By Hannah Brzozowski
Every Winter, it's the same. It's dark outside and often dark inside of me. It typically starts creeping up in November - takes a break during the holidays and then pops right back up in January. There's just something about this post-Christmas time. I think it starts to sink in that Spring is very far away and this nagging feeling of gloom won't go away.
I'm not alone in this either - 10-20% of people experience at least a mild form of SAD every year according to American Family Physician. Oh, and women are four times more likely to experience it - lucky us.
As I was reflecting last night with my husband on this past January, it's been different for me. I haven't been as depressed as usual. I've been more motivated and excited for life. So, what was the difference? I can't pin it down exactly, but I believe it had to be these six things I did differently in January.
1. Get a New Hobby.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:8-9
I always used to think hobbies were kind of pointless. If you wanted them, great but my "hobby" was watching Netflix for four hours every night after work (please don't judge me). Then something shifted in me a couple years back. I started to realize the importance of having something fun to do that gets your mind off of work/other stresses of life. So, after some trial and error - I've discovered that I enjoy: hiking, painting, interior decorating, and cooking.
This past month, I've been trying to eat healthier. Now, you're probably thinking - that's not a hobby - that's a diet. And I guess you're right but only to a point. It's been such a fun thing to get my mind focused on something fresh. In my spare time, I find myself wanting to discover new recipes and try out new foods. One example is that I tried cauliflower and *actually* liked it. For those who really know me, you know this is a big deal. I've always been a super picky eater - kind of scared to try new things.
All that to say, trying a new hobby in the winter could help you focus your mind on something other than it being dark outside constantly.
2. Get Outside.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.
– Psalm 19:1
Last weekend, I drove to Lake of The Woods - about a 20-minute drive away from my house and took a hike. As I got out of the car, I realized it was a bit colder than I thought so I bundled up, grabbed my dog's leash, and off we went. He immediately started to pull me to the amazing new smell right off the path. Then, I yanked him to keep walking because I was cold. This continued for most of the hike.
But then it happened. All of sudden, I was in the middle of the woods and I was completely surrounded by snowflakes falling around me. It was at this moment that Joanna Gaines started talking about enjoying the moment in the audiobook I was listening to. So, I did. I opened my mouth and tried to catch the snowflakes. I paused on the hike - something Albert was not too keen on - and soaked in the moment of snowfall in the forest. It was magical and it was just what my soul needed at that moment.
I can get so caught up with hating winter it, I forget to enjoy it. There are no beautiful snowflakes in July. So, put on your mittens, warmest hat, and soak up some winter sun(this is backed by science too).
3. Help Someone.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
- Proverbs 27:17
You would think that as a pastor, I would help people a lot. And I guess that's true. I typically listen a good amount or help people grow in their faith while sitting in a coffee shop. However, there's something different about actually physically helping someone.
This month, I had the opportunities to help one family move into their new home and someone else pack up and move out of town. I helped move a couch, packed suitcases, carried boxes in, put beds together, and ran to Walmart to pick up supplies. Afterwards, I was exhausted.
In both situations, I felt like I did something good for each person - I was able to help them in this new season that they are entering. In a moment that's chaotic, I got to be present for each of them.
Sometimes, when I'm depressed, the last thing I want to do is even let my dog outside, let alone actually get dressed and go out to help someone else. But I believe that sometimes (not all the time), that's just the thing we need to do.
There are tons of other benefits of helping people too. Just check out this article from Upworthy.
4. Read the Bible more.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Growing up in a traditional Baptist church, the pastor would always encourage everyone to read the Bible in one year. He'd put a signup sheet in the lobby and the "super good" Christians would sign up. Honestly, I'd be curious how many followed through with it. Is that too pessimistic? Sorry.
Welp, I guess I've graduated to "Super Christian" in my own eyes because I have that goal this year. I'll have to update this blog in a year to see if I actually followed through.
I'll tell you though, this has significantly made my January better. Every morning, I wake up at 6:30, go on the most spiritual of all the apps, TikTok, for 10 minutes (ok... I guess I'm not that much of a Super Christian), and then, I press play on the Bible in a Year plan, listen to a commentary, and about four chapters of the Bible.
I truly believe that the Word of God doesn't return back void and this has been a fantastic way to start my day off right. It focuses my mind on what's most important to me. On top of that, by the time I've actually gotten out of bed, I've already accomplished something!
Maybe for you, it's listening to a chapter on your way to work or while you're falling asleep. Or maybe you're more of a reader and like to see the actual book in front of you. Whatever works for you! I would challenge you to add it to your day for a month and see how you're feeling after.
5. Take Time To Reflect.
Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God.
- Lamentations 3:40
Speaking of feelings, in order to see if any of these tips I'm giving you are actually working, you'll need to reflect.
Journaling every *single* day stresses me out. I can't do it. Ok, sure, maybe I choose not to do it. But, I've found journaling every two weeks has been working for me. Every other Friday, I light a candle (it just seems more fancy that way) and journal about the last couple of weeks. Because I'm reading so much of the Bible, I'll go back and write down some of the highlighted verses from the past couple of weeks. I'll try to listen to God and what common themes are jumping out to me. Plus, I'll write about what happened during those two weeks and try to reflect on how I felt.
I've even tried journaling for 20 minutes straight a couple of times. This has been known to help people more than even journaling every single day of the year, according to this article. Basically, you get all of your thoughts out on a page - with no judgment or criticism.
6. Go to Therapy.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
- Proverbs 11:14
I started to go see a therapist again this past summer. About every other week, I'll go in and talk to her for an hour. Sometimes, it's eye-opening. Other times, I feel like I just rambled the whole time with her occasionally nodding. Either way, it has helped me process some trauma and be more mentally healthy.
I share this because I never want anyone to think that I have it all together. So often, especially in the Church, we can put on a face of perfection. We can act like reading the Bible and praying will fix everything. I simply don't believe that's true. It's not what the Bible teaches us either. When you read the Bible, you see consistenly that community is important to our faith. We were created to be with others. After all, God said in Genesis 2:18, "It's not good for man to be alone."
Sometimes, we need to actually talk to someone else other than God, and sometimes, that person needs to be a professional who has the tools to help us, better than a friend would.
So, if you've been thinking about making that appointment, do it. If you've been avoiding your therapist, don't. We weren't meant to go through hard times alone.
If you or someone you love is depressed and needs help immediately, please call 988 for the suicide and crisis hotline. You're not alone.