Think you’re never going to live through the winter? Daydreaming of sandy, sun-lit beaches? Even with the first day of spring only a few short weeks away, you may find yourself eagerly itching for the vernal equinox with its more balanced, 12-hour sunlight to moonlight ratio as a means to break up your winter doldrums. While not uncommon to complain about winter’s shorter hours of daylight, about 15 % of us experience real stress as a result of the rhythmic change of seasons. We call this winter blues, or simply put, we’re crabby because we don’t want to be here now—in the dead of winter—but long to be somewhere else. Yes?
Short of booking a flight to some sunny destination, recent research findings may help. Moods reflect our lived experience. We can have our minds full of stuff, including musings of the warm sands of Bali, or we can be mindful of the present moment and be in it—fully. Researchers have found that training in mindfulness not only aids in sharpening one’s focus but also provides a means to manage moods under stress—yes, winter as a stressor (Jha A., et al, Emotions, 2010).
Half of the participants in the study engaged in mindfulness exercises that involved attention training. Afterwards they were directed to remember letters they observed on a computer screen both before and after having completed a math problem (stressor).
Remembering letters while doing another task allows researchers to assess what’s called working memory. Working memory, akin to using your own personal sticky note, works in conjunction with attention to hold and manipulate information, to make sure the ‘right’ information gets processed, recorded, and stored while unnecessary distractions slide right out of your awareness.
Come to find out that those with larger working memory capacity are more efficient in managing their moods and preventing overwhelm, while chronic stress shrinks one’s working memory. (How long is winter?)
Results from the study indicated that those who received training in mindfulness practices, and had practiced for only 12 minutes on average each day, had, in fact, expanded their working memory capacity and were able to choose their moods and stay focused more consistently.
Conversely those who did not receive the training, showed no change in working memory, were less able to focus and direct their attention, and reported worse moods than prior to beginning the research.
Since we can’t hurry the seasons, and spring break’s a month or so away, try being present to this moment, even with below freezing temps, and choose the warm mood of mindfulness.