Winter a time to look inward, embrace quiet

By Maria Mouratidis, Psy.D.
February 5th, 2023
Dr Maria Mouratidis
Dr Maria Mouratidis

The holidays are over. The days remain short. The skies are grey. The temperatures are bitter in many parts of the country. Many people experience dysphoria, wishing away the month and yearning for Spring.

January can often feel like the longest month of the year. January is often referred to as the turning of the year as we get a set of new chances, as the page of the calendar turns. As you read this article, you may notice how northeast-centric it is. It is what happens when this author is a New Yorker.

January is a time of making “resolutions;” another chance to become “a better version of oneself.”

New Year’s resolutions are destined for failure. We often choose too many at one time, have unrealistic expectations, and attempt to make changes that are unstainable. Failing to keep the resolutions also contributes to this despair.

Perhaps the goal is not to become “better.” Rather, perhaps the goal is to become more oneself. In my clinical experience, I often observe that patients’ symptoms occur, in part, when they are trying to be someone other than themselves.

We all hatch, inherently good. Painful life experiences and unmet needs can lead some to lose sight of that very early on, especially if they did not receive sufficient mirroring by primary caregivers.

While the new year sparks a spirit of self-reflection and aspirations for the year, the days of January can offer an opportunity to turn inward and connect with one’s authentic self. Much of the enterprise of psychotherapy is helping our patients balance acceptance and change. Acceptance of oneself, first, is often necessary to change. Discerning what it means to be oneself and what aspects of the self need development is an essential element of psychotherapy.

It can be difficult to sort this out with the “noise” of the external demands, expectations, and social constructs that impinge upon us. Patient’s often have difficulty hearing their own voice amidst all of this. Winter provides an opportunity for quiet.

January is an invitation. An invitation to draw inward, along with the earth. It may appear that nature is inactive, dry, and brown this time of year. It may feel as if life is ending all around us.

Perhaps it is really the beginning of new life. Underground, there is quite a buzz brewing. The roots of trees and plants are drawing their resources downward strengthening their bases and preparing to produce buds, new life.

Spring does not just sprout, just like that. It takes months of preparation and boundless capacity. There is so much happening underground, out of sight, preparing all that Spring will become.

I wonder if it is similar in our work with patients, especially in longer term psychotherapy. There may be seasons where it seems as if nothing is happening or that the work is stagnating. Together with our patients, we may feel discouraged. There is a natural process of reconfiguring, synthesizing, pruning, and integrating that will produce growth; a process often outside of our awareness. Might we join nature’s rhythm?

Our world is in constant motion where busyness is regarded as a badge of honor. What would happen if we were to slow down? The thought of slowing down may spark anxiety. What might we notice if we were to become quiet? What might we observe in the absence of distractions? Stillness and rest are active and restorative processes. January, in many parts of the country, is more still. We tend to stay inside more, curl up with a blanket and a pet, and huddle around a fire.

What if January is nature’s way of creating conditions for us to stay close to home, to rest, to engage in Taoist practices creating harmony, and to seek comfort? Is there anything more quiet or peaceful than a nighttime snowfall?

Hygge, a practice originating from Denmark and Norway, is about creating comfort and coziness. Some examples may be pulling on a pair of soft socks, lighting a candle, or having a pot of soup cooking gently on the stove with the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. It is not wishing the month of January away. It is accepting the invitation to draw inward, to become still, and to create comfort.

Perhaps make a cup of afternoon tea by boiling the water in a kettle, pouring the water over the tea leaves, allowing it to steep for five minutes, holding the mug for a moment with both hands, and enjoying a slice of warm tea loaf or ginger loaf with it? Hygge practices may transfigure dreary days into the comfort of being tucked in during the longest months of January and February.

Keep an eye out for the daffodil shoots. They tend to appear, at least in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, at the very moment when it seems as if winter will never end. Suddenly, the promise of new beginnings arrives. Notice how daffodils lean toward the light, in unison, almost like synchronized swimmers. Perhaps, we too, together with our patients, may emerge from the darkness of January and lean toward the light.

Dr. Mouratidis is a licensed clinical psychologist and a full tenured professor of psychology.

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