues start to hit. The Christmas carols have been replaced by the same old songs that were around last year. All the pretty decorations are tucked away (a depressing chore in itself); and half of the kids’ anticipated toys lay broken and forgotten under their beds. The schedule that you couldn’t wait to get back to suddenly seems burdensome and the no-complaining-and-bickering atmosphere that permeated the house isn’t even a distant memory. Let’s not stop with the kids’ attitudes; while we hate to admit it, it’s true that “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Unlike bears, people were not made to hibernate for the winter months. As appealing as that sometimes sounds, we were made for more. We were made for light, community, caring for our bodies, and caring for others. But, how do we access those things, let alone homeschool our children, when we feel like we’re stuck in the dark cave of, dare we say it, depression? We put one foot in front of the other and plod out of that cave like a mama bear at the end of winter.

Even before we step foot out of our caves, the first thing that we’ll notice is the sunlight. Numerous studies have proved that natural sunlight is important to feelings of well being. That explains why, during the shorter, darker days of winter, natural happiness is harder to find. We need to go looking for sunlight as early in the morning as possible. Stepping outside is best, but if you have a natural aversion to being cold, like I do, at least open the blinds. If that’s not enough, it might be time to explore the possibility of S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). Check out the symptoms and solutions here and here.

We also need lots of SONlight in order to thrive. Personally, the Bible is the last book I want to pick up when I’m feeling down and church is the last place I want to go when I feel blah. But, when I force myself to read even a few verses from the Psalms or another favorite passage, I really do feel better. Now is not the time to slog through five chapters in Leviticus; now is the time to soak up some promises and encouragement from God’s love letter to us. When I force myself to get dressed and get in the car to go to church, I feel blessed by the end of the service.

Talking to friends, or even just one special friend, when we’d rather ignore the ringing phone or email message another step towards the opening of the cave. It’s the community step. The post-holiday blues are especially prone to making us feel isolated after all of the parties and family get-togethers. Even though we may feel alone and as if no one else could possibly understand what we’re feeling, we are not alone. I assure you that others out there feel exactly the same way you do; just knowing that we’re not alone can be freeing and comforting. Promise yourself just a five-minute conversation to explore possible mutual feelings. You’ll be surprised when it stretches much longer and much more satisfactorily than you expected.

Without turning this into a diet-and-exercise article, I just want to touch briefly on how those things affect our mental well-being. The old saying, “You are what you eat,” is so true. If we put junk food in, we’ll get junk feelings (and probably a few extra pounds) out. Now that the majority of the holiday goodies are gone, and all of the magazines at the grocery checkouts are touting the top five ways to lose five pounds fast, it’s a little easier to be motivated to curb our eating habits. Of course, as I write this, I’ve got the tail end of a candy cane in my mouth and a half-eaten can of Pringles stashed under my desk, so I’m lecturing myself. Come on, ladies, we know what a balanced, healthy diet should look like (if not, check out these websites: food pyramid, healthy eating tips, and nutrition guidelines). The trick is to discipline ourselves to eat healthfully. We can do it! If you need a little help in this area, check out two of my personal favorite motivational websites: Spark People and Made to Crave.


Likewise, exercising—even just ten or fifteen minutes—can go a long ways towards the cave entrance for mama bear. Start with just a few minutes of walking (on a treadmill, in place, or outdoors around the block). I usually set out my exercise clothes to put on when I wake up, then I figure that since I have them on, I may as well just do a few minutes on my treadmill. By the time I’ve walked for fifteen minutes, I’m starting to feel better and can talk myself into completing a thirty-minute run. Start slowly, at whatever level feels comfortable to you, and work your way up to more. Yes, you will have to force yourself to do it sometimes, but it will be worth it, I promise.

Sometimes, mama bear just has to growl; however, the best place to growl is in a journal, not at little cubs. A journal doesn’t have to be copious notes of every little thing accomplished every day. It can be an outlet written in as needed. This past year, I have endeavored to write a little nearly every day and have found it to be quite therapeutic. I’ve also combined it with my devotional thoughts. I don’t write a lot, but I usually feel better if I’m able to growl my words onto paper. My cubs sure feel better about that, too.

While I realize that deep, clinical depression can’t be healed by following a few simple steps, I want every homeschool mom to realize that there is hope. Sometimes, it’s more than just the post-holiday blues. If you’ve been feeling as if the hibernation cave has been sealed tight for longer than a few weeks, please go to your doctor for help. Your spouse would probably even call to make the appointment for you if that much feels overwhelming. Talking to a professional and/or taking prescription medication for depression is not something to be ashamed of or a reason to feel weak. Chemical imbalances in the brain are real and need to be treated before you’ll be able to work on the rest of the problems.

Our cubs need us to come out of hibernation, mama bears! “[S]he who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is [s]he,” (Proverbs 16:20, NKJV).

This article appears over at Heart of the Matter Online today.