The cold, dreary, gray, and misty Washington winter has been upon us for a few months now. For Twilight fans, this is the perfect recipe to get in the spirit for a movie night! However, once we pop back into reality and have to face conflict, obligations, and seasonal sadness, these colder months of the year are not so ideal.
Hence, this article. Seasonal depression is a real thing that affects more people than one might assume. Likewise, the winter quarter is usually regarded as the most difficult to push through. Being in the thick of the year’s studies whilst the cold air bites our skin and the dark sky deprives us of those happy sun rays we so desperately need is simply not it. In a way, it feels as though we are aimlessly stumbling through the quarter, hoping to make it out on the other side. I could wallow for days, going on and on about these sentiments, but the point of this article is to address them, using the life lessons I have gathered from seeing a mental health therapist.
Yes! I go to therapy! And you should too. The stigma around seeking mental health counseling has miraculously been declining, according to my own observations. While it does still exist, this shouldn’t discourage anyone from getting the help they need, especially during these difficult winter months. I have taken away many skills and mindsets from my therapy sessions, and I am here to share two of my favorites!
- “Distress tolerance”
Sometimes, feelings of sadness can be overwhelming, especially when in an exhausted state of mind. When I have had a long day at school or work and my thoughts are bouncing around in my brain like ping pong balls, the last thing I feel capable of is getting myself to feel better in a moment of sadness. For moments like these, my therapist shared with me a method of calming called “distress tolerance.” The idea is to get oneself through low moments without making them any worse, i.e. distract oneself until the moment has passed. Self harm of any kind should be replaced by sensory stimulants that bring joy or comfort. My counselor suggested coming up with 5 activities to stimulate each of the 5 senses. The activities should be immediately accessible. Some examples include lighting a candle (smell), watching a lighthearted movie or TV show (sight), listening to white noise (hearing), knitting or drawing (touch), or making a comfort food (taste).
Opposing truths can often feel very distressing, like we are being pulled in two different directions. Some forms of this include feeling sad in a conventionally happy situation, establishing boundaries with a loved one, or needing solitude in a moment of loneliness. Dialectics involve finding the equally valid truths in seemingly opposing ideas. My counselor has helped me to maintain sight of these truths by simply replacing the word “but” with “and” in conflicting situations. For example, establishing boundaries often comes with the phrase “I love you, but…” which seems very contradictory. The word “but” usually targets and dismantles the preceding phrase, but we don’t want to cancel out our love for someone we need boundaries with. Saying something like “I love you and I need this space to maintain a healthy state of mind” brings two equally valid truths together and as a result there is less internal conflict.
Practicing these mindsets and methods have brought even more valuable habits into my life, making mental health less daunting every day. That being said, it’s never a simple piece of cake. Seeking resources is a brave thing to do! I found my amazing therapist through https://www.psychologytoday.com/us, which was super easy to navigate and find a counselor that met my personal, geographic, and insurance needs.