By Deborah Rozman
If you are feeling less than cheerful this winter, don't feel bad about that. You have a lot of company. Recent events in the news have many reeling. There's a lot going on. I am finding more people are on edge, quicker to get irritated and uncertain about the future. Add a post-holiday let-down and flu season on top of that, and it's easy to understand why some of us could be feeling depressed.
If we don't manage emotional energy or negative thoughts about the future during this time of year, it can lead to the winter blues. Unmet expectations, falling short on our New Year's resolutions, missing a loved one, colder days and longer nights, excessive spending or a feeling of hopelessness about things changing can bring on the blues. Trying to enjoy the quiet spirit of winter but not being able to can make anyone feel out of step and add to a feeling of isolation.
Research shows that depression can result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, scientists aren't exactly sure what causes the imbalance. People who are depressed appear to have lower levels of some neurotransmitters that control mood or elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that accumulates in the body due to stress. (If feelings of depression last longer than a few weeks or if the symptoms are severe, it's important to seek professional help.)
Here are some tips from HeartMath that can help prevent or overcome the holiday blues:
1. Be careful not to get caught up in over-extending yourself. Adding too much to your plate can turn what should be a thoughtful time of year into an extra load of stress. Instead, create space to enjoy yourself and the people in your life whom you love or enjoy being with. You can avoid stress overload by slowing down in the midst of all the activities and checking in with yourself about how you're really feeling. Observe your energies and feelings and learn to find more ease through it all.
A simple tool proven to help us find more ease and dissipate stress as we go is called "notice and ease." Use it as soon as you start to feel tense, anxious, overwhelmed or sad. It's important to notice -- become emotionally aware and acknowledge what you're feeling -- then to ease and "befriend" the reaction by holding it in your heart, and then letting the stressful feeling ease out of your system. If you try and fight against the feeling or push it away, it just drains you. Keep using this tool for one minute or longer until you feel something lighten up, even if you don't get to a complete release yet. Even a little ease can bring some relief and a more balanced perspective.
- Step 1: Notice and admit what you're feeling.
- Step 2: Try and name the feeling.
- Step 3: Tell yourself to e-a-s-e as you gently focus your attention in the area of the heart, relax as you breathe, and e-a-s-e the stress out.
By admitting a feeling, whatever it is -- worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, resistance or even a vague disturbance you can't put your finger on -- you slow down the emotional stress energy running through your system. In step three, you redirect your emotional energy to work for you and stop stress accumulation.
2. Practice kindness and patience. These are heart feelings that nourish you and others, but they need to be engaged to provide the benefits. A simple adaption of HeartMath's Quick Coherence technique can help you activate positive feelings of kindness and patience when you are irritable. It takes less than a minute to do.
- Heart Focus -- Focus your attention in the area of your heart.
- Heart-Focused Breathing -- As you focus in the area of your heart, imagine your breath is flowing in and out through that area. Breathe slowly and gently in through your heart and slowly and easily out through your heart.
- Heart Feeling -- Continue to breathe through the area of your heart. Activate feelings of genuine kindness and patience as you breathe. Keep doing this until you feel impatience, irritation or stress release.
3. If you're feeling sad, reach out to others. Doing something with a friend can yield a quiet warmth of the heart that will nurture you.
4. If a loved one is absent or a relationship was broken, don't pretend it didn't happen. Talk about missed loved ones and fond memories and emphasize the positive aspects of a relationship that has been lost. Allow yourself to put more energy into the relationships you do have now.
5. A great way to enjoy more of the winter spirit is by keeping your focus on genuinely appreciating and caring for others. Ask yourself each morning, "Who can I show a little more appreciation to, or who can I express more genuine care and kindness to today?" It can be as simple as opening the door for someone or telling someone that you appreciate them. Genuine gestures of care and appreciation can lift the spirit of another person and is a gift to yourself in how much better it can make you feel.
6. Winter is an important time to find a deeper heart connection with people. Make that your focus and priority. Spend more time enjoying people and their spirit, and that can help rekindle your own.
More resources: "Overcoming Depression" is a free resource in the Solutions for Well-Being section on IHM's web site. Transforming Depression -The HeartMath Solution to Feeling Overwhelmed, Sad and Stressed by Doc Childre and myself, provides step-by-step tools for understanding and transforming depression through the power of the heart.
Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., is president and CEO of HeartMath LLC, located in Boulder Creek, California. HeartMath provides scientifically-validated and market-validated tools and technologies that activate the intelligence and power of the heart to dramatically reduce stress while empowering health, performance and behavioral change in individuals and organizations. HeartMath's award winning emWave® technologies monitor and provide real time feedback on heart rhythm (HRV) coherence levels, an important indicator of mental and emotional state. HeartMath also offers training and certification programs for organizations, health professionals and coaches, and a self-paced online personal development program called HeartMastery for individuals.
Dr. Rozman has been a psychologist in research and practice, entrepreneur and business executive for over 30 years. She was founding executive director of the Institute of HeartMath, and now serves on the Institute's Scientific Advisory Board and Global Coherence Initiative Steering Committee. She is co-author with HeartMath founder Doc Childre of the Transforming series of books (New Harbinger Publications): Transforming Anger, Transforming Stress, Transforming Anxiety and Transforming Depression. She is a key spokesperson on heart intelligence and the role of the heart in stress management, performance and wellness.
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