The Weather is Better, So Why Do I Feel So Bad?

By Christopher Luongo-Zink, MHC

The air is finally getting warmer, the days are longer, and there are flowers and leaves on the trees. We’ve made it through another tough winter! Now we can finally get out there and engage in all the activities we’ve been dreaming of all winter, right? We’ve been waiting months for those winter blues to lift have we not? Unfortunately, research shows that the transition of winter to spring will not inherently bring a lifting of mood. Conditions such as mania and seasonal affective disorder, in addition to incidences of suicide, even peak during the spring months for certain individuals. This can be the case for numerous reasons but one of the biggest is expectations. During those dark winter months, we tell ourselves how much better it will be once the weather warms. We build up a multitude of expectations around the changing of seasons, and these unmet expectations often result in increased anxiety and depression.

What do we do if we find ourselves in situations where our expectations result in further mental struggles? Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) has a few tricks up its sleeve in this regard. Acceptance can go a long way to help pull us out of depressed or anxious states. When we talk about acceptance we do not mean to tolerate or put up with something. Think of a time when a family member or friend offered a gift to you as a sign of their affection. If you accepted this gift, did you willingly and openly receive it, or did you only tolerate and put up with it? Willingness is the key component to true acceptance. By moving towards an accepting attitude, we are opening ourselves up to the full range of the human experience. Acceptance means expanding ourselves in a such a way that we can hold the dark and painful parts of life while still making choices that move us closer to our own values and purpose. 

Often when we notice that we are feeling anxious or depressed our minds tell us that we should avoid things. “No! Don’t go on that date tonight, they’ll think you’re boring! Don’t even bother!” Our mind thinks that is protecting us, but unfortunately it is just narrowing down our experience of life and preventing beautiful experiences while trying to thwart feared outcomes. In an attitude of acceptance, we must ask ourselves, “Can I make room for this thought that my date will find me boring? Can I notice this thought and make space for it while still engaging in the behaviors that will align with my values?” Acceptance does not mean that we must allow our mind to bully us. Acceptance is part of the process of acknowledging what our mind has to say and then being able to decide on what to do with this information. 

The next time an anxious thought or feeling crosses your mind, just take a moment to notice it. Notice the shape or size. Notice where it is in your body. Bring a sense of curiosity to that thought and then decide if you can make space for it in your life without trying to change it. Remember, the human experience will be filled with a lifetime of ups and downs. To be human is to experience happiness, joy, love, wonder but also to experience sadness, anger, terror, guilt, and shame. Through the gift of acceptance, we open ourselves up to a fuller life in which all these emotions have equal space at the table.

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