January 8, 2013 // Uncategorized

Dealing with January blues …

It is definitely winter in northern Indiana. Have you noticed? The mostly steel grey skies and cold winds make that fact remarkably clear. Christmas is long over. The Nativity set has likely been bubble-wrapped and placed in the box in the storage room. Even the three kings have gone home. The house has been vacuumed of pine needles for a while now, and likely the routine of life has overtaken you and your family again. Are you exhausted? Are your spirits lagging? That would be normal.

According to an ABC News report, counselors and social workers reveal that more people seek help for depression in January than in December. Winter months are common for feeling down. Typically, January is when Christmas bills arrive in full force. In retrospection of Christmas, you may realize that holiday expectations have not been fulfilled.

Often, families have felt unrealistic pressure to create the perfect family holiday with perfect food, gifts, gatherings, even prayer rituals and relationships. When anything falls short of perfection, people can be disappointed.

In this first month of the year, if you have college kids, they have returned to campus. And the often bleak, dreary weather in northern Indiana can leave you feeling low. What’s more, the thought of summer being a full five months away does not help either. This can be a downer.

As a wife and mother for 25-plus years, I have dealt with this cyclical letdown many times — sometimes better than others. In fact, my first pregnancy ended up in miscarriage on Christmas Day, 1986, so you can imagine the post-holiday emotions after that Christmas. And this past year was particularly difficult for our family too. My husband’s father, my beloved father-in-law George Thomas, died on Dec. 1, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. Yes, sometimes January can be particularly challenging.

Even without a pregnancy loss or enduring of tragedy, however, January can be hard. We can feel underappreciated, overworked and perhaps some self-reflection triggered by New Year’s resolutions can be well, sobering, even at times depressing. What to do?

There is hope!

Have you traveled on a plane? Do you remember when the flight attendant goes over safety procedures with passengers? She tells people that in the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will be released. She instructs people to put the oxygen mask over themselves first before attempting to help others. Why does she do that? The reason is pretty clear. You can’t help others unless you can breathe.

Put another way, you can’t serve a cup of water to others if the well is dry.

The point is — we have to take care of ourselves. We have to meet our own basic needs before we can really be of help to others.

At first glance this statement might seem antithetical to being a faithful Catholic. Putting oneself first seems to contradict the teachings of being selfless. We definitely live in a selfish society that rarely puts others first. Being cognizant of the needs of one’s neighbor and being willing to sacrifice for them is good and what we absolutely must do as Christians. But there is also a very real danger for serious Christians that they not respect and take care of their own legitimate needs, such as the need for sleep, exercise and good nutrition, as well as for spiritual direction. That is, there is a danger in giving before being ready to give. This is particularly true of mothers, who are used to putting their children’s needs ahead of their own, 24 hours a day, getting up with infants at night to nurse or waiting up for teens to come home. Some parents harshly label themselves as “selfish” if they choose to head to bed at 10 p.m. instead of doing one more load of laundry or picking up one more room. Think about it.

I was reading a book about Mother Teresa a few years back and discovered that she and some other sisters in her Sisters of Charity order, took short daily naps. These missionaries for Christ napped! Here these sisters were out daily, serving the poorest of the poor, doing God’s work, and yet valued themselves and their bodily needs so that they took care of themselves … and even napped. That was a revelation for me.

Sometimes, as a mother, I am all too ready to give and give and give until I am totally depleted. Then I risk not only harm to myself but to others as well. I am more likely to snap in anger or get sick, and interestingly and ironically not be as productive as I could be otherwise. I also notice when this happens I am generally not feeling too happy.

This January, to combat the blues, consider whether you are meeting your own basic needs of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. Are you staying spiritually, physically and mentally fit? If not, take actions to move positively in that direction. Then, well cared for, you can donate your time and your self to the people who matter most to you, and others too.

A letdown after an important event like Christmas is normal and natural. Sometimes, even when it is the result of a tragedy or unexpected disappointment, the letdown can’t be avoided. However, we can all handle the stress and “down” time of post-holiday season better by recognizing our legitimate needs and our dignity as human persons. We meet the challenge with exercise, frequenting the sacraments, nourishing our bodies with healthy food, and our emotions with healthy relationships. This too shall pass and by following these tips, we may even enjoy the time it takes until it does.

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