How to beat the pandemic winter blues

Finding meaning and making the experience productive, as per existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, can be the solution to having a sunnier outlook.

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The pandemic has made us all looking for ways to make ourselves healthy and productive. We appear to be in a self-driven race to outdo ourselves; flour and baking supplies flew off the grocery shelves, a never-before-seen phenomenon of vinegar and yeast vanishing for months as well.

This cooking spree, the additional duties of homeschooling while working from home, can be overwhelming. With the long winter months with shorter days and the Coronavirus numbers increasing, our sufferings appear to be never-ending.

Just one of these stressors would be enough to cause a low mood. 

‘Winter blues’ can be described as feeling low at this time each year. Depressive symptoms or feeling down or “out of sorts” can include losing interest in activities you usually enjoy, trouble falling asleep, low self-esteem, hopelessness, social withdrawal, feelings of guilt and irritability. 

You may often have some of these symptoms but are still able to lead your everyday life. It is essential not to ignore these symptoms. Sometimes you may not even realize that your overall functioning has been affected – for instance, you can’t get up in the morning to make breakfast for your children.

There will be individual variations in the intensity and duration of these depressive symptoms. Those with a history of mental health issues may get more depressed during this time of the year. The elderly or those with physical mobility problems may get more despondent.  

Finding meaning and making the experience productive, as per existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, can be the solution to having a sunnier outlook.

The first step can be to accept yourself as you are; it will help you commit to a behaviour change ( psychologist Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

Acceptance of yourself means you have to “quieten” your inner negative voices to minimize the impact of your gloomy outlook. Negative thinking can lead to a cycle of feeling more guilty and negativity – the cognitive triad.

Practicing mindfulness helps focus and remove the mental fog. Mindfulness and meditation help you be less judgemental and more open to the acceptance of your flawed self. It will enable you to look at any deficits in your functioning that have gradually snuck in during the pandemic months.

With this mindset, you can proceed to make small behavioural changes in your daily schedule. People who feel sad often stop engaging in activities that give them pleasure or a sense of accomplishment.

As proposed by psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Beck, the pleasure and mastery activity scheduling helps you choose activities that give you joy or a sense of achievement and that are easy to accomplish.

When you are depressed, you have deficits in your concentration and memory that may affect your performance. to prevent further failures; the same task can be divided into incremental steps. Rewarding each step makes the job more achievable, according to psychologist Peter Lewinsohn. It will also help you develop insight because you’ll think more in “shades of grey” than have “an all or nothing thinking pattern”, which is a cognitive distortion or thinking error.

Sometimes, when you’re depressed, you fail to understand that you can still get pleasure by doing an activity, even if you feel you haven’t accomplished much. Keep a training log because you tend to minimize your positive efforts and maximize any failure when you feel down. Here, cognitive distortion of catastrophizing turns any minor aberration into a significant problem.

By planning for small pleasures in regular activities, you can triumph over the winter blues, one step at a time.

Excerpts from my article, “Dealing with the winter blues”, published in the Telegraph-Journal.

The picture is from Mind Matters A.S. Consulting;

 Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

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