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The winter blues: what is it about and how we deal with it existentially



A record player with a blue record

The third Monday in January is called ‘the blue Monday’. It was statistically found to be the lowest day of the year, when many people report feeling the lowest of lows as well as many people are attempting suicide. The explanation behind the blue Monday phenomenon is that around this time of January most people come out of the winter holidays euphoria and can have quite a brutal reality check. The magic is gone or it never even happened, the hope is lost, the current unpleasant realities that we somehow managed to put on hold (or distract ourselves from) over the holidays are back. On some cases those harsh realities are hitting hard, especially when more bad news came up in January and where people find themselves alone, again. 

Blue Monday is a scary image. Whether we believe in it or not, or if we feel our life is good, and maybe we are lucky to have a good January, the truth is we all experience some sort of winter blues even if it is not necessarily on the third Monday of January. Existentially speaking, it is natural to experience existential sadness sometimes. As human beings we cannot only experience joy (though of course we would very much love to). The problem is not that sadness exists and we cannot escape it, the problem is the way we have been educated especially in the past few decades post World Wars to interpret sadness.  Sadness became a nasty feeling that we need to avoid at all costs and get rid of at all costs. Socially speaking, sadness is also a sign of a bad life. God forbid you post a gloomy picture with evidence of a depressed life on social media. Blue Monday and generally the winter blues might not actually be a thing if we weren’t brought up to think that sadness is a problem.

Sadness has actually a very useful existential role in our lives. That is why we have ‘access’ to experience it. Sadness is available to us to help us cleanse our minds and souls from accumulated tensions, disappointments, setbacks etc. Just like we cleanse our bodies in January from alcohol and sugar, so do our minds (and souls) should have some detoxification. And just as we do not feel comfortable being on a diet, being on an existential soul cleanse is not going to feel very comfortable (at first). Yet, it is beneficial, and if we allow the process it will gradually become soothing.  As we make friends with the experience of existential sadness, we are able to feel its soothing cleansing benefits.

The key is not to avoid the winter blues, but to give it time. Engage with the feelings that it brings with an open mind and self-compassion. It is a gift you give your heart. Just like you’d be there and sooth a loved one when they are sad, do the same for you. Make time for solitude and reflexivity. Try to understand what your soul needs to let go of whilst you are on this existential cleanse. This will also bring relief.  Add enjoyable activities, eat well and sleep well. It is also a good idea not to have an abrupt ending to the holidays’ atmosphere (especially if you are a big fan). Plan a reasonable transition back to work and day-to-day life. We usually spend about three months in the build up to the winter holidays and then on January 2nd we are expected to clean everything up like nothing ever happened. It is like being woke up from a beautify dream…by a grenade. Some decorations can still be kept for a while. Some of those cosy activities can still be done. And there is no fine for watching winter holiday movies all year round if you want to. The point is not to expect to just switch from one existential mode to another just because we have to return to work (or other responsibilities).

Dealing with the winter blues should be a reparational process, bringing emotional relief and new existential energy. However, this process can be more challenging sometimes to do alone, especially if you don’t have the practice of self-soothing. Trying a few sessions of therapy might help. Apart from the skills you’d learn to help dealing with the winter blues, you will also benefit from the support of another human being who understands a few things about the blues.

In existential therapy we talk about the meaning of sadness to you. With compassion and curiosity, we go on a little adventure together exploring what is it like to have the winter blues to you personally and how you can best deal with it in a way that adds to your existential experiences and satisfaction with life.

If you’d like to find out more, get in touch.

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