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Have you got Februaryitis?

Call the GMC! I have discovered a new psychological condition....

Several of my clients, friends and family have come down with a case of what I shall now refer to of Februaryitis. I had it myself at the start of the month and it was most unpleasant. It's a specific form of seasonal affective disorder that's specific to this time of year - regardless of if you've experienced SAD earlier in the winter or not. It can be mild to severe and is characterised by by a constant state of fed-upness, an uncomfortable combination of lethargy and restlessness, frustration and hopelessness. Moods can be very up and down, reflecting the weather. For some the main flavour is sadness, for others it's numbness.

The weather - high winds and days of rain - has been particularly miserable, which seems to be a leading cause of this condition and has increased the number of cases and severity. It's all a bit too similar to lockdown - plans cancelled or pared down, feeling trapped in your own home. For many the rising energy costs make trips to the shops or anywhere remotely fun out of reach.

"Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer.

By this point of the year many of us, even if we are winter lovers, are ready for Spring. We need more light, more energy and the opportunity to do more with our evenings. February is deficient in the novelty of the cold, the excitement and activity of Christmas, the welcome calm and routine of early New Year. As my Forager's Calendar book says: "In some ways February is January, only worse." It's a time of waiting for better days.

Luckily, through my own experience of Februaryitis, I have also discovered some effective treatments: patience and hope. Apply liberally, several times a day.

Patience a virtue that I am not naturally blessed with. However, nature has been teaching me this slow and graceful art as I learn to understand and embrace winter. February requires more patience from us than any other month, I feel; we are mentally done with winter by this point and yet winter is not done with us. We are required to surrender to the reality of an earth not get ready to awaken fully and a sun that is not yet able to be generously share it's energy. The task is to embrace this time - whilst we wait for Spring we can still enjoy the slower pace of winter; the opportunity to rest and plan and prepare. For everything a season: this is still the season of cosiness, warm jumpers and extra cups of tea.

“How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!” —Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister.

How to have hope:

  • Plan things to look forward to. This is really important - the research on happiness backs this up. Put 2 or 3 things in your diary for some time in the next 3 months. They can be big or small things, so long as you know they will bring you joy.

  • Don't expect yourself to know how or when you'll feel better, just know that you will and keep putting one foot in front of the other until then.

  • Maintain self care basics - this is the foundation of your mental health. It's harder to hope when you're not eating right, getting enough sleep or not moving your body regularly. Focus on small, healthy choices every day.

"Hope doesn’t always feel like a ray of sunshine; it can feel like begrudgingly putting one foot in front of the other and getting curious about what’s around the corner." - from my blog entry 'Scrappy Icons of Hope'
  • Borrow hope from other people! Make an effort to spent time with optimists, cheerful people and anyone who makes you feel good - your nervous system will co-regulate with theirs and you can absorb some of their good vibes.

  • Read about it - there are some fab books on hope and happiness out there; many people find that just reading about these subjects helps them to feel better. And if reading isn't your thing, try a podcast or TED talk.

  • If you are really struggling at the moment, you don't need to do so alone. Speak to your loved ones, a GP and/or a counsellor and get some support.

Lastly, a simple but important reminder that this too shall pass. Perhaps the saving grace of February is that it's a short month; already the promise of Spring is in sight. Hold tight, like a little bud getting ready to bloom.



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