As I sit here at Red Tree Art Gallery and Coffee Shop in Oakley, I can’t help but smile at the festive sprinkles throughout: a decorated Christmas tree, upbeat holiday tunes, garlands, and a seasonal menu, including my delicious choice today of a Cortado Otoño—brown sugar infused espresso, with a dusting of cinnamon.
Meanwhile here in Cincinnati, the days become shorter and colder, and many people begin to feel lonelier, sadder, and more anxious than usual. Our patience to deal with Rookwood and Kenwood traffic grows thinner. Furthermore, with all of its cheer, for many people, December triggers difficult memories and realities, especially related to loved ones, as well as increased expectations, and a natural undercurrent of reflection and shedding before the new year.
As a therapist in private practice, I see first-hand how people’s emotions are influenced by changes in Cincinnati weather, the holidays, and shifting seasons. December is the perfect winter storm of these events and it has a special way of highlighting and magnifying the broken and cracked places. (And to worsen matters, it’s a winter storm without the beauty of snow, because you and I both know it’s unlikely we’ll enjoy much snow in Cincinnati this year.)
I write this to completely validate wherever YOU are. Perhaps you are feeling better than usual about this first day of December. Perhaps you are struggling with anxiety or depression more than usual. Perhaps you are somewhere in the middle.
Okay Cincinnatians, here are FIVE WAYS to move through your December experience in a healthy way:
1. Journal it out. Here are some topics for you:
- Take a pulse on where you are emotionally and offer validation to your own experience.
- List and revise expectations for this month. Where do these expectations come from… your culture, family of origin, religious influences, yourself? Do they represent and feed your truest, best self? Are any of these expectations unrealistic considering everything else happening in your life right now? Let go of something.
- Create a daily list of at least five things you are grateful for. Despite the circumstances, we can all find things to be grateful for. Research in the field of positive psychology shows this is a powerful tool for rewiring the brain for happiness.
- What were your successes and challenges this year? What successes can you (literally) celebrate? Sit in this for the month and allow it to shed some light on where you are heading into the next year.
2. Bundle up and get your body moving!
My favorite parks for hiking in Cincinnati are Mt. Airy Forest and Woodland Mound.
Practice grounding yourself in the present moment through your five senses by identifying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. (this is something you can do wherever you are)
3. Consider speaking with your physician about measuring your Vitamin D levels.
Research has linked Vitamin D deficits to seasonal depression. Our bodies naturally absorb and convert Vitamin D from the sun, which we typically absorb less of during the shorter and colder days of winter, especially in Cincinnati.
I recommend looking into: United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, Freestore Food Bank, and BLOC ministries.
5. Discover the Danish art of hygge (hue-gah)
which means appreciating and savoring the present moments of coziness and connection. My favorite places for hygge are coffee shops (I love Red Tree, Coffee Emporium, and Awakenings), Fountain Square Ice Rink, and Krohn Conservatory. Hygge can be experienced anywhere, and without making changes to what you’re already doing, because it represents small moments, like being at home wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a warm beverage, or sharing a sincere smile with a stranger.
The last one brings me back to where we started with me sitting here at a coffee shop, enjoying a Cortado, reflecting and preparing myself (and us) emotionally for this month. Thank you for joining me in this reflection.
All my best,