Use the Strain of Winter to Cultivate Compassion

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I love the winter. Maybe it’s because I’m a January baby, but there’s something about the snow that really gets me going. I love doing everything snow related, from ice skating to snowball fights and sledding with my son. I’ve even gone out mushroom hunting in the dead of winter, with some pretty impressive success. For me, the colder temperatures and lower slant of the sun are just one more season to enjoy.

However, winter has a very different effect on most people. In general, humans tend to dislike feeling cold. That means those that live in northern locations tend to stay inside throughout the winter months. Even for those who get outside occasionally, the little sunlight they do encounter may not be enough to help them maintain adequate levels of vitamin D. Solar exposure increases your serotonin levels, and without it, you can slump into a funk. Sunlight is also the primary human source for vitamin D, which benefits our immune systems and keeps our bones healthy.

Millions of people in North America alone feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) every winter. Some people take supplements or sit in front of sunlight lamps to stave off the worst effects of this mild form of depression. Most others just struggle on through the winter in a bit of a gloomy haze.

As if the fact that the weather itself has seemed to turn against us isn’t enough, the winter is also the holiday season. This means that people have to deal with their families and the financial stresses that come from Christmas. Whether they have to sit down to dinner with someone who abused them as a child, bite their tongue while a family member says something offensive, or purchase presents for their kids on credit, the holidays can be quite exhausting and draining.

That’s why the late winter months leading into spring are a time of year when we should focus on practicing greater compassion. When you feel slightly miserable, it’s easy to let every little negative stimulus rapidly turn into a major problem. You can blow things out of proportion or react in ways that would not be characteristic of your personality most of the year. Everyone else around you is likely in a similar situation. Tensions rise, relationships feel the strain, and everyone seems slightly more miserable.

Compassion starts at home, so you should begin your new practice in seasonal compassion by looking to yourself. Have you honestly assessed yourself to see if you are impacted by the winter weather? If not, it may be time to do so. Understanding that the seasons can influence your mood and mental health can help you take better control of the situation. You can increase your commitment to self-care and expand your regimen to include things like a solar lamp or extra outdoor time.

Give yourself space for the negative emotions that can come with mild depression, and try to forgive yourself for lower energy levels or poor moods. Try to extend that forgiveness to the other people you see, whether it’s someone who’s rude to you getting coffee in the morning or a co-worker with a chip on their shoulder.

Remembering that the winter can be very difficult for some people may make it easier for you to be compassionate toward those who are difficult in the colder months. A little empathy and encouragement can go a long way when someone is struggling. Showing yourself more love and extending that love to the other people you interact with every day can make the colder months of the year seem a little bit brighter, especially if you’re not having fun in the snow like some of us.