Flakes falling. Fires aglow. Baking. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Not for all of us. Or, “Tis the season to be jolly.” Not always. At dawn recently, skies had already spit rain, sleet, then snow. I, not with my usual jump-out-of-bed smile, drove to a coffee shop “to get out of the house.” Eating a scone, a stranger unwrapped his scarf from his face and neck, pulled off his wet cap, and asked, “How do you like winter?”

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books, one of which is “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers.” Learn more at susanlebelyoung.com or email [email protected]

Fair question. For some of us, parties, the wonder of post-solstice light, and holiday spirit cloud over, well, the clouds. Our dark moods mirror the darkness. We grieve for those gone. Gravity glues us to sofas. Gray air grows gray inside us. Outside ice ices our hearts. Some of us suffer “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days,” as in Judith Viorst’s charming children’s book.

What to do? If winter blues, if feeling “down,” descends into seasonal depression, talk to your doctor. Seasonal depression was called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Not exactly a disorder, SAD is almost normal here. Feeling SAD is epidemic in this climate. In winter, nature reaches in and down to its roots. With seasonal depression, may we reach out and up for support.

The prevailing advice often says, “Get out in nature and connect with friends.”

I do that often. In November, two women younger than me and a brood of children ages 6-12 hiked a New Hampshire mountain. We dressed in long underwear, parkas, some in hiking boots, some in running shoes. We lugged backpacks with dry socks, water and snacks. The wind whipped, nose-biting cold. The trail wound rough, tough – brutal, you might say. Yet winter wonderland shone its beauty with sparkling trees and babbling brooks. Author and activist Glennon Doyle coined the word “brutiful” for this life: brutal and beautiful. The mountain hike, too, was brutiful. Halfway up, one of the 6-year-olds stopped, stomped her boots and said, “This is hard!”

Her mom knelt beside her, smiled, hugged her and echoed more of Glennon Doyle’s words, “This is hard. But remember? You can do hard things.” The young one beamed, offered her gloved hand to her mom and said, “I remember.” Up they climbed.


Later I walked down with one of the 40-ish women. A 30-ish couple, hustling up, stopped and stared at me, my face mostly hidden, hat pulled down to my eyes, dark glasses and a neon orange neck up to my nose, only frosty rosy cheeks showing. The man asked, “How many revolutions of the sun have you been on this planet?”

As they trudged past, I asked my friend, “Do I look that old?”

She said with a chuckle, “Not many people your age can do this hike.”

One more thing. At the end, in the parking lot, a young boy, maybe 5 years old, having just completed the hike, was jumping, twirling, singing and flailing his arms, embodying joy to the world. His mother said, “Shh. Keep your voice down.” He said, “Mom, it’s hard to keep your voice down when you’re so excited.”

So, if holidays get you down, try getting out of the house, then pay attention to what happens. That day, I was gifted with at least three truths: 1. Kids can do hard things, 2. 72-year-olds can also do hard things and 3. it really IS hard to keep our voices down when we are so excited.

If seasonal depression has you frozen this winter, connect with support. If it’s cabin fever, connect with nature and friends. Connect, then notice what’s brutiful.

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