Tuesday, February 05, 2008
The Winter of Our Discontent...
Dr. Cliff Arnall, a psychologist in the UK, has garnered press from quite a few major sources including: MSNBC, NPR, BBC, and Time for his decree that January 24th is "The Most Depressing Day of the Year." The segment found on MSNBC is an interesting article. If you'd like to read it, click HERE. The basic premise is that people tend to ride an emotional high into the holidays, but then, after New Years, the bills come due, the weather is dreary, we've failed at resolutions/or quit trying, we're cooped up inside...you get the picture. Not sure how Mr. Arnall arrived at the exact day, but in light of recent (and some not so recent) events, his claims have gotten me thinking.
Looking back over my general demeanor over the past few weeks and then even farther back to this time of the year from years past, I KNOW I've had bouts of discontent. I've been cranky, grouchy, selfish, sad, melancholy, unreasonable, unfair, and generally ridiculous. For me the last week of January through the second week of February has been "The Magnificent Idiot Zone." Now, we've all heard of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and I believe the research points to its reality. Physiologically and emotionally, being deprived of the sun and warmth can leave us feeling tired and down.
But I think there's even a more intense variety of SAD that hits a certain segment of the population at this particular time of year. Does the job or school or your relationship with _______ seem off right now? Do you find yourself thinking negative or self-defeating thoughts right now? Maybe, you're like me. Maybe this time of year hits you the way it's hitting me. For the parents out there, esp. if you live in cold climates, are the kids bouncing off the walls and off each other? Does everyone seem to be getting on each other's nerves? Yeah, me too.
So what do we do about it? We're Christians, right? We're not to be a slave to sin anymore. We're not to be a slave to anything but to Christ. We're free from bondage, right? Do we ignore it, spouting platitudes about "Giving it all to God" or "Count it all joy?" Do we cover up the turbulence in our guts by putting on the "I'm okay, you're okay" mask?
I don't think God ever tells us to lie to ourselves or put on masks. So what do we do? Well, honestly, I don't know. I've got some ideas that I'm going to attempt and see what happens. But for what it's worth, here's what I think --might-- help:
1. Recognize it's real. The sadness, the pain, the frustration--all of it, it's real. The weather is dreary. It is NOT fun to pay bills and see more piling up. When we fail at resolutions and self promises, it does hurt. When we don't see the people we love that often it's sad. When we put on weight during the holidays, our self image can suffer.
2. Talk to God about it. God is not afraid of truth. He corners the market on truth. He's the one who said, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your soul." Does that sound seriously awesome right about now? It does to me. Curl up in bed with a fuzzy blanket and just unload all the gunk. God, this is how I feel. God, this is where I've failed. God, my kids are driving me nuts. God, I NEED you.
3. Put your SELF in the backseat. The moment you start hearing the self-defeating thoughts, find something you can do to help someone else. Husbands go do the dishes or fold the laundry. Wives, pat your husband on the shoulder or make him a cup of coffee. Kids, do your homework EARLY. I've found that the worst funks I ever get in are usually when I'm "all about me." That's just got to die. So go do something that helps someone else. God designed us to be satisfied when we serve. If we're feeling down, it makes sense that helping other may help us as well.
4. Avoid Drastic Ideas. Many times, discontent leads to a worldly kind of logic...logic that says, I feel down, so if I could only ________ I'd feel better. That's usually when we do something we'll regret later. We go buy a big screen TV (and add to our bills). We go eat a gallon of Ben and Jerry's (and add to our gut). We yell at a loved one (and add to our regret). We book vacations (and dream about the future when really, we're living in the now. Now has to be lived.) I think of how rash I was as a teenager (believe me, I remember it vividly). Drastic plans came to mind so easily--most often with horribly unpleasant results.
5. Bathe in the Facts. That's right, bathe. God says He loves you. God says He won't ever leave you. God says He has a plan for you. God says He knows your sorrow. God says there will be a Day when there will be NO more tears.
Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Call it a "Truth Bath." Renew your mind by reading the Psalms or Romans or James or Hebrews or John--or all of them. Having truth rolling around in your mind is an awful good way to blow up the lies.
6. Share Your Thoughts with Someone. That's what I'm doing right now in writing this post. It's like cheap therapy. And strangely, I feel better. Maybe what I've written will help someone. Maybe not. But at least, I've put it into words, spelled it out, had a chance to look at it with some objectivity. I talked to my wife just the other day, and it really helped. I felt like, "Wow, it really feels good to have her know what I'm feeling right now."
7. Take a "YOU Break." I know, you're thinking, but up there you just said, put yourself in the backseat. That's true. Others must come first. But here's what I mean. A "You Break" works like this: First, identify something in your TO DO pile that you've left undone so far. Go do it. If it's a big thing, take an hour bite out of it. Knock out a chunk. And then, go do something that fills your tank. Read a good book (say...like The Door Within), draw a sketch, play the instrument you've allowed to collect dust, pick up your cat, sit by the fire, get a cup of tea, play a video game--something that you like to do.
8. Exercise. This may not be last on your list. But seriously, consider it. Ride the stationary bike, go for a run (even if it's cold), do a set of curls or crunches, go to the gym, etc. Physiologically, your body releases anti-depression chemicals when you exercise rigorously. And afterward, there's satisfaction that you are getting into better shape, as well.
It is the Winter of our Discontent. But, maybe, it doesn't have to stay that way.