Winter Blues and Community

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“Snowy Tree and House” by adamr, image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to psychologist Dr. Stephen Ilardi, one of the top six ways to prevent or treat depression is just being with others. But in winter, New Englanders tend to see others less often, possibly contributing to the winter blues as much as, if not more than, the grey skies. 

Ilardi calls depression “a disease of civilization”, by which he means that the individualistic and mechanistic nature of our lives has reached such epidemic levels that today’s Americans (especially we New Englanders, from what I’ve observed) think of prolonged isolation as normal.

But our bodies know differently. 

Ilardi’s research shows that our brain interprets depression as illness, so our natural instinct is to withdraw from others, just as if we had the flu. But isolating from others when we’re depressed can cause what psychologists call rumination–a repetitive focus on sources of loss and pain in our lives–which actually makes depression worse. Being around other people tends to interrupt the rumination cycle, freeing us up for a more balanced outlook.

Moreover, many people are already aware that regular exercise is clinically shown to moderate mood. But Ilardi observes that meaningful and social exercise helps us get over our innate aversion to exercising for exercise’s sake.

So connections with other people turn out to help with three of Ilardi’s six aspects of treating depression. Just being with others 1. is itself a mood boost; 2. it interrupts the cycle of fruitless rumination; and 3. it makes exercise more enjoyable and attractive. 

I think we all agree that community is important, healthy, and fundamental to God’s design for humanity. There’s a reason why solitary confinement is used as a punishment. But we may not have realized that God has also created us with built-in warning signals, in the form of winter blues, when we go for too long without the warmth of others. 

When a friend of mine was grieving the loss of her first child, her counselor gave her an excellent prescription: connect with at least one person in some way every day. I wonder if the same prescription may be just what the doctor ordered for anyone with winter blues.

Your body, with its emotional flu, will protest. It will tell you to leave others alone and not bother them. It will tell you that what you need is more, and more, and more time alone. Don’t believe it. A sincere connection to another person (a real person, not TV) will do more in one hour to limit winter blues than ruminating alone all day would accomplish (i.e. nothing). And if that person is someone with whom you can pray, all the better.

As an introvert, I can’t really see myself beating the winter blues by going to parties or places where there are crowds of people. Connecting with one person at a time is usually more meaningful for me, and less overwhelming. But other types may benefit from the stimulation of a group or crowd.

The winter weather is a formidable foe, doing its best to keep us unmotivated to get together with our regular groups, church, friends, etc. But we shall overcome, people!

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, seek professional help immediately. Severe depression, even if seasonal, is a serious illness that needs professional treatment. We want you to stay around with us. Please call 911 if ending your life ever feels like a viable option for you.

What Do You Think?

How important do you think is connecting with others for beating the winter blues? What kind of connection matters most to you?

Do Skype or phone calls count, or does it have to be face to face? What about email/text?

What do you think is the greatest obstacle for New England women to reach out during the winter blues? Do you know someone with winter blues that God wants you to make a point to reach out to?

Comment below.

About Jess Mason

Jess Mason, M.A., M.Div. is a licensed minister, spiritual director, and director of the DeeperHope Institute for Women's Spiritual Life. She currently pastors the Wednesday Women's Community at Free Christian Church in Andover, MA. She lives in Haverhill, MA with her husband, Elliott.

3 Comments

  1. Connecting with others is key to having a balanced life. We are made as social beings and without connection, we go crazy. For me connecting is best done face to face or via phone. I think texting and email are several degrees lower on the spectrum of connection. Their uses, in my opinion, are more for information rather than communicating deeply. However the written word can also be uplifting depending on the circumstance.

  2. I use texting,email, written, and voice communication with friends, and find each
    has its strengths and weaknesses. Face to face communication is really the “gold
    standard” for friendships, but realistically our busy lifestyles just don’t allow that to
    be the only avenue for deep communication. I’ve had the experience of deep connection even with brief text messages–It is the desire to be in touch and stay
    connected that nurtures deep friendship.

  3. I concur with the other comments here. I think there are two kinds of connections that are important to me in dealing with depression. If I can get either of them with one person (also as the introvert I am), then I do feel it helps. The first kind of connection which can be face to face (best option) or via Skype/phone is to really connect by sharing and hearing real issues both the good and the bad. The second kind of connection could be through physical exercise like dancing or ultimate frisbee or by doing some kind of service project together.

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