What goes up must come down, and after the holiday push it's quite common for people to dip into a depression in January. Regardless of how joyous, exhausting, anxiety-provoking, or neutral the holidays were for you, it's normal to breathe a sigh of relief when they're over. We expend so much energy toward the holiday season — either positively anticipating or negatively dreading — and then it's just done. Back to regular life.
What we find when we jolt back to regular life is the consequence of spending a few weeks ignoring our own needs. The excess is over — you may have drunk, ate, spent, and socialized too much — and in the aftermath it's normal to feel a hangover of body and soul. The psyche then responds with a pull toward the underworld of bed, where you find temporary comfort beneath your comforter, but we can also read this impulse as an invitation to connect to the interior realm.
Depression is often our psyche's way of communicating that it's time to turn inward. Instead of seeing it as only a negative, we can reframe depression is an opportunity to connect more deeply with our inner wellsprings of self during this quieter, slower, darker time of year. When we align with the natural energy of the season of winter, we can allow ourselves to be gently guided into the inner realms.
The following are some suggestions for how to honor the slower rhythm of this month so that you can connect — or reconnect — with your true self. But keep in mind that the most important shift to make is to give yourself permission to slow down and even do nothing. In our extroverted culture, many people feel guilty for pulling back from push to "do" and listen to their natural desire to be.
In addition to a sense of guilt because they "should" be doing something, many people also have a difficult time slowing down into the realm of nothingness as that's when every difficult emotion or memory that they've pushed down comes bubbling up to the surface, so they try to keep going full steam ahead until the body slows them down in the form of illness, or the psyche does in the form of depression. It's so much more productive to choose your own descent inward then to wait until you're dragged into your underworld against your conscious will.
1. Get to know nothingness.
We fear nothingness, but when we move toward it with curiosity we realize that we have nothing to fear. Moving toward nothingness means making room for discomfort, and when you choose to turn inward with compassion you learn that you can handle it.
2. Go to bed earlier.
During these darker days (in the Northern hemisphere), the natural rhythm will guide you toward earlier nights, if you let them. You may have burned the candle at both ends in December, but now is the time to recalibrate and move toward more hours of sleep.
3. Light candles.
The luminescence of candles invites reflection, and sometimes just the act of lighting a candle can help you drop out of your head and into your body, which means into what is real and true in the present moment.
4. Journal by candlelight.
Journaling is usually a beneficial and self-loving action, and journaling by candlelight can help you connect more readily to your core self — the part of you that lives beneath the running commentary of self-doubt and criticism that may normally populate your thoughts.
5. Drink hot tea.
Tea and everything surrounding it — the making, the steeping, the drinking — inspires a slowed-down, mindful state, and is a way to nourish both body and mind during this slower month.
6. Bundle up and take a brisk walk.
The cold weather may inhibit you from getting outdoors, but there are few things as nourishing as connecting to your body in nature. If you can push past the habitual feeling to avoid what may be initially uncomfortable, you will feel rewarded for your efforts. This is one of those times when listening to your feelings doesn't serve your bigger purpose of feeling better inside.
7. Take a hot bath.
Hot water, like candles, helps people drop into their bodies and breathe more deeply. Baths are always delicious, but never so much as when contrasted with the dark and cold of winter.
8. Eat healthy meals.
If you're like most people, you probably overate and over-drank these past few weeks. Instead of feeling shame and guilt — which don't serve you in any positive way — now is the time to reconnect to your intention to eat well and take the extra time required to plan, shop for, and cook healthy foods.
9. Say no, which may include not making too many social plans.
If December is a yes month — yes to people, parties, and events — January is a no month. Yes and no are both essential words and actions to wield, for too much yes results in exhaustion and too much no is a cold, lonely place. To counterbalance the excess of yes last month, see if saying no feels supportive now.
10. Make room for difficult feelings.
We push away what's dark and difficult during the lights and shimmer of December, but it's a law of emotions that we can't push away the shadow forever. If you decide to stop, be prepared for a wave of sadness or loneliness or vulnerability to wash over you. That's OK. In fact, the more you allow it instead of trying to distract through food, media, or work, the more quickly the difficult feelings will move through and you'll be able to connect to the archetypal energy of January: the invitation for deep rest.
11. Connect to an anchoring image.
In a quite, meditative state, open your eyes that see beneath the surface of things to receive an image that can help you recalibrate and remain grounded during this liminal month. We can heal at the level of the mind, but sustaining healing often takes place at the level of the unconscious, which is where imagery resides.
12. Record your dreams.
With more hours of darkness and hopefully more time to sleep, this month is often an active time for dreaming. Dreams can be confusing, and it's important not to take them at face value, but if you have a dream practice this is the time to delve more deeply into it, and if you don't have one this is wonderful time to start.